How to tell someone they're a bad leader... tactfully?

I'm new to this forum so please forgive me if this has been discussed somewhere else in the past.

I've been dancing for going on 9 months now, not so long in the grand scheme of things but far more than a lot of the other people in my studio. Since I'm one of the younger types at my studio, I try to keep a peppy and upbeat attitude -- I know everyone's name, I smile and laugh and make encouraging jokes when I'm dancing with someone who might appear a bit uncomfortable to be dancing steps that are new for them.

The main thing is that I don't criticize people when they do things wrong, if I say anything at all it'll be to the extent of "next time we dance we'll TOTALLY get that" or whatnot.

However, last night one of the students who had been on vacation for a few weeks came back and I ran into a situation I have no idea how to deal with. He's always been a poor leader, leading with his shoulders rather than his hips, trying to use his arms to push you wherever he thinks you should go. (We'll ignore the fact that he tries to teach cuban motion to the newcomers but has no idea how to do it himself, etc.)

Usually I can avoid dancing with him but there was only one class last night and we were all rotating. We were working on peekaboos in salsa and cha cha and somehow he got it into his head that by pulling the woman's arm she'll turn (when we already know we need to turn by the lead of the pattern.) So, while facing in a completely awkward direction, he ripped my arm around, causing my shoulder to pop painfully.

It was the end of the pattern, so while attempting to pretend that nothing was severely wrong, I thanked him and moved on, trying to figure out how to tell him politely to stop yanking on the woman's arm. I didn't come up with anything worthwhile and I didn't want to seem too preachy, so I just moved on.

Next time around, same problem, except I let go of his hand at that point in the move, so he looks at me like I'm trying to lead (I've been accused of this before when I get an ambiguous lead and take the route I think they're intending, only to be told I'm "leading." But that's beside the point.) When we were rotating I asked him if he could try to not yank my arm so much, as it was painful. He looked confused, as if he had no idea what he was doing, or what I was saying.

Rotation again, repeat, etc.

I avoided him throughout the practice party following, except for a mixer when we all rotate quickly to fox trot. He pushed me so hard across the floor I nearly missed a step (ankle popped but I got the whole foot on the floor to avoid falling over.) I have longer legs than he does, too!

Whewh, rant! I think I feel better now, or something. :p

I call upon the expertise of the masses: Help! Should I go to his teacher and beg them to teach him to lead better, should I talk to him? I don't want to seem like I'm trying to be his teacher, but I can't even dance with him without fearing for my own safety, and if he injures me, I will NOT be alright. I've lost toenails, been bruised up the wazoo... all of that can be danced with, but I actually fear for a major injury to one of my joints when I dance with him.

There's so much that makes a girl uncomfortable to dance with him, he tries to yank you in when you're dancing tango or salsa, and it should be up to the woman to choose the frame in a social setting. It's not fun to fight with the person you're trying to dance with.


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If I feel I will be physically injured by dancing with a guy, whether it be in a group class setting or at a social dance, I either will not dance with him; or, if that is not a reasonable option, be VERY CLEAR that I have an injured or sensitive shoulder/neck/back/whatever and he must be very gentle. I'll give him a chance to dance less like Chewbacca. If he is still too rough, I would gasp in pain (fake or real) and stop immediately.

Ideally the instructor needs to point out the problem, or even better, have him switch roles and get a taste of his own medicine :cool:. Unfortunately it sounds as if this guy Just Doesn't Get It, but it's worth a shot.

But avoiding your own injury comes first.
Next time this happens MAKE SURE you say something to the person who hurt you. "Hey, that REALLY hurt me. Can you be a little more gentle?" You don't have to be mean, but you are not doing ANYONE a disservice by letting it slide. Also, make sure you notify the instructor that he injured you. He could have severely injured you.

Even if "clueless wonder" doesn't understand what he did to hurt you, you have every right not to be injured! And please do tell the instructor when someone leads you in such a way that you are hurt. They can and will address the issue with the other person probably much better than you could at this point. Their opinion will have more "weight".

