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Who Leads?


  • Who Leads?

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    "Dear Edie,
    I read your "What its like to compete and have a partner ..." column. Good stuff, but it was written mostly for women. I have an big issue with my dance partner, and I was wondering if you could give me your perspective.

    She recently moved here from [another country]. I think she is the most talented Latin dancer in the whole [city]. She's a real natural. I have a zillion moves that we practice and use together. She also teaches me some really good moves.

    She keeps insisting that with really good dancers both the Man and the Woman lead - at the same time! Now this is news to me. My understanding is that there is a leader and a follower, and a good leader will tune into the energy of the follower, and adjust his dance according to the mood of the follower. But she keeps trying to tell me that the women can in effect back-lead moves, that is initiate a turn. We are even suppose to be able to both lead at the same time! So far, all that's happened is that I'm about to start to turn her in one direction, and at the same time she decides to start herself turning in a different way. So there is a near collision, we get thrown way off, and then I start asking myself why am I dancing with her?

    Now I'm trying to be understanding and open minded. If I were the woman, I would not want to always be lead around the dance floor, NEVER being able to decide for myself when and how to turn (this is part of why I like Salsa dancing so much, I get to coordinate/execute all these moves). Also, I am not from Costa Rica like she is, and for all I know maybe some people in Costa Rica really can do this! But I think she just frustrated with some other things and this is how she's taking it out on me.

    I tell her I want to tune into her mood/expresion more and respond to her. I'll even let her lead me (yes, I'll even dance the woman's part), so long as it's clear we have switched roles. But I want to draw the line when she wants to have two leaders at the same time! To me that's just out of control.

    Am I right? Have you ever heard of man and woman leading each other at the same time? In all my time dancing I have never had this issue with anyone else. On the other hand, I've never had such a good partner.

    What do you think? Any advice would be appreciated."
    - The Other Half

    I will leave this question up to some of my friends here at Dancer Hangout...

    Happy Dancing!
    - Edie, The Salsa FREAK!!

    • ediester
      ediester commented
      Editing a comment

      From Professional Salsa Dancer, Josie Neglia
      Dear Other Half,
      In my opinion, there is one leader and one follower. Both roles require a great deal of skill and very different qualities to master. The gentleman was right about a good leader tuning into the mood, level of ability and character of his partner and lead the particular moves accordingly. He is also in charge of choreographing moves to the music and moving around the dance floor without hurting his partner or others (floor craft). This means that he is always the leader and dancing in the "future" where the partner is always responding and dancing in the"now".

      However, there is something that I call "playing" that is usually with only the advanced dancers. This is where the man, at times, waits for the lady if she wants to stay and roll & circle her hips slowly a little longer before the man pulls her into the next move (but then it is still up to the man to let this happen) and it is usually because both partners are so into the MUSIC and the music is calling for that extra slowing down or hold (like in a slow sexy introduction or a long highlight). This does not mean however that the lady forces any moves that the man was not intending or initiates any of her own turns while the man is holding her. The follower on the most part, dances the MOMENT as musical as she can be with extra head, arm or footwork within the steps the man is leading.

      This may sound a little 'behind the times' that woman are always following but in actual fact, the role of following and being a great dancer are very difficult skills to master and the same is true for leading. One is not easier than the other nor considered more important. They are just different and when a great leader and incredible follower get together-- MAGIC HAPPENS!!

      As a professional dancer in many styles of Ballroom and Latin dances, I have been a follower for many years with some incredible leaders, I enjoy the sensational freedom of dancing in the moment, to the music, while my partner is controlling the choreography and my body. I also teach and have lead many ladies, but it is a completely different frame of mind and each roles requires full attention to that role- the follower cannot be a leader at any point- she should master the role of being a great follower and dancer of the music. I hope this answers your question.
      Josie Neglia

    • ediester
      ediester commented
      Editing a comment

      From Demetris, a phenomenal Male Dancer in England

      Dear Other Half,
      Here is a copy of my reply to that guy's question. I asked [my friend] his opinion and he said "Slap her", although I doubt he was being serious.

      I think that the answer to this question depends on the context in which you are dancing.

      If you are dancing in shows, competitions, etc. you cannot afford to have the uncertainty of not knowing who is going to lead the next move. You can either have a set routine or one person (normally the man) can lead. Alternatively, provided it is agreed beforehand, the man and woman can lead different aspects of the dance. For example, the man could initiate a repeating pattern and the woman could give a signal to end the pattern. The most important thing is to avoid the possibility of any misunderstandings.

      When you are dancing socially (ie. for pleasure) it is normal for the man to lead and it is normally considered wrong for the woman to initiate moves. This is necessary for practical reasons. Following this convention allows people to dance with partners they have not met before. It also allows the man to control the amount space used on a crowded dance-floor. It has the additional benefit of reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings which could lead to accidents.

      I personally believe, however, that provided she doesn't everdo it, there is sometimes scope for the lady to initiate moves. She may have an idea which she can not communicate verbally in a noisy club or she may want to express herself in a way which is only possible if she takes control of the dance for some period of time. This may not always work out, but in this context (ie. social dancing) it doesn't matter if there are occasional misunderstandings. I have found that if a lady dances alot with a particular partner she will eventually get to know when it is appropriate to initiate something.

      I think that ladies should bear the following in mind when initiating moves:

      - If she overdoes it, she might negate what the man is trying to achieve. For example, if the man decides to go into a partner hold for a quiet section of a particular song, he probably won't be too impressed if the lady releases herself and starts break dancing.

      - Some men do not like it when women do anything other than follow their leads and may not want do dance with women who interfere with what they consider to be the natural order!

      In the specific case of the guy who mailed you, he doesn't say under what circumstances the woman wishes to lead.

      For shows and competitions I think that they must agree beforehand who is leading. For convenience, I would suggest that the man should lead. Doing it the other way would cause confusion when dancing with other partners.

      For social dancing I think that the lady should learn to control herself. If the man feels that the dance is out of control then she is definitely going too far. I think that the man agreeing to sometimes dance the lady's part is an excellent compromise which may help keep her happy until they develop an understanding which allows her to take a more active part in initiating moves.

    • ediester
      ediester commented
      Editing a comment

      From Professional Salsa Dancer, Janette Valenzuela
      Dear Other Half,
      If that girl wants to be a leader in the dance world then Salsa is not the dance for her. Woman leaders in dance are jazz dancers, sometimes ballet, flamenco, african and samba-brazilian. A woman never leads in Salsa. She can, however, assist in certain circumstances and give several 'signals' to her partner. There are always exceptions but it should only be a very minor percentage of the time. If the girl doesn't want to look like a follower then the solution is to simply let the man lead and for her to work on her style and performance. If she concentrates on this aspect of her dancing then she will look like an artist. The couple will look even better if they can connect with each other! This is the challenge of all partnerships. Where is the connection? Where is the ENERGY? Who should lead should never be an issue. Everyone knows the answer to that question.

      A dance partnership is a union. The distinction for Salsa partners is very simple: Man- leader Woman - follower Unfortunately, we live in a very macho culture. But that is the truth and that is why I want out!

      I hope this helps,
      Your friend,
      Janette Valenzuela
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