The mentality of the two halves of the ballroom partnership is very different. The lead and follow aspect of partnership dancing dictates that the responsibilities of each partner be different. Each has his or her own unique responsibilities. The leader has more of a thought process while dancing while the follower has more of a feeling attitude.
In general, men are quite visual and mechanically oriented where as women are generally more feeling and intuitive. Since partnership dancing was designed for the man to be leading (initiating) and the lady following (responding), this works out very well.
If you only take group lessons, you get the impression that both the leader and follower think and act the same. Generally in group lessons, each side of the partnership is taught their own part then they are put together to dance the pattern. The draw backs are that the follower is constantly trying to guess what pattern to dance and will always be slightly behind. If the leader dances with someone that has not been to the same classes, it is difficult to dance together. The real feeling of partnership dancing is not achieved. The partners end up moving through patterns while they just happen to be touching each other. You may as well be dancing free style in front of each other.
The leader dances the followers every step, allowing her to move as naturally as possible. The leader needs to know the followers' part as well as his own. He has to know what he is trying to get her to do. He may have to move in some unnatural ways to get her to move naturally. The leader dances elements at the step level for the lady. The follower dances what she feels at the moment. It is very important that the leader lead in such a manner that the lady has only one natural action that she can do. The leader has to encourage, use and direct the ladies power. The follower feels the lead and participates in the lead, enhances the lead, embellishes the lead and powers the lead.
The frame is the primary communication link between the two partners. It must be there all of the time for the partners to be able to move as one (two-headed four-legged animal) on the dance floor. If the frame is inconsistent, the follower will have to guess what to do and her response to the lead will be late.
It is important that the partners be trained dancers in order to move as a single two-headed four-legged animal. A trained dancer is one who understands the differences between two-legged and four-legged movement. For example, the leader must move from his supporting leg at all times. The follower must move her own body weight using and leveraging off of the leaders connection and power. These are just a couple of examples. There are many uniquely four-legged actions.
It is very hard to learn to be a trained dancer by just taking group classes. Most of partnership dancing is about feelings and that is most effectively accomplished through private lessons. The instructor must get his/her hands on you to let you experience the feeling. This is very hard to do in group classes. Group classes are designed to expose you to patterns, not teach you to dance. Dancing is what happens between the steps.
As described above, the leader and follower have to be different people when they dance to accomplish the different actions unique to four-legged movement.
The primary goal of partnership dancing is to create what I call "four-legged feelings". These are feelings that you can only get by being connected to a partner. The combined feeling of the partnership is unique and is what partnership dancing is all about.