As you already know, Salsa dancing looks fantastic and feels amazing. For it to work and look as fantastic as it does, one of the dancers in the couple needs to take the role of either ‘leader’ and the other ‘follower’. The leader signals the move that he (or she) wants the follower to dance, and the follower follows. It all sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? And it really is. However things can get pretty ugly if it doesn’t go to plan. Today I am going to remind you why it is so important to be a good partner and tell you how to become great at leading or following.
Why is it important to be a good leader or follower?
As a dancer, I have had lots of fun dancing as both a leader and a follower, and I can tell you countless stories of my own worst experiences as both. I could tell you about dancing with ladies as heavy as lead that I have to practically drag across the dance floor. I could tell you about men with rigid iron grips that leave me tense and exhausted. I could mention nasty jelly arms that just leave me feeling directionless, confused and disappointed. I could tell you about partners that just go off and do their own thing leaving me lost. Sadly, I’m not alone in my experiences; many dancers have suffered the same. When leading or following doesn’t work, a dance looks clumsy, untidy, ugly and is absolutely no fun at all.
Why is it so problematic for some?
You wouldn’t think that it would be so difficult, yet it’s something that all of us have tackled at one time or another. Often followers lose connection with their partner and start daydreaming. Or they are feel afraid of surrendering their control and actually being led. We are used to being strong modern women with minds of our own, but it’s just not the same within Salsa as in the outside world. Here it’s ok to surrender to the will of a man (leader) and take on a different role. Once the track ends you will be off the dance-floor and back into reality. Following doesn’t mean stifling your self-expression either- you can still express yourself even if you’re not in the driving seat by the use of your body movement, musicality and expression and personal dancing style. All of these things make you a unique dancer.
Leaders can often find themselves afraid of leading. They lack the confidence in either their dancing or themselves and just try to find a comfortable mid-ground. That most definitely doesn’t work with Salsa dancing. You need to throw yourself in there and just do it, even if inside you are quaking inside. It’s OK to take charge, It’s equally OK to make so-called mistakes. We have all been there and you are not being judged. Be strong, sure and direct.
How to be a perfect leader or follower
So here’s how we sort out these problems and get brilliant with our leading or following. It’s vital to remember that when you dance Salsa, you are not dancing alone. You are dancing with a wonderful partner and sharing that experience with that person. That’s part of the beauty of Salsa. And so the secret lies in your connection with that partner. You need to really be aware of that connection, be sensitive to what they do, pay them attention, look at them, smile at them and dance with them. It’s all about co-operation and appreciation. This approach easily irons out most of the problems that can crop up with leading and following.
Followers: Relax, but keep a little tension in those arms so the men have something to push against! Don’t anticipate what might be coming next. Instead try to stay in the moment and switch off your conscious logical brain. Just feel where you are being lead, let your body follow and try not to think too much about moves. This is when things really get awesome and you get into ‘the zone’ of dancing.
Leaders: Your job is to put the follower where you want her to be. You need to keep a modest amount of tension in those arms-no jelly arms or rigid frames please. You need to signal clearly exactly what you what you want the follower to do.
If you’ve never really been shown how to lead or follow, please ask your local dance teacher to help. As you have seen, it’s a vital part of becoming an awesome Salsa dancer. Great leading or following is one of the things that can really make a dance work and look wonderful. It can be problematic for some but is easily remedied by remember a few key things: connect, relax, and be brave.
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Image © Lida