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WHY Do We Use Heel/Ball Leads in Our Dance Patterns?

For an activity as challenging and agile as dance, it’s no surprise that correct foot placement is “kind of a big deal”. What IS a surprise for many is how much the way your foot hits the floor plays a role in your dance patterns.

Simply put, “heel” leads are used in smooth/standard dance patterns, and they use steps much like walking: heel-to-toe when stepping forward, and toe-to-heel when stepping backwards. 

“Ball” leads on the other hand, are common to rhythm/Latin dance patterns, and use constant connection with the front part of your foot and the floor. Just woke up and plodding over to the kitchen to grab some Shreddies? Yup, that’s the feeling.

So… why? Well, when you use heel leads, the whole length of your foot is getting involved with the step, creating a smooth rolling feeling to your movements. Particularly key for dance patterns that eat up a lot of space – you want smooth momentum to be your friend during those 200 bpm quicksteps.

Speaking of smooth movement, it’s also pretty important to the swinging of the leg, which happens with most smooth/standard dance patterns. Swinging the leg forward with the ankle flexed naturally brings the heel closest to the ground, and vice versa when the leg swings back.

Okay, how about ball leads? In rhythm/Latin dance patterns (and nightclub dances too), taking up a lot of space with giant steps is not a good idea – and might get you elbowed in the teeth. Instead, the emphasis is on sharp, intricate, and “rhythmic” (read: sexy) dance patterns.

When’s the last time you saw a tennis or a basketball player back on their heels? Both sports require the players to constantly move from the balls of their feet, so they can “push off” in different directions. Likewise, the more you keep the front of your feet on the floor, the faster you can respond to that surprise around-the-world turn.

Finally, ball leads help you “stick” to the floor when your movements would otherwise throw you off balance. Often dancers “skate” on the floor, loosing balance as a result of momentum in their dance patterns pulling their feet away from it’s original spot. Maintaining pressure by pointing your toes into the floor will keep each step right where you left it.

In short, heel and ball leads are the unsung heroes in your dance patterns – you never notice how important they are unless you aren’t using them.

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 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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