I happened to overhear a couple of girls chatting on the edge of the dance floor once…


One said to the other “Oh you should go and dance with that guy over there…he’s a really good lead.”


The way they were talking, you would think that “good leads” were rarer than unicorn poo.


I know if I was a novice guy stepping out for my first few social dances, I would have been really intimidated to hear that conversation…to think that girls were vetting guys for each other.


I realised that if they were advising each other who to dance with, then they were probably discussing who to avoid as well.



Now I know what I want to feel when I dance as a follower, so that has definitely influenced the way I lead when I dance the man’s role socially, and is probably why a lot of girls tell me I’m a better lead than a lot of guys.


But I’ve also discovered that the guys I consider to be good leads, and most like dancing with share certain traits which I’ve described below:


So why not take advantage of my insider knowledge and experience of dancing both roles…


If you’re a guy and you want to be one of those guys that girls love to dance with, and recommend to their friends, then this is what you need to know:


It’s never about the moves – it’s about how you make her feel.

A woman wants to feel gorgeous on the dance floor. She wants to feel feminine, and that she has 100% of your attention for the duration of the song.


Good leads can make a very simple dance feel wonderful for the lady simply by changing a few things.


Switching between open and closed hold and using your frame to move her rather than dragging with your hands.


They add embellishments like haircombs and hand flicks which aren’t difficult to do but add flavour and interest to the dance.


They give her space to do shines if she is into that, but never leave her stranded for more than a couple of bars if she is clearly out of her comfort zone.

Shulagh Dancing Salsa


The best leads make you feel like you’re not even being led.

There should be nothing forced or jarring about your leading technique, regardless of the moves or the speed of the music.


Good leads understand that moves flow into each other. They understand how to help the lady create her own momentum for turns without needing to push or shove.


A good lead will have a constant conversation with the follower through his hands all the way through the dance.


He will also adjust the tension and the strength of his lead for every woman he dances with.


She wants to dance with a person, not a robot.

A lady likes to think that you are creating the dance spontaneously in the moment, not doing exactly the same moves in the same order that you’ve danced with everyone else.


Unfortunately, the first combinations you learn in lower level classes are the ones that tend to stick, and the more you repeat these and embed them into your muscle memory, the harder it is to integrate new stuff.


Good leads understand how hand changes and positioning can completely change the look and feel of a move and will be able to create a completely new dance every song.


She wants to feel safe.

If she is visibly struggling to maintain balance or keep her timing, then she probably won’t be enjoying the dance.


If your lead feels rough or too strong, or you’re pumping her through turns and multiple spins with too much gusto, then the dance won’t be comfortable for her.


This also applies to tricks or dips where she is relying on you for support to exit the move safely – if she feels that she can’t rely on your timing or ability, then she may well abort the move.


Good leads will dance to the level of their follower, and will check in with her to make sure she’s ok and enjoying the dance. They only lead tricks and dips when they are certain that she’s ok with it.


They have eyes in the back of their head and a sixth sense for who’s around them and will always look first to make sure they’re not sending their partner spinning into another couple.


She wants you to have fun too

She doesn’t want to dance with a poker-faced move machine!


She wants to think that you are enjoying dancing with her as much as she is enjoying dancing with you. Any hint on your face that you are going through the motions, or if you make her feel bad about messing up, then it’s game over.


Good leads smile and interact and always have a sense of fun. They will usually take the blame if something goes wrong, even if it’s not really their fault, and will make even the most nervous beginner feel at ease.


She wants you to take charge.

Good leads exude confidence and have a commanding presence on the dance floor.


They use clear body language and position themselves so the follower is in no doubt about where she needs to go.


They don’t need to impress with triple spins and a whirlwind of crazy moves in the early part of the song.


They start the dance simply so they can stay in control and get a feel for how the follower is moving, before they build up to more complex combinations.


They have great timing and respect the music, and will take care of breaks and changes, making sure you are always on the right foot.


Becoming a “good lead” is about much more than the moves and how you physically lead them.

It takes time, effort and a certain amount of experience so you learn how to adjust and adapt to different partners and situations.


But when you have your pick of dance partners all night long and stay busy on the dance floor because all the ladies (and their friends) want to dance with you, you’ll know it’s been worth it.