I had a great question from Debbie about a problem many women struggle with when social Salsa dancing, so I thought write a whole article with some suggestions. She says:
“Some dancers I dance great with and others I muck up moves although most of the time I know what I should have done and a repeat from the lead means I can do it right!! But sometimes I haven’t got a clue what is being led and some men get the hump!!”
Here’s my take on this with some practical tips on solving the problem:
Firstly, rapport in the dance is really important and vastly overlooked in group teaching which tends to focus on moves and ignores the partnership aspect of Salsa partnerwork…and that is that this dance is a collaboration. Both partners have equal responsibility to show up, be present, and deliver their part of the bargain.
Sometimes partnerships simply don’t gel. However, the better the lady’s technique and understanding of core Salsa moves and footwork, the more immunity she has from ambiguous and badly timed, imprecise leads.
Women do blame themselves if they can’t follow…believe it or not, many guys blame themselves when this happens as well. Some don’t though – even if know they delivered a poor lead. Arrogance and bad manners do sometimes rear their head on as well as off the dancefloor.
Bottom line is as long as you’re doing your best to deliver your part of the dance to your current ability, there is no excuse for a guy to have any issue
If you are struggling as a follower, here are the two things I would start with:
Make sure you are giving the full weight of your arms to the lead (but not pushing down). As an example, if you place your hands in his at the start of the dance, if he took his hands away, yours should literally drop to your sides. Many women hold their arms up by contracting their bicep and front shoulder muscles, which stiffens them and makes them tense. When this happens it’s impossible to feel very much from the lead at all, and equally impossible to be led.
- Get solid in your footwork
It’s not the follower’s job to know what’s being led. However, owning the basic moves and being able to perform them on balance, on time, on the line and independently of the lead – cross body with and without turns, copa, single turns, broken turns and double spins – will give you a lot more confidence because most things in cross body Salsa are combinations of these foot patterns. When you have this nailed, what the arms are doing becomes largely irrelevant and you can just let the guy move them freely.
It gets trickier when guys lead a fusion of cross body and Cuban because this inevitably means that there will be sections of the dance that don’t respect the line, making a follower’s orientation within the dance much more challenging.
Guys, if you’ve read this far there are a couple of things you can do to help a lady if she’s not following particularly well:
- Make the dance more predictable for her
The human brain is all about prediction and response. If it can’t predict the future, it is unable to formulate an appropriate course of action. Without a viable response, it goes into threat mode. This is basically the nervous system’s panic alarm and on a physical level will accelerate heart rate but also stop her body moving freely. This isn’t something she is in control of – it’s an involuntary physiological reaction to stress or overwhelm.
Any time you feel her panic levels rising, go back to simple moves, stick to the line, and relax your own tension.
- Help her out!
If there’s something you know she finds tricky, give her a chance. Can you make your lead more readable? Maybe initiate the move slightly earlier, look at your own body positioning, or use more control points to encourage her to move the right way.
Neither partner should assume full responsibility or beat themselves up when things don’t flow smoothly. Instead, focus on the things that did work, and look at the things that didn’t at a later date OFF the dancefloor when you can practice and improve them.