Think of leads as Sherpas.  Like the mountaineer guides through the Himalayas, leads have the important responsibility of guiding the follower through the dance.  Leads must also be accountable for understanding their follow’s needs.  Becoming a good leader involves listening to your partner.  If she can’t follow, it’s because you can’t lead.  The only exceptions are a follower that cannot dance in time or one who back-leads (but there are very few of these!).  Your leading is also only as good as your follow’s dance hold so, for more info on this, be sure to read our blog on ‘Secrets to Getting Your Dance Hold Right’.

sherpa leading the way

Part of being a great leader on the dance floor is being able to accurately assess your partner’s ability from the beginning of a dance and lead accordingly.  If the first lead goes badly, give her a second chance, and keep practicing.  Continue to assess your partner’s ability as you dance, and build up to complicated moves.  Develop your dance as a conversation, allowing for improvisation and creativity.

A crucial point for leads is that you must initiate your lead slightly before the follow needs to take a step.  This advance notice gives the follow the opportunity to take the step you are asking her to make.  Ultimately, you want to offer the lightest effective lead.

As a leader, there are four main types of lead to consider:

  1. Weight Change

If you’re a leader, the tone in your frame and body will help you to convey movement through weight change and body rhythm.  Follows then must watch for the subtlety of their leaders’ weight changes and be ready to move with them.

  1. Physical Changes

A leader can use their arm to communicate their intentions through contraction and extension. Increased tone in the arm and movement of the hands can signal to the follow about what’s happening next.

  1. Visual Changes

A leader can provide visual cues to the follow signaling a change during a dance.  A follow can then easily regain hold or change hand-holds by mimicking the leader.

  1. Changes in Shape

Leaders can signal with the shape of their body and arms.  This might include the following:

  • A rotation of the body;
  • A clear circular shape of the arms which will lead the follower; or
  • Shape changes from one dance position to another position.

The lead will vary according to the partner, as a newer dancer might need a more forceful lead than an experienced dancer.  Couples who continue to dance together over time will become more comfortable with one another and achieve shorter lead times resulting in flawless movements.

When traffic on the dance floor moves (such as when a dance circulates counter-clockwise around the floor as in ballroom dances or the Argentine Tango), navigation skills are also important for both the lead and the follow.  Both partners must use their peripheral vision to watch the couples around them, being attentive so they are able to anticipate the others’ moves.  Generally, the follow should not back-lead, but she can give signals to the leader that a traffic problem is coming up by increasing her pressure on the dance hold, preventing the leader from backing into another couple.

There are so many factors that go into creating a beautiful dance, and if you haven’t read our other blogs yet, be sure to check them out, as they contain useful and practical advice to help you to be a better leader or follower.  From being attentive in your dance hold, to building a strong connection with your partner, the Chicago Dance blog is full of useful tips to help you be the best dancer you can be.  Contact us to find out more about our private lessons or group classes and start exploring the wonderful world of dance today.




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