Dance Smarts - For Leads & Follows

Nice to have you here! In this post we talk about something I call dance smarts. If you are a lead, follows will love if you do this. And if you are a follow, leads will too!

This is an excerpt from one of my books - "The Secrets of Social Dance - How to Become a Popular Dancer" which you can find on Amazon.

Be Gentle

This might seem obvious, but it is still far too common to not include here. Good technique is not painful at all. Poor technique can be. 

  • First of all, don't squeeze your partner. Not the hand, not the body.
  • Don't hold your partner's fingers. If you hold the fingers, doing any kind of turn might also turn your partners' fingers in their place. No more dancing with that partner. Maybe ever.
  • Avoid pushing and pulling. Your partner wants to keep their arms in place, no need to pull them off. If you are gentle, everything will work out better. Remember, leads send a signal. They make a suggestion. It is up to the follow to interpret that signal and move. The lead shouldn't move the follow with force.
  • It might be more common that leads are too rough with their partners, but it can happen that follows are hanging on their partner, use them for balance, or pull their arms from time to time too. 

To me, dance is art. Dance is elegance. Dance is precision. There should never be a need for force.

The best way for follows to avoid forceful leading is to maintain a presence in their body, from the core, out to the frame, arms and legs. The more that leads feels this presence, the more they can trust there will be a reaction when they give the lead. And the less force they need to use. The better the follow, the lighter you can be. And the worse, the stronger you have to lead. But you should never do more than indicate. Never force.

Of course, some leads use too much force no matter what. But that is another story. It is merely a bad habit. Avoid it as much as you can. Be gentle. Lead as soft as you can while still being clear. It should only be an indication, not a demand.

Follows sometimes reject dances with rough leads. They accept a lead that is ok. And they love a smooth and soft lead.

Don't Leave Your Partner

If you are more advanced and dance with someone who is not used to dancing solo, don't take the first chance and break off from them to do your shines. Don't leave them alone on the floor, without knowing what to do, until you are finished with your shines. If you notice they seem uncomfortable dancing alone, return to them as fast as you can.


Start Easy

When you dance with someone you know well you already know their level. You know what to expect and how you can dance together. It might always make sense to start each dance a bit easier to warm up, but you can progress pretty fast with dancers you know.

When you dance with someone for the first time, it makes a lot of sense to start easy and gradually increase the difficulty. First of all, you need to warm up a bit. But more importantly, you need to know what you can and cannot do. And it can take a little time to find the right level.

The smart thing to do is to begin from basics. Check if leading and following works. As long as it does, you can keep advancing, keep doing more complicated steps and moves.

If you reach their level, it is time to slow down again. I personally like to challenge my partner a bit. I want to create the feeling or thought in the follow that "I didn't know I could do that". But remember not to push it. When mistakes happen, it reflects just as poorly on the lead. The follow can only make one mistake. Not follow. The lead can make two. One of them is to try to dance above his own level and then he is not leading well. The other mistake is to try to dance above the follow's level. Then he didn't pay attention enough to find the right level. In both cases, mistakes happen. So, try to dance on a level that is appropriate for the follow, or at the level of your own leading capabilities, if the follow is a better dancer.

If something doesn't work, don't insist on it. Usually, if something goes wrong on the dance floor, I try to repeat that move once more. More often than not, it failed because I had become too relaxed in my lead and not focused enough. So, I do it once more and really try to be as clear as I can. Most follows appreciate a second chance, especially if they noticed the signal too late and realised they made a mistake.

I want to give the follow the chance to do it right when I am at my best. Usually, it works the second time, but if it doesn't, I don't do it again. I just try to memorise what kind of move it was that I couldn't make her follow and then try to avoid that kind of move. I don't want to turn the dance into a forced class where I desperately try to protect my own ego by making a move until I make it, while at the same time breaking down the confidence of my partner. Better to just skip it.

And if almost nothing works, don't try to do anything special. Just do the basics and focus on connection and some musicality.

Respect Distance

Some ladies are more comfortable being close, and some are less. Everything in dance is done with consent, and this goes for proximity too. If you notice that the lady is trying to maintain more distance, respect that. Let go a bit and create some more space.

If you don't notice, or if you don't respect it, you might soon find yourself less requested on the dance floor. Ladies talk - about the dancers who are good, but maybe even more about the ones to avoid.

