Managing Height Differences While Dancing

One of my friends is a modern progressive follower with old-school romantic preferences: leads to be taller, dark and handsome. Now, for leads, if you are indeed taller, dark and handsome, you’ll likely have success both in romance and on the dance floor. As for me, I have two out of three! We can’t control our height (we actually can, more on this later). So dancers have to accept height differences, their limitations, and chose to partner dance with shorter and taller people anyway.

Don’t be afraid of heights

Height Differences - Afraid

I believe taller people, particularly followers, have a harder time finding dance partners. Leads have to take initiative and ask a follow to dance. If that follower is taller than them, it’s possible that they’ll become intimidated and their fear of rejection on the dance floor increases, so it’s easier to look for a different partner rather than face that fear. In my experience, taller follows as are just as nice as everyone else and would be delighted if more leads asked them to dance.

Different Height Differences

Height Differences-char

Let’s use three different sizes for people: Short, Medium and Tall. The possible combinations are:

You’re the same height as your partner!
You are taller than your partner
You are shorter than your partner
The height difference between you and your partner is significant and the TALLER of you will likely need to heavily compensate for the other.

Preparing for the dance

One option to manage height differences, especially if you have a preferred dance partner (or a date), is to prepare ahead of time with appropriate dance wear. Are you taller than your partner? Consider leaving your heels home and use flats instead. Your feet will probably thank you at the end of the night, as well. If you are shorter than your partner, consider heeled dance shoes, whether they be country boots or Latin heeled shoes. For leads as well… show your partner you can both lead them and do your own turns. Remember the friend I mentioned earlier who likes taller, dark, handsome leads? She’s tall, AND loves to wear high heels. Don’t ever feel like you need to sacrifice something to enjoy a dance, as long as you and your partner compromise, you’ll be fine.

Avoid awkwardness

I was at a social salsa dance last weekend, dancing and talking with a girl. She pointed out one of the other male leads and mentioned that she didn’t feel particularly comfortable with him. After she described some other red flags like him trying to teach her a move on the dance floor, she also mentioned “and he just kept staring at my chest… I mean, maybe it’s because he’s short, but still.” It was a valid point. While sometimes it’s hard to keep eye contact when someone’s chest is in your peripheral vision, it is possible and you should make an effort. Just don’t make it creepy! I’m not the tallest guy, but I was dancing ballroom a few years ago with a much shorter girl one time. All she did was look up at me, whether I was talking to her or not, directly into my eyes. Comfortable and friendly at first, then odd, then awkward and then uncomfortable. Watch out for dancing quirks, or ask your friends if you have any.


Height Differences-compensate

When I teach dancing and make students rotate partners, every now and then there will be a pairing with large height differences. The main ways I’ve asked dance students to compensate for this are:

If there’s a significant height difference between you:

  • Realize that there are some moves you’re not going to be able to do.
    Tabletops where your upper body length are longer than your partner’s arm reach are going to hurt one of you.
  • If you are leading, check your partner’s limbs length.
    Underarm turns at their head level, not yours. Match the stride of your steps to your partner’s.
  • Don’t be afraid to compensate
    Follow the tips for taller and shorter people below.
  • If you’re having issues learning in a class because of height differences, ask your teacher
    A great dance teacher should be able to tell you how to modify a move to make it easier on both of you.

If you are taller than your partner:

  • Try to be grounded during non-turning parts of the dance
    Relax your knees, maybe bend them a bit. Watch out for short skirts or tight clothing.
  • Are you turning? Lower your reach
    Bring your hand closer towards your head or temple. If still too tall, bend your knees, then turn around on your trip back up
  • Talk to your partner
    That prevents the awkwardness of them having to stare at your body parts.
  • Do not overcompensate
    Dancing on bent knees the whole night will keep you tired and sore. Be strategic!

If you are shorter than your partner:

  • Keep good dance posture
    A good dance posture will make you look and feel better, with and added bonus of boosting your height by one or more inches when done right.
  • Tell your partner of any issues
    If something doesn’t feel right, tell your partner. They might just need a quick adjustment, like giving you more space.
  • Look up and to the sides, not to their chest
    Looking at your partner and making eye contact is useful, but don’t over do it. Look to their arms or hands if you’re in a closed position, or to the side past their shoulders. Use floor craft to make sure the both of you on’t run into other couples.
  • Stay safe
    Watch out for elbows if your partner has longer arms than you.


Height Difference-Capitalize

Where some see limitations, be the one to look for opportunity. I learned this move where I would do a hand throw behind the back, catch it on the other side with the same hand, and then rotate my whole body underneath it and around it (limbo-style!) to appear on the other side.I was excited and tried it with several women, but my lower back was not happy. When I tried it with taller women, it worked amazingly well! I got comments like “Wow!” and “Where did he go?” I’ll file that under success.

Shorter people can also get air! Try jumping during your next turn for an extra oomph. Enjoy it while it lasts!


Like many human interactions, over-worrying can become a self-fulfilled prophecy. Your height differences issues will project onto your partner, making them reciprocate the feeling, culminating in a lousy dance experience.

Tell yourself it will be fine. Even small changes and adjustments in position will work. If you’re unsure if a move will work or not, tell your partner “hey, I want to try this move out, but it might be tricky. Want to give it a try?”

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