One of the most common things beginner leads do in social dance when the follow is not responding as expected, is to lead the move again but stronger. As you can imagine, this is very uncomfortable for follows and you may hurt them.
I have been blessed to experience leads that are very gentle but nevertheless clear. During these dances I had no doubt about what they were asking me to do – no force or strong grip required. Therefore I am aware that leading softly but clearly is possible.
In this article I will share my experience and give you 8 ways to make your lead more clear without resorting to force.
1. Check the Timing of Your Lead
Sometimes your lead happens too late or too early and this produces a completely different outcome. Make sure you’re giving the lead at the right moment.
2. Position Your Lead Correctly
To be more clear you might need to change the position of your lead – usually your hand. Maybe you’re holding your hand on her waist, but it needs to be on her shoulder blade? Your hand could be too low, too high, too far, too close or at the wrong angle. A couple of inches could make a difference here.
3. Use Pre-Movements
Before you lead something, there is almost always a pre-movement. For example when you turn to the left, you first prepare your follow to the right. When you want to go up, the pre-movement is down. Breathing is also a great way to prepare for the next move. Pre-movements make it very clear for the follow that something is going to happen and help her body get ready for what’s coming.
4. Move Your Own Body As Well
Follows take visual cues from you, so don’t forget to use your whole body to dance. The angle of your body, the openness of your chest and many other things can help follows understand you better. Leaders are often supposed to do the same movement as follows, just smaller – for example body rolls. (NB! Don’t use facial expressions to signal, you will probably look very silly doing that.)
5. Be Clear on Directions
We generally think about eight possible directions when we dance: front, back, left, right and the diagonals between each of them, similar to a compass’s directions. If you are clear on which way you want to send your follow, it will be apparent for her as well.
6. Understand Follow’s Weight Changes
Leaders should always keep an eye on the follow’s center of balance. Did she finish with the weight on her left foot, right foot or in the center? Is that what you wanted? If the follow is on the wrong foot but you disregard that and just lead whatever the next move is you planned, she will probably trip over her own feet. This is why you need to pay attention in the class even when they explain the follow’s part. The skill of understanding the weight of the follow will make you an excellent leader!
7. Know What You Want
Moments of hesitation or indecision in your mind will show in your body. When you are not sure what you want to lead, the follows will feel your confusion and hesitate as well. The leader needs to know what comes next even before the first movement has finished. This is why beginners who lack confidence are harder to understand.
8. Give Enough Information
Leaders often feel like they need to use more strength with beginners. What you really need to do is give them more information on what to do and offer a steadier connection (aka touch). Advanced follows will be fine even if you let them go for a while and can enjoy the space to improvise, but beginners cannot fill in the blanks yet. You may want to research restrictive vs indicative leading.
As you can see, there are eight ways of making your lead more clear instead of using force. (There could be even more that I’m not aware of, let me know in the comments below!) Applying more strength to “make it clear” for the follow is probably a lack of skill in the points mentioned above.
How to know if your positioning, timing, pre-movements and other details are correct? Ask your dance teacher. They love it when you have questions in the class and will happily give you privates as well. Only when you have exhausted all these options and nothing else helps, you may be one of the few leads who is indeed too soft and needs to put more energy into their lead.
Even if you do everything “right”, keep in mind that the follow may choose not to follow consciously because she doesn’t want to do the movement for whatever reason. (Read this and this post!) In general, it’s better not to use force at all, even with beginners.
Hope this was helpful and gave you some insight into what it takes to be a clear leader without using more strength. Happy learning!