Salsa > Learning to Lead

Discussion in 'Salsa' started by SDsalsaguy, Aug 10, 2003.

  1. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member

    First and foremost, remember that you should be dancing with your partner—not just attached to them. Since I’ve already commented on this dynamic—lead your partner, not patterns!—in a different thread, I won’t rehash it here. Also take a look at salsarythms excellent advice about dancing with your partner. Just remember, in the words of one Blackpool Champion, “your partner is a woman, not a piece of dancing apparatus!”

    So what other elements go into learning to lead? Hopefully others will contribute their ideas, and techniques, but here are a few just to get the ball rolling…

    Be on time! You can know 1,000 patterns, etc., but if you’re off time it does not provide for a good lead since your “signals” are not in sync with the tempo of the music and what your partner has a right to expect based on the music. If you’re off time and, as a result, your signals are coming in off count, then you’re basically forcing a woman into patterns and to dance against her basic footwork. In what way could that possibly be a pleasant experience for her? Because you did some cool arm things which people sitting around could see? Please.

    In line with this previous consideration, keep in mind that the idea of “just follow” is only ½ the picture…it can only be done when you “just lead.” And, in the same vein, it is reasonable for a woman to expect certain things, i.e. that your signals will come in sync with the music, that you won’t expect her to move while spinning (or vise versa, both of which are physical impossibilities), etc. Most followers are not thinking ‘hmm, it is 100% clear to me where my leader wants me to go…so I won’t.’ If your not getting her where you expect and/or want, then some information is missing in the signals you are providing her as a follower. What you should be prioritizing then is being more clear, not just doing the same thing harder/stronger/with more force…which, almost always, does little more then interfere with her balance (unless its way overdone in which case you’re also being physically uncomfortable).

    So what does it mean to be clearer? First and foremost, you have to know where you expect her to end up since if you don’t know how can you possibly expect her to? If you’re late making up your mind/deciding, don’t force it…amazingly enough you’ll have another chance to start smoothly and cleanly, all within 8 counts at most! Second, when are you actually leading? If you’re leading on the count you expect your partner to move, you’re too late! Try to lead, i.e. signal your partner where you want them to be going next, ½ a count early.

    Finally, a tip if you are having problems with smoothing things out…first off, there’s nothing wrong with the basic step, or with using it. Any notion to the contrary is fallacious at best! If, however, you want to be able to transition smoothly between other moves, then my advice is as follows: (1) choose three of your favorites, (2) now practice every permutation you can of these three, i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd; 1st, 3rd, 2nd; 2nd, 1st, 3rd; etc.,…this will provide you with “defaults” that transition from one move into another and not just back to basics (of which, again, there is nothing wrong); (3) Once you’ve really smoothed out the various permutations, substitute in a new move for one of the original three, (4) now practice all of these permutations, etc.,… In the end you should find yourself automatically linking various moves together with little conscious anticipation, stitching together a smooth set of transitions that, because your body knows where to go and what to do, also communicates these things to your partner as well.

    Hope this helps…

  2. Danish Guy

    Danish Guy New Member

    Thanks for the tips.

    After learning a new move before the salsatheque starts, it’s always interesting to see if it works on the dance floor. Especially when you dance with one there hasn’t been there during the lesson. Then you know if your lead works to this figure, or the lady just expected this combination.

    In the beginning I wasn’t that bad at the leading and timing of the lead. Unfortunately my face looked like an undertaker, due to 100% concentration on the beat and the pattern. Yeahh we joked about that. :oops: :lol:

    I just noticed an open X-body often is a fine way to abort a combination, if something goes wrong. Either by my lead, or by the level of the lady I’m dancing with.

    What really impressed me last week was this guy, dancing with this 2 months salsa experience lady. I been dancing with her earlier this night, and it went fine. But this guy did all the stuff, and all the combinations she could handle, making her shine, and look like the queen of the floor. That’s dancing. 8) 8) 8)
  3. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member

    My pleasure! I hope they're useful.

    Yes, yes, yes! Exactly! I see far too many guys who learn a move in a class or workshop, then go out on the floor and criticize their parners because she didn't follow it right "like the women in the class did." What a....well, the point is to figure out how to lead socially, not just execute pre-determined patterns only with those who know the same ones in the same ways.

    :lol: that had me laughing too...and I can relate, having been there myself back in the day...

    Hey, if that's what works for you, use it...the point is that you have a default that lets you abort a pattern when needed and, more to the point, you're wise enough not to needlessly force a pattern.