I've been injured by students before - including being "dipped" in a club setting and having my head slammed into the concrete floor. NO FUN. Injuries will happen, but you are NOT EVER obligated to dance with someone who hurts you and KEEPS on doing it.
and123 - SO TRUE.

There's definitely a continuum of responses, lol. I've used probably all of them ranging from "could you be a little more gentle please" to "if you ever do that again I'm going to rip your arms off and beat you with them".


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I wouldn't say "you're a bad leader" but I *would* say "you hurt be when you do this" and "I need you to lead me more gently so I don't get hurt."

You could mention to the instructor that you're having a problem of being injured when you dance with the guy, and in what ways. It behooves him to find a way to help the guy improve, if only to invest in safe, positive socials. But I would not tell the instructor what to do, or start instructing the leader myself.

Push comes to shove... "You're a really nice guy but your lead hurts me, and I'd rather take a break from dancing together for now."

There's one guy I've danced with frequently, whom I really enjoy personally and wouldn't want to not dance with, but he has a violent lead, hanking my arm roughly. In the moment, I tend to say, "Ooo...not so rough, doll." And he responds to that.


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and123 - SO TRUE.

There's definitely a continuum of responses, lol. I've used probably all of them ranging from "could you be a little more gentle please" to "if you ever do that again I'm going to rip your arms off and beat you with them".
Brilliant. *lol*. Yes, excellent responses. One can be forthright and kind at the same time. No one should suffer in silence -- there is no virtue in that, IMO.
I've been in this situation and I decided that my shoulder is more important than being nice. So if someone is hurting me like this, I do not try to suppress "ow, that hurt". If I get asked to dance less often because of this, then so be it.


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I echo the group...if you tell the gent he is too rough for you and is hurting you and it persists you need to just politely inform him that you guys are not a good match to dance together and decline dancing with him until enough time has passed, if ever, that he has is also not a bad idea to mention it to his instructor so that it may be improved, but I have danced with men who have been dancing far longer than I who are only concerned with patterns and getting you where they think you need to be..and since many ladies don't move themselves the gentlemen become accustomed to doing it for them in ways that simply don't not risk injury...I will not do a foxtrot mixer for this reason...I have been jerked into promenade at the wrong time one it, completely laterally tearing my knee, on more than one occasion
*giggles* As much as I do have the dominatrix reputation (totally unfair, I'm not like that at all!) I don't think I'm at the "next time you do that I'll rip your arms off" stage ... but I could get there!

I don't want to appear critical to the instructors, but I agree, my safety is important. I feel more comfortable talking to the instructors than him, but at the same time I am not sure I'd be comfortable telling one of them that their teaching hasn't been working and they should do it a different way.

I think I gathered you're an instructor DancingMommy, so might you or anyone else have any suggestions for the best way to bring it up? Or should I just talk to the guy and risk him taking it the wrong way (there's this clique of five over 30 but REALLY IMMATURE guys that seem to be out to pick on me, whether it's because I can dance or because I'm one of the only girls under 30 there, who knows.)

This is why I try to only dance with the instructors, lol, less drama. :p
I don't want to appear critical to the instructors, but I agree, my safety is important. I feel more comfortable talking to the instructors than him, but at the same time I am not sure I'd be comfortable telling one of them that their teaching hasn't been working and they should do it a different way.
I don't think any instructor would take offense at you telling him or her that a student is leading you in a way that hurts you. After all, they are there to help you. *especially* in a group class, what the instructor says and what the student hears or interprets can be vastly different things.... I wouldn't view it as "their teaching hasn't been working" at all. If you are more comfortable talking to the instructor than the man in question, by all means do it.


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Staff member
there is a nice way to talk with an instructor which isn't "hey you are teaching your student poorly"...there is no harm in saying; "hi...I hope you won't mind my coming to you with this...I know you are joes's teacher and I am sure you are very good at what you do but I am running into a problem when dancing with him, which, if it wasn't really serious, I wouldn't even bother you with...but it is so serious that I think ladies may stop dancing with him if he doesn't get some help with it...(then describe what happened) I was hoping if I mentioned it to you maybe you could gently insert some information on how to do that better on his lessons...I hope you don't mind my mentioning it"...

as to immature boys...well that my dear may be a rather longstanding problem
I think I gathered you're an instructor DancingMommy, so might you or anyone else have any suggestions for the best way to bring it up?
Yup. I'm retired for now due to injuries completely unrelated to dancing with "Chewbacca" as someone put it.

