A Conversation with a Beat: How to Dance Modern Jive by Harry

Want to be the person everyone wants to dance with at Modern Jive? How do I improve my lead/follow techniques? How do I build on that feeling of achievement each modern jive dance lesson? What’s the best way to lead my dance partner in modern jive? How do I become a great dance lead quickly? How can I become an awesome follow?

All great questions!

If you’re new to modern jive or partner dancing in general tips for getting the best from your dance classes are always helpful. Here Harry is talking about modern jive dancing as that’s what we teach however the tips also apply to most forms of partner dancing, such as ballroom, salsa, swing etc. If you’ve toyed with learning to dance and wondered how to dance modern jive, read on. And if you’ve been coming to modern jive for a while you’ll know there is always something to learn and that we help each other learn and improve our dancing. So dive into these dance tips by Harry H, one of our modern jive beginners dance teachers. Keep these dancing tips in mind, put them into practice consistently and watch your dancing take off. Ready? Off we go.

Modern Jive dancing is very much a conversation, a friendly and easy-going one. It is not always easy to speak over loud music on the dance floor, but there are other ways of conversing for example:

– you should be looking your partner in the eyes at the beginning and end of every move, so don’t start or finish twisted out to one side – you may know you are going to turn out that direction, but try to return to facing each other directly, and looking in your partner’s eyes after every move – try to avoid looking down at your feet (it’s about trust!).

Modern Jive Dance Tips – How to Dance – Jive Nation Toronto
How to Dance

– in a class environment, everyone is trying to learn and improve at all times – you may have done a Wurlitzer/American Spin a hundred times, practice is always good, you never know what small tips you may pick up about footwork, hand position or what have you. Please always remember that what is old hat for you may be new and quite challenging for your partner of the moment. Now, it is only good courtesy to not disrupt the instructor by chatting with your partner, however if there is something you feel he or she should do differently, anything from firming up a lead to asking a follow for more arm tension or to not anticipate the lead ….say it quietly and nicely, of course. Or better still make a friendly helpful mention to any of the teachers during the practice session. We all want to help one another.

– try to show your appreciation for your partner’s effort – this is HUGE – just a little smile, or even keeping the eye contact is enough; leads – if you think she spins very well, tell her – follows/ladies if you think he leads extremely well with no ambiguity or flabbiness – tell him, because he’d love to hear that.

In other words, have fun and let that come out in all you are doing, either in class or in freestyle practice.

Now, what about dance tips? Here are some practical modern jive dance tips for the ladies (dance “follows”) and for the men (dance “leads”).


It’s always the big three – you hear these all the time, but please please, please try to keep them in mind ladies.

#1 – Have A Good Firm “Follow”

This is so important – ladies – strong arms. If you are not sure, err on the side of too much arm “tension” – your partner will have so much more confidence in his lead if when he “pushes” (leads back) on your arm your entire body moves immediately. Feeling your arm move back and then deciding to have your feet follow will put your partnership off the beat most times to any song faster than a dirge – “following” your dance lead in modern jive is not about intellectually recognizing your lead’s intent and then moving appropriately – it should most often be a physical reaction to what your partner firmly indicates he wants you to do … learn to react at the muscle level and enjoy the ride – I 100% guarantee you that a firm follow will improve a lead every time.

#2 – Don’t Anticipate Your Lead

This is, of course, quite hard to do, in fact it’s part of learning to dance, however it’s extremely important in partner dancing.

Yes, you are shown the routine you will be learning before you start to learn it, and yes, you definitely will be repeating the same move several times, so you do know (in that class at that particular time) what your lead is going to have you do – but that’s just THIS TIME, in this class. Ladies, when following in a class situation, please always try to pretend you do not know what your lead will be doing – if it is a return, wait until he leads you with his hand before turning; if it is a spin, please do not start the spin at the first touch of his hand – it is his job to use your stiff arm or flattened hand to impart the necessary momentum for you to begin that spin …… the feedback cycle works. When a lead sees and feels the results of his lead, he will have more confidence in it – and confidence is so important to become a competent lead.

#3 – Do Not Use Your Thumbs, Ever

Ever. Ever! It really is that simple – and that important; some moves could be painful for one or both of you if you grasp his hand using your thumb. Don’t grab, just offer that right hand, fingers together, thumb tucked up to the side of your hand – if you are coming out of a free spin, have that right hand ready for him to catch, but trust him (please!) to gather in your hand and then return you to balance – do not grab his hand in a “deathgrip” …. or any other grip for that matter. He’s the dance lead – it’s his job to make sure you are okay, in balance, and able to dance the next move, which hopefully he has mentally cued up and ready to go.