    Exactly! This is the very point of exellence that salsarhythms and I have been trying to get at with some of our recent threads! Yes, maybe he did more patterns but, as you pointed out, that, on its own, is not what made his dancing so outstanding--It was how he made her look.
  4. Vin

    Vin New Member

    Hi guys I am new to the board and had question about leading. Sometimes, especially if the rhythm is a bit faster I tend to telegraph my lead maybe a count early. Most women seem to follow it and appreciate it but I have noticed some women, even some women who have been dancing for years get thrown of by this and accidently start the pattern too early. Is there a better way to compensate for the faster music or should I just simply try to lead on the correct count.
    To give more insight I do this mostly when leading a left turn. I give what one of my friends calls a "double clutch".
  5. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member

    Welcome to the forums Vin! Excellent question too. My personal take is this...

    By and large it sounds like you're doing the right thing. My question is if you're only providing the prep/indication early though or the actual impetus? Providing a "heads up" via an early prep is, to my way of thinking, always ideal, since you can't expect a woman to actually follow on the exact beat/count that you are leading since, to do so, she'd actually have to be anticipating you rather then reacting to (and hence following) you. If you're only providing the indication early and she's executing too soon then it sounds like the problem is on her end, trying to anticipate you or feeling rushed by the faster music herself. Just make sure that you are not the one actually impelling premature actions, i.e. prematurely shifting your own weight and center.

    As for a practicable remedy—and assuming that you are not, yourself, shifting prematurely but just setting up your lead—maybe try providing the same "heads up" but not quite as early, i.e. ½ beat ahead vs. a full beat, etc.

    Hope that helps, good luck, and, again, welcome to the forums!
  6. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member

    Hi Vin,
    Welcome to the forums . . .
    I had to think about your answer for a while, and this is what I came up with . . .
    Do your lead prep where it is supposed to be. If you do not know where it is supposed to be, go back and learn that move again. Nothing is worse than giving a prep too early or too late. No 1/2 beat early, etc.!


    I also follow . . . I hope other followers will chime in here . . .
    If you were leading me into a move, and the prep was not there, or too early or too late, I WOULD have the initiative to "hi-jack" you, take your lead away, and do "my own thing." That is the beauty of dancing . . . an expression of the music. "Leading" is what your body - including the uses of eyes, jestures, arms, and feet - tells the follower what you intend to do.
  7. DanceMentor

    DanceMentor Administrator

    I think there is a big difference between knowing a move and really owning it. This is where much repetition and private lessons can play a BIG role in developing a lead.

    Details, Details, Details. It's all about details. What are some of these details?
    Rhythm of the Music
    Timing of the Move
    Amount of Turn
    Use of the Body
    Use of the Hands and Arms
    Distance from your partner
    Head Position
    Hip motion
    Body Lines
    Size of Steps
    Accented Beats
    Depending on the move, you could spend hours and hours on these details and still feel there is much room for improvement.
  8. msc

    msc New Member

    Yup. Even the most basic of "pre-bronze" moves can become quite challenging, when taking into account the concepts/details listed by DM. Then throw in the use of the legs and the feet to increase the size and speed of the body action and/or stride, and all of a sudden those natural turns, "basic" rumba walks, and new yorkers aren't quite as easy as they first seemed.
  9. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member


    :? Did I miss the
    salsa lesson/class?????? :?

    Just teasing...especially since all of these dynamics are equally valid across all dance forms.
  10. msc

    msc New Member

    LOL. I realized that after the post. I followed the link in from the list under Dance forums.

    It has to be said, most of those elements aren't really necessary for social salsa, just a decent frame and be on time to the music, more or less. The lead really doesn't need to be able to do much more than a single turn, and anyway it's never a good idea to spin more than the follow. Other skills, like being able to adjust to the level of the follow, are real important too. The "don't force it" rule is a really good one ... if they stiffen up on you, for goodness sakes do some basic stuff to get them comfortable again, don't try to muscle the follow through a tough pattern.

    I do find that it's easy for women to follow if you can lead from your body and power the lead from your legs (I've taken women who had never danced a step of salsa and led them through some very involved routines ... the women had obviously danced other genres, but not salsa.) Nonetheless, that's really not too terribly important either, and may be a little too overwelming for some follows.
  11. Vin

    Vin New Member

    In response to msc, often times the women I enjoy dancing salsa with the most are those who have a background in some other type of dance and have not danced very much salsa before.
  12. borikensalsero

    borikensalsero Moderator

    In addition

    To add to all the excelent points made thus far, I'm going to head a bit outside the technical stuff. Guys, when you lead, watch were you "throw" the Ladies. First know that there will be enough space to move her to a certain spot. Try to maintain your dancing space on the dance floor. And please don't make space by throwing her around. Stop looking around to see who is watching you dance. If you are concentrating on what is around you, you certainly aren't concerned about her, nor aware of the wild couple next to you which ends up elbowing the girl on the head. If she gets hit, don't just ask if she is ok and go wild on another set of spins. Give her a couple of basic steps until she gives you the go, don't think for her. It is better that you take one two many basics to make sure everything is fine.

