Leading complex moves

Some moves (I'll talk about Salsa, but idea should be the same for most other dances) can be led without follower knowing the exact move. But for some moves, I would think the follow needs to know the mechanics.

I was practicing with my partner, and I was showing you one of those moves. And she asked - what's the point for you (me) to learn this move - if you can't teach it on the dance floor, you won't be able to use it. Unless the person you are dancing with already knows it. But how do you know if she does?

So, the question is:
how do I know the follow knows the move I want to lead?

And a more open ended question - how do I approach this whole situation?

I am excited about this, because I am about to gain new insight into the world of dance.


Well-Known Member
I would pretty much avoid anything that you can't lead in a social situation. As your leading gets more sophisticated, you will be able to lead movements that you cannot at the moment. Davedove's advice is sound in that you want to get a good feel for the follower and how you two mesh to gauge what to try to lead.


Well-Known Member
..how do I know the follow knows the move I want to lead?
The reason for leading/following precisely is that the follower must/should not know what will come.
And a more open ended question - how do I approach this whole situation?
Complex moves are taught to train the leader's brain and skills, but not to be repeated on the dance floor. The leader must learn to invent complex moves offhand ( i.e. combine and modify elements).

Steve Pastor

Staff member
How do you know if they know the move you want to lead?

In the real world you don't.

I advise that you learn to break things down into their parts so that you can build sequences on the fly.

for some moves, I would think the follow needs to know the mechanics.
You can learn things by rote, do this, this, then this. Or, you can learn things by learning WHY you do those things.
Most people seem to teach by rote, which is fine when you are starting out so you can get on the floor and dance.
Eventually, though, you run into the situation you have.

If you know WHY she's moving in that direction (her momentum is carrying her that way and she can easily step that way because of what foot she is on, as an example), what you have called the "mechanics," and you know how to signal that she should move that way, you've got it.

Your partner hopefully has to learned to respond to "follow my lead." And there it really helps for her to have moved in the direction, or made that movement before. There have been lots of times when I've seen someone do something "wrong" because that was the only response that was in their vocabulary.
If she hasn't learned that, you have to deal with it.

I mostly now dance simple things with a strong connection to the music, and hopefully with my partner.
It's great fun, though, when I have someone who had "been around" and can follow whatever unusual, but doable, thing I throw at them.


Keep in mind that many of the more advanced dancers practice first. Maybe they are in the same classes together. Maybe they have been dancing for many years and their understanding of the dance language is deep. And some may very well have decided some types of moves are not very workable except for show. I think just enjoy the journey and especially make sure partners do too!


Well-Known Member
Many group class teachers set up amalgamations of figures, in which Figure A is followed by Figure B followed by Figure C, etc. Many times students get the idea that these figures are always danced in the order taught and that to do otherwise would somehow break the laws of physics. Also group classes tend to be light on the technique needed to support lead and follow. So many times students of these classes think they can only dance the figures in the exact teaching amalgamation order. And that may be true in their case since they didn't learn the technique.

You may need to take some private lessons to learn the necessary technique including posture and footwork. Then you might be able to take a group class amalgamation apart into individual figures that can be rearranged in different orders. You might extract certain figures that you can reverse engineer the necessary technique to lead properly.

Since I've taken that approach, I find that many of my follows "know" figures that they've never taken a class on. As a leader, if we've mastered the technique we can then dance with more follows although we will need to accept variations when dancing with a less experienced follow.

Often times I dance with follows who've never done the salsa. Some only get by with a basic, others can be led to do more complex figures after giving them a chance to get used to it.


Well-Known Member
One of the first rules of leading in social dancing is: Don't lead stuff that's over your head. As you gain experience, you'll be able to lead more complex patterns. However, the skill level of your partner also plays into this. You can't lead what she can't follow, no matter how good a lead you are. That's one reason why you need to determine your partner's skill level and adjust to it.

Now, stuff that physically cannot be led, and that the partner has to know in advance what you're going to do: that's the definition of choreography. And on the social floor, we generally don't do choreography, even if we are dancing with a partner that knows it. Why not? Because choreography tends to be inflexible -- we cannot adjust it to the couples around us. Which means we become "that couple"; our floorcraft sucks, and everyone else will hate us because they are constantly having to dodge us.

(Actually this is not completely true; experienced competitors know how to vary their choreo for floorcraft. Even so, if you watch Smooth or Standard at a comp, you'll find at least one or two examples of high-level couples who accidentally cut off another couple, or box themselves into a corner, because they can't make their choreo react quickly enough.)

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