If you are a woman you may want to check out Follower’s role in social dancing. Today I want to explore what it means to “lead” in social dancing for men. While there may be different opinions on this subject, I would like to give you my personal view on what the man’s “job” is. Please leave your comments below the article!
This post isn’t meant to give you the dance techniques of leading, but more of the mindset of what to focus on.
So what is the leader’s role?
In the most simple sense, the leader’s role is to give his partner crystal clear signals/gestures as to the moves he wants to do so that the lady can follow him effortlessly. More specifically, men’s main 3 responsibilities are:
1. Deciding the moves he want to do ahead of time.
2. Changing their lady’s direction.
3. Changing the lady’s timing.
The rest… is her job. Phew…
There is a misconception out there that men have a 100% of the burden and that they need to do EVERYTHING for the ladies… but that is false.
Just focus on deciding the moves you want to do (before you do them), and then learn how to change the lady’s direction and timing to get her to do those moves.
The leader’s job is NOT to push and pull his partner just to get his way. The leader’s job is also NOT to lead every single step that the lady has (It is her job to know her own steps).
Sounds simple right? You only need to worry about 3 things…
But the truth is that being decisive and learning how to change direction and timing is a life-long learning process. You will need to develop the correct techniques to do those things well.
Now, let’s dig a little deeper into these 3 main responsibilities:
1. Deciding very clearly what move you are going to do
This is the first step to leading anything. If you don’t know what move you want to do, how do you expect your partner to know? Men need to plan their moves ahead of time. It doesn’t mean that you must have some sort of a 4 minute choreographed routine that you lead every lady into, but you should decide what move you are going to do ahead of time. How? I recommend that while you are dancing the basic step – you come up with 1 move that you want to go into next and then lead her into it. After that one move go back to the basic until you come up with the second move you want to do and repeat this over and over… Use the Basic dance steps as your default moves that you go in and out of, so that you can buy yourself some time till you remember the next one. Another thing that may help is to have a 4-5 memorized sequence that you start with just to get into the groove in the beginning.
2. Changing of direction
When we talk about changing the lady’s direction we mean any move that requires leading the lady to go from:
– A back walk to a forward walk (done in all dances).
– Closed position to a promenade position (Done often in Tango).
– Turning her underarm (Done a lot in Salsa, Cha Cha and Rumba).
– And many other direction changes.
Leaders must understand exactly what they need to do with their torsos, arms, legs and feet to change their partners’ direction. They also must know exactly on what count they change her direction on. Often times, leaders are either too early or too late with their signals. For example, if you are dancing the foxtrot basic step where the ladies are always going back… In order for you to lead her to go to the promenade position, you would need to first stop her momentum of going back by applying a stop with your arms on her back and then also open her with your torso to face promenade position. This all has to be done at the EXACT time for it to be effortless! As you can see understanding how to change the direction is crucial. This is something that is very hard to explain with words so I may make some videos in the future with specific examples.
3. Changing of timing
Leaders are also responsible for changing their partner’s timing. There are many moves that require different rhythms. Timing changes are done when you want to dance something faster or slower. For example, in foxtrot you can go from the regular S,S,Q,Q timing to a S,Q,Q timing. In Cha Cha you can go from the regular “1,2,3, Cha, Cha” timing to a syncopated timing of “2,&,3, Cha Cha, 1”. These are just some examples and there many more. . If you are going to speed up into a syncopated timing you need to make sure that you lead you partner very early as to give her an indication to go faster into her next step. The single most IMPORTANT thing you must do make a clear timing change is to be very clear with YOUR OWN body timing. The better you can dance your own timing the more your partner will feel it.
I hope this post helps you become a better leader and gives you an understanding of what you should focus on when you learn new moves.
Leave a comment below and tell me what your thoughts are.
Written by Leon Turetsky
Mastering the art of leading
Mastering the art of following
Ballroom Dance articles
Manoj Agarwal says
But the leader should have the capacity to dance as per his or her moves
Leon Turetsky says
Yes I agree the leader should dance the moves he knows, but if he doesn’t lead them well, he cannot expect the follower to be able to follow him the way he wants.
aaron aragon says
Protecting the lady is paramount on a crowded dance floor. That is where direction comes in. Also, dance with a lady at your level when dancing out of studio–advanced ladies have no respect and little patience with inferior leaders.
Chuck Beckman says
Your tips and instruction are very much appreciated and looked forward to.
Soul Dance Entertainment says
This is Great!
Josephy K says
Very good information for the leader, the man,
Kind Regards Joseph
Invaluable advice that is seldom covered in dance classes and should be mandatory
and frequently repeated for both leaders and followers!
Sometimes it´ll a bit difficult to lead, when you´re unsure
what your next step will be. In this case I get back to a
known Basic step until I know what I want to dance next
Leon Turetsky says
Rainer, Exactly! That’s a very good strategy… Going back to a basic step allows you to regroup and think about the next step you want to do.
Victor Chieco says
In our world today, I think we should use leader and follower and leave out the man’s and women’s as a woman can lead and a man can follow, swithching roles and sometimes it is a preference. I want to say your role definitions are right on.
But I have also had as many complaints that the man does not always lead and the woman follow. Very contentious in women’s equality as the “leader” is often considered a superior position and “follower” is subservient.
These dance videos are the best. So clear and very easy to follow, would recommend these videos to anyone wanting to master the art of dancing.
Sergio Romero says
Excellent Article! I am a Teacher and I can see that these Principles that you shared apply not only to Dance, but also to any kind of Teaching. I am planning to apply these Responsibilities/Principles you shared not only in Dance, but also in the classroom with my students. This is a Great Plan to have others follow you.
Leon Turetsky says
True these applicable to many aspects of life.
Joseph Rochford says
That’s truth Leon rhythm and timing is the key factor in enabling you to change direction for either him or her
Hi Leon, my husband and I are new to dancing. We are enthusiastic learners who attend both a local UK dance class and practice class once a week and your videos, emails and articles provide a valuable addition to our learning. We love the clarity that you provide and the structured approach to deliver expert advice.
Articles such as ones about leading and following are really accelerating our learning – super glad we found you. Many thanks.
Herminio Perez says
I was a good dancer when young. Now at 78 I’m piking up dancing for exercise.
Your videos & tips have been very helpful, Thank you very much.
Mark Schwartz says
Excellent article; thanks. Any thoughts on the specific skills required for leading and following at different levels? My wife and I are in Quebec, Canada and are at the Bronze level.
Leon Turetsky says
To lead and follow at different levels is a big question. But one thing I can say is that usually the followers will only be able to dance to the level of the leader. Meaning the leader decides the level of the dance moves most of the time… The followers have to follow.
Oscar Lapena says
Very informative article!
I’m sometimes overwhelmed during the dance thinking of the next move and when to properly execute it. Also the right amount of pressure I have to give to push & pull my partner.
Tom Manley says
I add to the three basic roles, that the leader must also recognize the beat and the timing, decide when to start, manage traffic on the dance floor, choose figures that can use the space available, and make his lady look pretty with the appropriate dance figures.