    When doing long combinations or dancing fast songs, if she looks like a deer caught in head lights, stop the combination (on beat) as soon as you can. You can either give her a basic or let her go after a cross body to allow her to get comfy while doing a few solos then take her again from there. They'll need time to adjust their hair, clothes, tie their shoes, get a drink, after you are done throwing them around. Dude, if she looks scared when dancing with you it means your lead is all over the place. It's better to do 3 moves well done than 20 in dissarray... And most importantly don't try to fit 5 years of classes into a 3 minute song.
  13. Vince A

    Vince A Active Member


    I really liked that last sentence that you wrote . . . sorta sums it all up:
    Every leader should say this to themselves each time they walk out on the dancefloor . . .
  14. SDsalsaguy

    SDsalsaguy Administrator Staff Member

    Excellent points borikensalsero! And the newer dancer should be careful not to confuse a look over the shoulder to check spacing/floor conditions with looking for audience reaction. Yes, good dancers will look away from their partners...but it is specifically to do what borikensalsero says, make sure that she's not put in harms way.
  15. Pukpik

    Pukpik New Member

    Follower's Psychology to Being Lead

    Hi. I'm Pukpik. I am new to the forum.

    I find this entire discussion of what makes a good Salsa lead quite intriguing. I've read all of the posts and have found them irresistible to examine. Everyone has addressed and/or shed new light on factors such as clear signals, timing, floorcraft, not cramming in "5 years of Salsa classes into 3 minutes", dancing with the feel of the music, and so on and so forth.

    But something else also happens overall when all of these factors are perfectly in play. The atmosphere becomes better; not of the dance venue, lighting, or music; but the atmosphere created through the lead. Coming from a follower's perspective, I can dance with two separate guys in the same dance venue, on the same floor, with same song, and still walk away feeling two completely different reactions. Above and beyond all of the intricate mechanics of being a good lead, the lead also results in the woman's perspective on herself and of the dance. The leader is thus doing all of the work to "paint the scene" when he brings a woman out onto the floor. How will she feel about herself afterwards? How will she feel about him? Was the song boring or lively based on his lead?

    From this, one could say that dancing on the floor can be perceived as a liminal phase. A guy asks a woman to dance. He brings her to the floor. In about 4-5 minutes he will return the woman to where she originally was, thank her, and move on. In that 4-5 minute window it is up to the leader to create the feel of the dance between he and his partner. It's not just about making the woman look good, but it's also about making her *feel* good. No matter how great she looks on the dance floor, if she doesn’t feel good when she walks away, then it wasn’t a good dance. One example is a rough lead. A woman can be lead into doing a lot of spins or other patterns and look wonderful, however she still may feel dissatisfied due to the rough lead.

    On the same token, following can also be unenjoyable, if not stressful, when a good lead is not there (as one of my friends has put it). It becomes particularly stressful when his signals are vague and cannot be read clearly, or when he criticizes you on not following the move correctly as he had learned it in his dance class.

    I lead and follow Salsa. When I first started to lead, I found myself not only having to keep on time, send the right signals, and monitor floorcraft, I also had to supply the energy, feeling, and emotion to the dance. For the first time I actually had to "paint the scene" of the dance and evoke the feelings. Different leading styles evoke different feelings. I am still trying to find mine.

    Lastly, having a good lead will transcend many obstacles. I am a female who likes to lead very often in Salsa. At first a number of women found it a bit awkward to be led by another female. As my leading skills improved, more and more women enjoyed dancing with me and would ask me for a dance without hesitation. Whether it is a male or female lead, as long as the lead is there and the follower walks away happy with him/herself, then anything goes.
  16. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    Wow. Pukpik. Great summary.

    I have felt the best and worst about myself on a salsa dancefloor, depending on what kind of lead I was receiving.

    Quite frankly, although many others will disagree, in a social setting, I'm not thinking about how I look. I'm thinking about how I feel. Am I being given the freedom to feel the music and react to it? Am I being given clear signals? Conversely, am I being criticized, picked on, or condescended to, or even worse, outshone on the floor?

    If the former, I'm going to look good, because I feel good. If the latter, well ... I'm not going to dance with that guy again.

    And welcome, Pukpik! :D
  17. youngsta

    youngsta Active Member

    Some really great points pukpik!! You are so right about 'painting the scene'. Welcome to our little corner of the internet. :)
  18. yoyao

    yoyao New Member

    sorry to make you feel bad :D :wink:
  19. pygmalion

    pygmalion Well-Known Member

    I had a feeling you were one of those guys Mom warned me about ! :lol:
  20. yoyao

    yoyao New Member

    I had a feeling you were one of those girls that guys want to bring home to Mom! :D

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