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How to Lead without Leading – Part Two

Last time, we went over the importance of body movement, controlled momentum, and good posture in effortless leading. We’ll start today with two more tips, before wrapping up with a game that helps leaders improve their technique immensely.

Small is Classy

Consider the underarm turn in salsa or rumba. Leader’s are instructed to make a circle over their partner’s head to lead the turn. But did it occur to you that you can turn your partner the same amount with a tiny ‘halo circle’, as with a huge pot-stir? Which will cost you more effort?

You guessed it. When it comes to effortless leading, less is more. Here’s how to find the right amount of movement for your partner: start by leading as you normally would. Then, gradually make all your movements smaller, as through you were dancing in a tube that was slowly contracting.

When you reach the point where the movements are almost too small for your partner to pick up on, that’s the smallest you can go. Your aim is to give them the minimal amount of movement, while still getting them to where they need to be.

Spreading out the Energy

Learning any new way of moving can be confusing for your brain. It tries to replicate the movement, but often misfires, causing jerky or spastic actions. If you want to avoid hurting your partner or yourself, make some practice time alone to ‘calm down’ your leads.

Here’s how it works: Your brain is overwhelmed with new information, so it is late in recognizing when a specific lead has to happen. Then, instead of waiting for the next opportunity, it tries to cover the oversight with a very sudden, fast movement. Imagine if we drove our cars this way!

Through practicing, your brain will be more ready to start the lead earlier. Once you have that down, practice movingsmoothly into the lead, as though you were moving through water. This earlier but smoother lead will give you a relaxed look, while being a LOT easier to follow.

Plan ahead – The Leader Game

Probably the biggest cause of ‘leading through exertion’, is being surprised by something in the dance. When we get hit by something we weren’t planning for, all our hard-won good habits have a way of flying out the window. To avoid this, we must learn to plan ahead.

Here’s the rules of the game:

  1. Dance three basic steps in a row. If you don’t have the room for this, you might use a step that doesn’t travel much instead, like a left rock turn over a foxtrot basic.
  2. Practice this step until you feel you could lead it confidently and effortlessly.
  3. Now, dance it three more times. After the third time, throw in a different step you know. Use the three basics to plan for how to lead it.
  4. After the different step, return to your three basics and repeat.

If this is easy, see if you can last a whole song, or reduce the number of basics to two or one. If it’s hard, restrict the different steps you are allowed to do to just two or three options – this will keep you from getting drowned in choices.

We all want to look ‘like we’ve been doing this for years’. So straighten that posture, keep the movement small and smooth, and prepare for a rousing leader game. Good luck!


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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