Learning to lead a freestyle Salsa dance is a huge challenge for guys.
You’d think it was a dark art the way many Salsa teachers describe it.
I wouldn’t go that far, although it sometimes appears that men who lead well have some indefinable quality that defies description.
There’s art as well as science in good leading for sure.
There’s complexity as well as simplicity.
There’s boldness as well as refinement.
There’s experience as well as experiment.
But all of these things paradoxes aside, there are some principles which never ever change, and will elevate your lead from adequate to sublime.
These are the same things which will make your lead feel smooth as silk for the lady…like she’s not actually being led. And this, gentlemen, is how you orchestrate an exquisite dance experience for both of you:
1. Keep the line clear
It’s your job to work your butt off to put yourself in the most advantageous position to lead moves. You do this by moving to accommodate her movement – not by dragging her off the line so you can stay on it!
2. Flow your body movement around the lady
A follow-on from the first point. You should know what’s coming next before she does. This means that you can be one step ahead in terms of maneuvering yourself into the right position to deliver a lead that allows one move to flow seamlessly into the next.
3. Flow your lead smoothly through the counts rather than executing the lead on the exact count.
This is one of the red herrings encountered in group classes: you are taught to move a hand on a certain count, or start a turn on another. These are not set in stone. They can be rough markers but are movable and will vary depending on the feel of the music and the ability of the lady you’re dancing with.
4. Understand the lady’s footwork
Your lead tells the lady what you want her feet to do. If you don’t know what you want her feet to do, and when, you can’t expect to be able to lead moves effectively.
5. Realise that the speed of the lead can change throughout a move
Some moves require more momentum and rotation for the lady. Some require her to cover more ground than others. With any turn, you are leading from an asymmetric point – not directly above the centre of her head. This means that to turn her smoothly and evenly, you will have to lead one side of the circle faster than the other.
6. Adjust your lead for every woman you dance with
Every woman is different…size, stature, ability, stability, responsiveness…so you need to account for this and don’t force her to do all the compensation. I’m very light and responsive to lead, and if a guy tries to use too much force I’m likely to go spinning out through the door and into the next county. Or I’ll just dig my heels in so you don’t knock me off balance!
7. Make your lady feel safe on the dancefloor
You’re leading. It’s your responsibility to ensure that the lady has adequate room to perform the moves you lead without being catapulted backwards into another couple. You can make her feel safe by giving her recovery time in between fast, complex turn patterns, by sweeping her into a clearer space on the floor, or by simply asking her if she’s ok. However you do it, just let her know you’re looking out for her and you’ve got her back.
Work on these points, and you’ll see how the ladies you dance with do what you want, when you want, a lot more often!