I went to a Sunday night Waltz Party a while back. Especially because of my work with the horses, I paid attention to how I follow my partners' lead.
Several of the women dancers have asked me to help them follow better, but I've never been able to give them pointers. That Sunday night dance showed me why: I have absolutely no idea how I do it.
The best answer I can come up with is that I follow the path of least resistance--if my partner raises his arm in a certain way, it feels easier to twirl under in one direction rather than in the other. But it happens instantly, and I can't tell you in words just how I know to do it.
I bet this relates to the way horses learn our cues. A horse doesn't feel your leg on her side and then say to herself, "Well, that's Leg Position One on my right side, so I'm supposed to step over with my right front leg." But in the end, with a good rider, that's what they learn to do. They, too, learn follow the path of least resistance, moving without thinking about why or how, like water flowing downhill.
I think I follow my partner's lead in the same way. I come to associate a certain touch with moving in a particular direction, but it's a body knowledge of the easiest and most comfortable way to shift my weight, not a head knowledge of what the next step should be. What I've discovered over the years is that if I stop to think about what I'm doing in the dance, my feet stop moving correctly.
Some dance partners are better than others. With some, I dance well; with others, it's more like a battle of will and balance. There have been a few with whom I simply cannot dance. On one unpleasantly memorable occasion, I came to a complete stop in the middle of a waltz, balking without thought like a horse refusing a jump. To this day I don't know why that happened. That gentleman has never asked me to dance since--likely a wise move for both of our sakes!
Dunno. But it's interesting. I think this understanding may help me be a better rider.