Less is More

Some leads go out and fire off everything they got within three minutes - all the fancy moves in one song. There is no stop. No pauses. No breaks. Just full speed ahead. For some reason, many leads think that this is how they can impress on the dance floor, that this is what follows want. They think follows want to have an advanced dance. And the more advanced moves you can squeeze in in a dance, the better.

If you ask around any number of follows, you will notice that this is not what they want at all. Ladies almost always prefer more connection and musicality while dancing. It doesn't have to be advanced at all. A dancer who has good basics, focuses on connection and plays with the music is much more requested on the floor.

Vary Your Dance

It usually doesn't matter very much how little we know as long as we vary the dance a bit. But if we keep making the same move over and over, it can get a bit boring.

Believe me; I don't have an immense repertoire in bachata. I know the basics and a couple of different turns. It is pretty much what I learned and still remember from one year of learning bachata, but I have been using this material for more than ten years now.

I do very little, but I do it pretty well. And I try to vary what I do when I dance. I try to keep it interesting, and usually I can entertain a follow for at least a song or two. It even happens that they invite me again! A few things but done well and with some variation goes a long way.

Take it Easy with Dips

Some follows love dips. It is a showy move that doesn't take too much space on the floor, and in some dance styles it is pretty standard also socially.

And some follows hate them, for different reasons. 

  • Dips require some flexibility. Some follows are younger and naturally flexible. Some are a bit older and maybe not as strong and flexible anymore.
  • Dips require technique. If you do dips poorly, it can go very wrong. If you dance with someone you don't know since before, you don't know how they dance. A lead doesn't know how the follow will react to a dip. Do they have the technique? Do they lean in slowly or do they throw themselves towards the floor? A follow must know how to do it safely, without putting all her weight on the lead. And a lead must have the technique to handle whatever comes. That is why you shouldn't do deep dips immediately with people you don't know.
  • Dips require trust. A follow needs to trust the lead, and the lead needs to trust the follow. Trust comes from knowing each other. Trust comes with time.

It is pretty obvious that you shouldn't make a deep dip with an 80-year-old lady.  And if someone tells you they don't do dips, don't do them.

If you want to do dips as a lead, and no one told you not to do it, you can ask, or start slowly - just an indication. Don't go deep. If it works, and she doesn't tell you not to do it, you can try it a bit deeper next time. If you are a follow and don't like it, say it to the lead.

And if you are a lead and they tell you not to do it again, don't do it.

Once you know each other better, you both know what to expect. You can both trust each other, and you both know the limitations.

Limit Tricks

It is a social, not a stage. Follows usually prefer a more relaxed dance. They often prefer to have at least one foot on the floor. Everybody else is dancing too, so no need to show off, no need to do tricks and acrobatics.

Tricks can also be a problem because they can be dangerous, for both lead and follow, and even for surrounding couples. Floorcraft requires we take care and make sure that everyone around us is safe. Doing tricks is not part of that curriculum.

If you want to do a lot of tricks, join a dance crew or student team, learn Quebradita, or maybe a gymnastics team.



Your job as a follow is to listen to the signals the lead is sending. This means you need to pay attention. And you have to interpret these signals and translate them into dance. What does the lead want you to do?

The better you are at listening, the better information you have for the translation into movements.


Try to relax. Try to live in the moment. Don't anticipate. When you are relaxed, it will be easier to leave yourself in the lead's care. Being tense or nervous never helps. I know, easier said than done, especially if you are a beginner dancer or dance with that special person that makes you nervous. But at least try.

As a lead, you feel when a follow starts to relax. Because they stop thinking of what is coming, they stop guessing what is going to happen. They start being present, in the moment, paying attention to the signals. And when they do, all of a sudden, they understand better and start taking the steps where they need to take them to find balance. Everything becomes easier. Everything works better.

Trust Your Partner

When you trust your partner, you leave yourself to their lead. If you don't trust your partner, you will never be able to follow.

If you are always trying to check and make sure that things went as intended, and maybe even trying to fix some problems, it is never good. Fixing problems is the responsibility of the lead. Follows, trust it is right and that the lead will fix it if it is not.

Suggestion - Check the kizomba, fusion, musicality and follow technique courses here


Note: Commissions may be earned from the links above 


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