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How to Lead without Leading (Or, How to Make it Look Easy)

‘Great dancers make dancing look easy’. Have you ever heard this before? Maybe it’s been a pipe-dream of yours, imagining yourself guiding your partner smoothly across the floor, seemingly without effort.

I looked for this magical quality too, and what I learned was that it all came back to one, all-important principle: To make it look easy, you have to do more, with less.

The following principles will help you move your partner with minimal effort. Because if partner dancing feels like work, it won’t feel like fun.

Strength vs Force

Strength comes from your body. Sometimes instructors will tell you to ‘keep your body strong’, meaning increase the tension in your frame and core so you can move yourself and your partner like a single unit.

Force on the other hand, comes through pushing of the hands, and it will feel like work. Plus, it will sacrifice your frame, so you’ll look more like wrestling than dancing.

Leading from your body won’t just feel easier, it will look easier too. Because you aren’t pushing – you’re just moving, and your partner ‘just happens’ to be connected to you.

Momentum Drives the Dance

Dance is movement, so if you stop moving, you stop dancing. You also have to work harder to start dancing again, because you have to rebuild the momentum you’ve lost.

Like a certain law of thermodynamics, momentum can’t be created or destroyed – only transferred, in ways that can be either productive or destructive to you. For example, look at the basic solo spot turn.

Your partner usually waits for your hand to come up, while maintaining pressure as you ‘stir’ them around the turn. This causes you to be pushing constantly which – you guessed it – is more work.

Instead, increase the pressure slightly when you bring your hand up (your partner should do the same). Now, quickly move your hand through the first quarter of the turn and relax the pressure until they return to you.

This sudden release of pressure will power your partner quickly through the turn with minimal effort on your part. Many leads, like open breaks and cross body leads, also use this ‘springboard’ action to create effortless movement.

Your Belly is your Friend

No, I’m not kidding. Your belly is roughly where your centre of gravity is – someone pushing you from this point would move you straight backward without tipping you over.

Most novice leaders tend to do ‘Godzilla dancing’, meaning they tend to lean in menacingly with their upper body, while their hapless follower is bend over backwards in terror.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but it DOES put both dancers in uncomfortable and unbalanced positions. Instead try moving from your belly, rather than your shoulders.

This keeps you upright and poised, so you can move together without any apparent effort on your part. And the best part? She’ll thank you for leading better than before!

We’ll look at three more ways to lead without leading… Next time!


About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance and his endless seeking for ways to reach new audiences eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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