Question: What exactly is this “lead” thing anyway?


Well, let’s see. Hmmm…. Lead? The lead is what we as men dance. It is made up of a set of responsibilities that we dance EXCLUSIVELY. Exclusively ladies. The lead starts with the dance choreography, includes floor-craft and requires men to be dance-partner, director, traffic-cop, security provider, pilot; sometimes daring, always caring. Guys, to further complicate the process we have to do all of the above at the same time offer commentary. Trust me, I’m not there yet but I’m working on it. I took a look around the NET and want to pass on these words from others about lead.

“Leading is not pushing or pulling. It is communicating an intention. Dancing is an art form, despite the fact that it requires the prowess of an athlete”.

“A good lead/follow is like a good conversation – you don’t have to yell, you only need to talk. As you get better, all you really need to do is whisper”. (From Mark Balzer’s Lead/follow FAQ.)”

On a practical level, men the lead is:


Rhythm is fundamental– not optional. I know I’ve said it before but I don’t think it can be said enough. Rhythm is fundamental. Salsa is done in 8 beats. Every step, every move, every turn, every spin is done—in and on the rhythm—those 8 beats. Part of the lead is being on the rhythm. The tempo of Salsa music ranges from slow to very fast so you MUST adjust your dancing accordingly.

The steps we do

We don’t just dance in place and watch the lady. We of course have to do our moves too- the steps, the turns, the “cool moves,” the “shines”. So we do our steps. Not hard, right? But wait! There’s more.

Determining what steps the lady is to do

That’s right, not only are we doing our steps, but we are also making choices about her steps anytime she is in a hand-to-hand position. In closed position, we decide what steps are to be done and in what order. Make a mental note to give her some independent dance time by releasing her hands. She has skills. Part of your responsibility as lead is to ensure that she has an opportunity to show off those skills. Hold on! There’s still more.

Communicating our expectations

This is where we as “leaders” must strive to excel. Excellence from this point on, is what will begin to take your from ordinary to extraordinary. Leading is the ART of communicating the choreography of the dance with finesse, subtlety, but with crystal clear clarity of purpose. Lead well, and she will love dancing with you. Lead too forcefully and you will be guilty of “manhandling” or “steering,” the lady. They will refuse to dance with you. OR, lead too lightly, and you will be labeled as a “spaghetti-arm.” By the way, I’ve been called both. And, OUCH, it hurts. I’m still working on getting better. To make matters more complicated the right amount of lead is different for each lady. So part of the dance paradigm is to make the necessary adjustment for each and every lady. Remember that there is no formula.

Assuring that the floor is available to her

This is generally called “floor craft.” It is the job of making sure that where she goes (dances) is SAFE. By safe I mean the space is available and other couples are not in the way or headed for the same spot. Your responsibility is to protect her from harm; to keep her out of harm’s way. How do you know if you are doing this well? Easy. Did she bump into anyone? Did anyone step on her foot? Did she step on someone’s foot? Did someone bump into her? Your answer to this should be an emphatic, “Of course not!”

Watching for and handling dance hazards

(other people who are not concerned about others on the dance floor) In addition to watching out for other dancers, you must also be on guard for the “dance hazards.” These are people generally unconcerned about who they hit. Fundamentally they believe that they OWN the entire floor. Be sure that your dance partner never has an unfortunate meeting with these people. Take time to notice them. If you and your partner are near them my advice is move quickly to another part of the floor. You’ve probably noticed that some couples do lots of complex moves, and others dance near them. That means there is a level of trust in their expertise. If you don’t have confidence in their skills, give them space! Also, if people are giving you lots and lots of space, they are telling you something.

Providing compliments and feedback

The lady is responsible for executing the dance. So give credit where credit is due. And if she is a beginner give her credit for being willing to dance. It’s tough out there! Remember when you were a beginner? Compliment her dance skills, turns, footwork, and attire, if appropriate. Of course, use good judgment! Remember that good manners go a long way. If possible escort or accompany her on and off the dance floor. When the dance is over, say thank you.

OUR show but she is the Leading Lady

Under no circumstances, should you out-class or out-dance the lady. I still remember the lady who said to me, “Stop dancing AT me and dance WITH me”. She’s the star. You can do your stuff, Yes! But in moderation. Be subtle. Mix your moves in with the dance so that it becomes and integral part of the dance. Then your styling serves to contribute to rather than detract from the lady. Note: if she is a great dancer be sure to give her the freedom to shine. Then relax, keep your rhythm, and enjoy dancing with a great dancer.

Having a good time

Dancing is about having a good time. It’s hard to have a conversation with the loud music, so consequently facial expressions or the lack thereof tell a lot. Don’t wear a face that looks like you just lost your best friend, are bored, hate being there, or would rather be getting a root canal. Smile. Hey, I don’t smile enough and get reminded about if all the time so I’m working on it.

Great when it all comes together

Great lead is when these nine elements or so all come together. It will happen. Practice, practice, practice.

Article by Sam Boone

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