I recently arrived home from one of the largest Zouk congresses in the world. It was full of all kinds of social dance partners, but there are a few that truly stick out in my mind. One was a dance where, after the first 20 seconds, I became very scared for my safety. But, unlike every other rough dance I’ve had, the leader managed to transform this dance into one of my most memorable of the weekend.

It was clear from 0:01 that the guy could dance. He had good body control, good footwork, and was very musical. However, there was a caveat: he over-led every single movement. This meant that most of the steps were led with such force that I had to hold myself ‘on guard’ at all times. Needless to say, this does not make a dance enjoyable.

About 20 seconds into the dance, he attempted a turn that would place my arm into a hammer lock position (This means that my arm would be bent behind my back at a 90 degree angle). Just FYI: I don’t do hammer locks with rough leads; it’s a recipe for an injury. So, I didn’t follow the lead. I just did a little sway on the spot.

Now, the lead assumed that the reason I hadn’t followed was because I didn’t know what he was doing. He led it again – ironically with more force, and with the added pressure of the thumb digging in to the top of the hand.. I again didn’t go there, and instead just responded with a body movement. Rather than let it go and carry on, he made eye contact, began the lead again, and started trying to use his other hand to force-turn me. Recipe for a nightmare, no?

I refused to move. Instead, I shook my head, leaned in close and said, “I know what you’re trying to lead. I’m not going there because the way you are leading is too forceful and it’s hurting me.”

Eyes wide, he stopped looked at me for a good 2 seconds. Based on the fact that he’d tried to force-lead the movement, my guess would have been that he would leave the dance angry and insulted. He decided to prove me wrong. Very deliberately, he conducted the same lead again – but with a gentle movement. I followed.

We danced 3 more songs in a row. They were effing fantastic. The person from the first :20 seconds of the song was gone, replaced by a considerate, gentle and expressive lead that I loved dancing with. It turned into one of my best dances of the night. There are a couple takeaways for this, both for leads and follows.  

Follows, the leads who care about you and want to give you a good dance will listen to you. This doesn’t give you a carte blanche to say mean things about their dancing; no one is perfect. It does mean that you can use your voice (and your body) to communicate when things aren’t going so well for you. You aren’t relegated to be a passive, submissive part of the dance; you can ask (or comment) in a civil way to obtain the dance you are looking for.

Leads, this guy erred only in one thing: trying to force the initial movement. Everything else this lead handled absolutely wonderfully. Rather than take offense, he adapted his dance and ended up making us both happy. He could have been offended or discouraged, but instead he changed his approach to resolve an issue. Would it have been better if he had picked up on the initial dance body language I was giving? Yes, but no one is perfect. You all have this power: to adapt your approach to make follows happy. It only requires an open mind and paying attention to what the follows are saying – verbally and non-verbally.


Photo: Brian De Rivera Simon, Tarsipix Studios