Learn How to Dance – Jive Nation Toronto
How to Dance


Men. If you have not done partner dancing before, your first few classes can be a bit … overwhelming. Let’s review the lead and follow responsibilities:

Leads Must:

find the beat
keep the partnership on said beat
choreograph on the fly (you have “x” moves you feel comfortable with, you must choose moves as you go, know how to lead them, know how to get to the beginning of one from the end of another)
be confident in order for your partner to enjoy the dance
avoid bumping into other couples on the dance floor
avoid bumping into furniture, speakers, plants, tables, walls, pillars
not step on your partner’s foot, over-extend her wrist, elbow, shoulder
not drip sweat on her (well, that’s not always possible, but do your best not to)
make you both look good, and like you know what you’re doing
determine the lady’s comfort level and lead accordingly
Always remember – unless she drives her heel through the top of your foot, EVERYTHING that happens on that dance floor is your responsibility ……. and your fault if it goes wrong.

Follows – see Dance Tips for the Ladies above.

Ladies enjoy themselves immensely with a good confident lead

…so it’s your job, guys, to get up to speed as quickly as possible. Don’t worry, you’re not on your own and we are here to help each other learn and become confident dancers – I guarantee you can do it. Here are the most important things I feel you need to do to be a good lead in Modern Jive:

#1 – learn the modern jive moves – an intensive one-day workshop or two is the best way to lay a firm foundation of a dozen or so go-to “I can do these in my sleep” beginner moves. Also useful is watching a video of the moves, keeping a diary of what moves you have learned in previous classes, but most importantly ….

#2 – PRACTICE. Your first week or two, almost for sure, you will completely forget what you did the previous class when you arrive at the next week’s class – this is normal, don’t worry; you are going for muscle memory in learning the moves, your brain can get you in big trouble (but we’re guys, so we already know that, don’t we???). Practice whenever you can, even on your own with an imaginary dance partner. It seems very hard at first, but there will come a time, in a few weeks or a couple of months, where you will wonder what all the fuss was about – Modern Jive is meant to be easy and fun – and it really is.

Learn to Dance Modern Jive- Jive Nation Toronto
The Astair Lean – Modern Jive

#3 – Don’t worry about the beat in the early days – the most important thing is to learn the mechanics of the moves. The ladies can get a bit frustrated with this and on behalf of all guys, I apologize – but I will always assume any man who truly wants to learn to dance is perfectly capable of dancing to a beat, and just listening to the instructor count you in as he/she teaches will make finding any song’s beat an automatic process you are pretty much not even aware your brain is performing.

#3a – if you fall behind the beat when dancing freestyle, don’t panic – it happens: the song may be too fast, or have a weird beat, you or your partner may have stumbled, or brushed against another couple – no worries, just find that beat again and get back on it. Some moves may take five beats when you learn them to a slower song, but when you are dancing freestyle and the song is a lot faster, you may start a move and realize you are not going to make it in those five beats – no worries at all, just show your partner what a good, confident lead you are and slow it down and do the move in six beats. You are leading, nobody’s judging you, it’s not competitive, so just have fun with it. Oh, and make sure she is having fun too!!

#4 – Try, at all times, to be … hmmm, it’s tough to find the right word here … I will go with “assertive” when you lead. Seriously – do not be hesitant, or wimpy; act confident and you will be confident, plus she will be a more relaxed and enthusiastic follow. Do not be forceful, abrupt,or aggressive; do not shove or yank – heck even the words “push” and “pull” when describing “lead back/away” and “lead forward/toward” can seem a bit fraught with unintended meaning and baggage – firm but gentle might also describe what we are going for.

#5 – Always remember that different ladies can require a different lead – in my mind, I have leads from 1 to 5, where 1 is so light I almost never use it (if your partner is very slightly built, this is the end of the spectrum you should be trying at first) and 5 is for exuberant, athletic follows. Don’t “dial it to 11” immediately – try to quickly determine what comfort level each lady has and lead accordingly. It goes without saying – hurting your partner is bad – m’kay?

#6 – Always pay attention in class – I have on many occasions learned something new, either a small detail, or a bit of footwork, when being taught a beginner move I had seen in class many times before – and please always remember – and this goes for the ladies too – you may know it backward and forward, but the person you are dancing with at that moment may never have seen it before; please do not distract from your partner’s learning experience.

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