How to not back lead
I think by weak leading perhaps you refer to as too indecisive or unclear leading. This is what I interpret your question to be as, because if you interpret weak as soft then most professional/experienced dancers are very soft in their leading because it’s more about technique and subtle movements than brute force. The rougher the leader the worse he is usually.
Now, for unclear leaders you perhaps need to judge them by the level also. If the unclear leader is a very experienced dancer, then perhaps the unclear part is you being new and not knowing many of the moves, and thus by backleading you essentially make him upset because you presume to know what he was trying to do, while actually presuming incorrectly.
If an unclear leader is a beginner, then it still doesn’t help because by back leading you then make the moves work while both making yourself annoyed and incorrectly making the leader think he can do the moves while he can’t.
In general backleading is a VERY annoying habit (speaking as a leader), but I don’t know how to give you specific tips on how to stop it. Best I can say is to always have it on your mind. I have the annoying habit of sometimes being half a beat too quick, and I always every little while think to myself (am I on beat?). With enough practice, it becomes a habit and is like second nature. You could try that, every half minute asking yourself “Am I backleading? Stop it”. Etc.
Edit: You could also actually try to learn to lead yourself too! It would help a lot and give you perspective of the other side.
Have you considered learning to lead yourself?
Same-gendered dancing is totally acceptable and most follows tend to be happy to be led by a woman (which is traditionally who follows, obviously.)
That might do a few things. One: You learn more about how to dance in general. Two: You learn what it feels like to lead and how, when you follow, you’ll be a better follow. Three: You might learn some tricks that allow you to express yourself without backleading (styling and the like.)
If you don’t feel like that’s an option, then I suggest just learning to love doing the basic and learn how to express that more interestingly.
My mantra is “Follow dammit, Follow!” in my own mind. Especially in group classes, I have to constantly remind myself. In order to reinforce it, I don’t switch to lead when asked. It’s for my own sanity!
One thing I do, if I know it might help, is follow very specifically. If they lead a wrong move, I follow what they led, not what they thought they were doing. If they don’t lead anything, I continue with a basic. If they ask, I will explain. I’ve often been told how patient I am and while travelling last year, had a lead practice what was learned in the lesson over and over with me until he felt comfortable with it. He was really grateful.
I’ll also echo the “what is strong?” Question. People get confused with whether that means clarity or force, and that’s going to be a recipe for leaders manhandling the followers.
I’m a lead who has tried a bit of following, so I can’t follow well and I can easily backlead as a result. One thing I’ve tried which helped: when you have a lead you can trust, close your eyes. This makes it much harder to backlead so you will have to listen to the leader (do this only with a lead you trust where you have the space!). This can also work in classes with a set pattern: if you can pull of your part then try it with your eyes closed so that you can focus on the movement of the lead.
I also had this habit when I was starting out. It can be very hard to break but it can be done! A lot of the advice below is very solid. Here are some of the things I did to help break it.
1. Asked my leads to tell me each time they caught me back leading. Usually at the start of each dance I would say “I am still learning, would you please tell me if/when you feel me backleading?” The people that I danced with frequently would just call me out each time and it helped me become more aware so that I didn’t necessarily have to spend all my energy focusing on not doing it and could also focus on the dance. (Be aware that newer leads may not necessarily know what backleading feels like, so this is more effective with leads you know are more experienced)
2. Tried to learn how to lead — even just the basics. As mentioned in the other comments, when you learn how to lead, you learn just how subtle some of the hand signals can be. This can help you feel them more as a follow. I waited until I was past the beginner phase to do this though, so as to not confuse myself.
3. Closed my eyes. I started out just doing it for a few 8 counts at a time each song (especially with leads I didn’t trust as much). Eventually with one of my good friends who I trusted a lot as a lead, we challenged each other to dance a whole song with our eyes closed. It worked MIRACLES! While of course the song wasn’t perfect, it forced both of us to really feel and connect with each other. I still do this frequently just to practice.
4. Only danced what I felt. By this I mean both literally only did what the lead signaled (as I interpreted it — I didn’t always get it right) and danced reactively not proactively (didn’t just dance what I thought the lead was trying to do) This may cause some awkward moments but in the long-term will be better for you. Experienced leads will usually know if you didn’t pick up on something in the lead & will be able to help you. Newer leads will likely blunder around a bit afterwards, but it will be better for both of you in the long run (you will learn not to backlead your partner through steps they didn’t get right & they will learn that they signaled incorrectly).
If you work at it and continue practicing you can get over this bad habit :)
If you dance with other partners, how would you describe the better or worse leads? Everybody is going to dance different and some people will be better then others. What is important is being able to adapt in a way that still allows the partnership to work.
If you have a tendency to backlead, then you might be ignoring subtle signals from the lead which causes you to miss out on what the lead is trying to achieve. This essentially creates an additional thing that the lead has to consider when making up moves for the pattern so it creates more confusion for both parties.
My suggestion is to consider the way you are following and see if certain things work with certain people. A general rule for follows is to keep a strong but elastic “frame” and be consistent in your movements. I usually find that I would prefer my follows to actually push for a stronger connection more which gives me (the lead) much more control and options to create patterns. Keep your arm movements connected to your torso movements. If your arms are being pushed/pulled in a direction, that usually means your body should follow that direction so don’t detach those signals.
Can you describe a bit more what you mean by weak leadership?
Actually, strong doesn’t mean good. Quite the opposite. The softer/lighter the leader, the more technique he has. Strong leaders usually just use force in replacement for technique.
I can’t tell you how to switch it off, but I can tell you guys talk. In our groups you have a couple of girls that often ignore something being led to overstyle, and normally no one wants to dance with them anymore. It’s not only annoying, but it breaks the connection you had built. And yeah, guys would be talking with each other in terms of “yeah, I hate dancing with x too, she’s a terrible follower, no matter how good she thinks she looks”.
I mean, what does leading ‘too weak’ mean? You mean you don’t know what figure would result of his weak leading? Or do you prefer strong leading in general? From my perspective as a leader, the more professional a woman dances, the more freedom (=not dominant leading) she prefers