You may hear us follows from time to time admire our favourite leaders. We may call them strong leads, but when we say ‘strong’, it may mean something different.
When we say ‘strong’, we don’t mean muscles. What we mean is security: how it is that you hold us. Our bodies are strong, but they are also fragile: one wrong move can put us out for good. It is a risk we take because we love dancing. We don’t care whether you can bench-press 200 kg, or whether you can barely do a push-up. We don’t want to fear your dance, we want to feel safe and secure within it.
Please don’t think that you must be a bodybuilder to be secure. You can be a tiny woman who embodies this type of strength, or you can be a mammoth of a man that gives us the security of tissue paper. Aim to hold us with the security you would hold a young child. That is the security we need.
When we say ‘strong’, we don’t mean using power. We mean clarity. The best communicators can say what they need in a whisper, but still be perfectly understood. The worst can yell at the top of their lungs, and we never catch a word. We have no desire to wrestle with you; we simply desire to understand what you want. Aim for efficiency over volume: determine exactly what it is we need, and get rid of anything extra. That is the clarity we need.
When we say ‘strong, we don’t mean forceful. We mean sensitive. We do not want to be hauled around the dance floor, stressing because we cannot keep up with your movements. We want someone who can feel when we are behind, when we need more time, or when we don’t understand. We want someone who is sensitive enough to slow down on their own journey to take us with them. Understand our bodies, for they are the instrument we use to connect with you. That is the sensitivity we need.
When we say ‘strong’, we don’t want your physical strength. We want you to connect strongly with us. Feel us. Be present with us. Hold us and keep us safe. Then, we will create magic with you. We will give you ourselves with no reservations, because we are safe.
Be the right kind of strong, and we will give you the best of us – with nothing held back.
Hi Laura. I’m a dance teacher and love your website and your insights on dancing. This is a well-written article. We’re running a small competition in October in the Vancouver area and are looking for a few good articles to put into the printed event program. We would give you credit and put your website link in the article. Can I have your permission to use this article on leading?
Absolutely you can! Consider also adding your competition to http://www.danceplace.com 🙂 It’s a free service, and we are compiling events, dances, and schools from around the world.
There is an article out about strong leads and basically it speaks to many of the things what is not meant by the term strong leads, like not this, neither this, and definitely not that…
This reminds me of my experiences of asking exes out to eat and the start with their willingness to go anywhere…. except any place I mention. I find this very frustrating. The world is so large and telling me the billion things of what you don’t want or mean in the realm of infinity is a drop of water in the desert.
I have been described as a strong lead. I will do my best to be specific on what I understand that means. And sometimes I succeed at it.
I would like to dance with someone who can hold all of me, sees me in the moment and compliments my expression of myself.
Hold the moment until you can take the step with all of your presence. Hear all of your internal chatter, notice that it is there, draw inspiration from it, let it be empty and meaningless. Create a space of safety. So safe that the most dangerous become possible. Feel the flow… All the flows, (only mentioned a few) the flow of your blood, your emotions, your energy, your partner’s energy(listen listen listen LISTEN to your partner), the music and then mess around with reckless abandon.
“The stronger you are, the gentler you will be.”
I hope that this article was more enlightening for you, and indicated what follows are actually looking for when they say strong.
I love your blog! I’m really interested in the intersection between dancing and horsemanship, and so much of your blog is relevant to that. This entry in particular is pretty much exactly what I think horses would say to us if they could talk. I especially love the end! Thanks for sharing!
To me, a strong lead is like a black belt in karate. They will never hurt you because they have control. You can fight a black belt and lose the match, but if you are a white belt,they will do it without injuring you. On the other hand, a white belt usually doesn’t have enough self-control to pull their punches and sometimes, quite by accident, will hurt you very badly. This is also true on the dance floor. Sometimes, in their enthusiasm, people don’t always realize that their strong lead is painful. I like to be invited to the dance, not manhandled. That’s why girls ooh and aah over the men who “can dance.” It’s because they are, as the Dog Whisperer says, “relaxed dominant.” Their lead is light but firm. They know where they are, and they understand where you are and how to gently take you where they want you to go. If you can’t do a move, they don’t berate you because you’re not over there where you should be. They just smile and they adjust and sweep you into a different move that you can do. It’s like a really nice conversation where a man asks you to do something as opposed to a man yelling and trying to force you to do something. I don’t mind dancing with men who are a little forceful, because I usually think they are just learning, but I melt over men who can lead me in a strong, clear, gentle fashion.
Great article! However, I don’t know if leads actually can tell the difference between “strong” physical lead vs. “strong” clear leads. As a follower, we can tell easily because we’ve danced with so many different leads. Weak vs. aggressive vs. firm vs. late etc, but I really wonder whether the leads themselves know where on the scale they are?