On the dance floor, I'd start with straight up saying "You know that really hurts when you do [XYZ move] [PQR way]." If Clueless Wonder doesn't get it, you may - with my permission - signal for the instructor and say "We're having trouble here. When he does [XYZ move] [PQR way] it REALLY hurts and my [body part] makes this [demonstrate] sound. That doesn't sound right. Can you help?" This is about the *nicest* way to tell a guy that he's a sucky leader.

Even the best teachers make mistakes. What works for one student may not work for another and it does the instructor no service not to get that kind of feedback. Just don't say "You're teaching this wrong because Dude here doesn't get it". :cool: A great teacher will work to make sure EVERYONE "gets it". Some people take longer than others. I've taught a lot of people and only had ONE person who I could make NO headway with. And lawsy we tried.

You know how in school the guys pick on the "cute" girls to show affection? Yeah. That's what that is. Here's the thing. I've BEEN THERE. Only it was so bad that the instructor had to stop the class and threaten to throw the offender out of the studio if he didn't stop and immediately apologize. I'm not usually at a loss for words, but this one had me so blindsided that my mouth hung open like a fish for a WHILE. This particular person went on to be one of my best friends, though. ;)

Don't let 'em get to you. Think about it like this... Without a girl to dance with, they're nothing but guys standing on the line. They need you more than you need them. You can always dance with the teacher. Dudes are just trying to get your attention. Be cool. Let 'em know who's boss. :cool: You'll find your place eventually. One thing that helped me get past that stage was to flirt but not tease. Give them a little attention and then favor *them* with a dance. The culture of our studio was very much "guys always ask first" and girls ask as last resort. It took a lot for me to break out of that and I still get *shy* about it. But if you can take the bull by the ring in the nose... Hang in there!
Yes, now I need your advice to get every man in the studio to act his age! A million dollars to the one who does it first! :p

Your outline on what to say is really helpful Fascination, thank you. I will do some sourcing as to his teachers and work from there. I know my mother's instructor was at one time teaching him to lead... I hope it's not his fault... men!


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Staff member
one can try to teach someone but they may not be ready for that info on that day...that really isn't the teacher's fault...and it may not be fixed after it is mentioned even if it is to go to whomever he is taking lessons with now...

and as to maturity issues...well...I've got nothing for you on that...young men can be like takes a long time to cultivate one...if you find a good one, you can probably thank his mother and/or his dad


Active Member
Most of time, I directly tell to the leader that he hurts me when he does certain movements. Well, the responses have been quite vary. Most of gentlemen were very apologetic and I would dance with those gentlemen again. But, some of them were very offensive. Then, I would not dance with those leaders.


Well-Known Member
I say something from the leader's point of view. He needs to be told, probably by the instructor. But it's not entirely his fault. He has been told that he has to initiate the lead and doesn't know how to be subtle. And if he is fairly new to dancing, the follows he normally dances with may not know how to read the less forceful leads. Most guys, especially when they're beginning, aren't certain if their leads are being followed, so they are more forceful to try to get the message across.

He hasn't learned yet that firm and stronge doesn't have to mean forced. He hasn't learned how to guide the follow instead of pushing/pulling. He truly may not get it, but if he isn't told by someone, he certainly won't change.
I would say, don't suppress the gasp of pain - if anything, yell louder. Then stop, flag down the instructor, and tell him/her that you're having a problem with the step (not him) - you must be in the wrong position or something because your shoulder is getting yanked out of the socket when you try to turn. What will then happen is the instructor will dance it with you, and you will be fine. The next step will be for the instructor to dance it with Godzilla, and then try to explain to him the difference between leading and being a puppeteer. (Another possibility at this point is that you actually are in the wrong position and the instructor will correct it, but that sounds less likely.)

This version is face-saving for everyone. It also has the advantage that often, after trying to correct the overzealous lead, the instructor will also give you some tips on how to protect yourself.

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