I danced with someone who claims they’ve been teaching salsa for awhile (to a kids mainly) and is more than happy and proud to teach beginners on the dance floor at salsa clubs. I don’t think he realize how aggressive a lead he is. I’ve danced with him twice, once as a beginner and once when I was comfortable with following, and both times I felt I was stumbling through all my steps throughout the song because he lead so aggressively: he physically turned me before I could react to his signal to turn. He jerked me back and forth before I could switch weight in my footing, he shoved me back and pulled me forwards during the basics. I was a ragdoll for the song, but he legitimately thinks he is a great lead and teacher. I don’t understand.
Great article, thanks! As a fairly new lead I’ve heard lots about lead and what it should like. Over time I have been taught to provide the type of lead a more advanced dancer likes. And of course I have come to prefer this immensely.
One of the difficulties I do find now though is that many beginners ask for a more forceful lead because they don’t really know what they are doing and don’t understand the gentler approach…and now I find it a challenge to switch back and forth. If I dance with beginners for a while then I find myself ‘manhandling’ a more advanced parter.. Argg.
As JeaneL says, followers have such a great idea about the variety of leads out there.. maybe all us leaders have to become followers for a while so we ‘get it’!
Sounds like you’ve gotten some good advice 🙂 BUT, I would say that with beginners it is not force, but clarity you should be striving for. A ‘strong’ lead uses what the advanced follows like but amplify it for the beginner… but force is not the answer.
I second that. Lately, I’ve been helping out in an intermediate level class, and my partner, a very likable woman, almost matches my six feet and has a slight weight advantage. No way to achive anything with force. At first I was frustrated because my oh so great technique seemed to just evaporate.
But soon I found practising with her reveals a lot of otherwise hidden weaknesses in my posture, axis and so on. So while she is striving to be a better listener, I am working on my accent, and we’re both happy 😉
I must agree with lot of what you are saying. In my opinion the problem of “forcefull” leads is mainly caused by the way classes are taught (steps instead of technique). Ascpecially in begginers classes, dancers are usually taught even complicated turns and steps (so they feel they know how to dance) and no leading and following practice takes place.
On one hand I understand it. If you spent these 6 x 1,5h classes just on the important stuff people will leave feeling that they dont know anything. So instead they know lots of step variations that looks cool, but dont know how to lead it.
And unfortuantelly not only leaders are missing these skills on these classes. But followers too. When I was starting to dance Salsa I had already experience from Ballroom. So I had pretty strong frame. And every follower was praising me that I can put them where they need to be. And that Im the only one they can finish the figure. I was so proud of myself. Not realising it is because they had no idea how to foolow, so the only way to move them there was basically to move them there like sack of grain. If you are leader on the begginers class there isnt much more you can do 🙁 You have to be really experienced dancer to lead these complete begginers and do it in correct gentle way. There is no way to begginng leader to learn it properly with begging follower.
So dancers learns many bad practices there. And it took me while (and sometimes Im still strungling with it) to learn that with experienced follow, the leading work in compltelly diferent way. I still rememeber the class when I was dancing with my teacher. I proudly grabbed her confident that she will compliment how clear and firm my frame is. And I will not forget the look in her face clearly stating “what the hell are you doing? Just let me breathe. I can follow you myself. Dont drag me aroudn the floor” 🙂
Unfortuantelly if you are begginer it really takes a time until you get such lesson. And Im afraid many leader may not get the chance at all.
Ahhh, the holy grail of salsa leads – the firm but clear and extra gentle and perfectly on time leader. I’ve been dancing for enough years to know there are exceptionally few of these types of leads, and when they exist, many followers flock to them. What always confounds me is, though these leaders have excellent skills, about 70% of the followers don’t have sufficient sense, let alone dance skill, to recognize the quality of this type leader, so those followers end up with inferior leaders (and inevitably complain about the lack of quality leaders). Their problem, not mine, just saying. Good luck finding this “salsa unicorn” though, they are very, very rare. Most of the so-called professional dancers don’t even make this grade.
Enjoyed the article, I am not an English native, but I feel, using a word ‘clear’ leader is what you meant. I know a guy who hurts few girls, and they call him hard or strong in leading. Anyway, I enjoyed reading. REALLY.
I guess what might help is to try using your frame and body more than your hands only. It enhances connection and clarity. Indeed force is not the answer, it just takes your partner out of balance, and scare her. I really see some ‘strong’ aggressive leaders and I am just waiting for the dance to finish and the follower is still safe, functioning to dance again.
One other thing, I experience, those ‘strong followers, I mean those who just have really strong tension with their hands, they hold a leader finger like a lock that you just can not take away your hand to do a different figure, they hold you so close, almost hanging on you, then you are forced to use a force? Communicate? 🙂
My own experience, it might depends on the background of the dancers and how they learned. Some tell you are light, others demands for real strong, I know some they say I don’t feel it. Once you use aggressive force, they say yes that’s better!
I love the dance seen because of all this mix and diversity we have in a smaller world called the dance floor, and is all about the attitude of people reflecting their personality somehow.