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Connecting With Your Partner

An Introduction To Leading & Following In Salsa Dancing


Since salsa is a couple dance, there need to be rules in order to move smoothly together with a partner. Leading & Following does not just mean the guy says what to do and the girl executes his wishes (sorry guys.. :o)) Leading & following is communication and teamwork. We try to split the work it takes, resulting in effortlessly moving together as one unit. To learn how to lead or follow well takes a lot of sensitivity, you need to be willing to talk and listen to your partner, as opposed to just executing your steps or styling.

You can think of leading & following as speaking the same language. You need adhere to the grammar rules and have a certain vocabulary in order to communicate with your partner. Screaming at each other (forcing a lead) will not make up for clear communication, and not listening (anticipating) will take the joy out of any conversation. Also having a clear pronounciation (clear lead) is helpful in making yourself understood. There will always be dialects or slang, but if both know the overall language, communication is possible.

One more thing: speaking the same language does not nessecarily mean that we're enjoying the conversation. There are individual preferences in leaders and followers, everybody is different and some partners just don't match. That's ok. Just be sure you learn the language, than you can decide with whom you'd like to speak.


The Hand Connection

In salsa, we dance mostly in open holds, so the main connection goes through our hands and fingers. That's the point where the communication gets "broadcasted". We need to have a form of hand connection that facillitates that, something that's often called "hook". We hook our hands together, bending the finders at the upper joints, (NOT the lower ones close the the fingertips). When we hook at the fingertips we tend to grab and squish the fingers of our partner, bending higher up will make the connection more sturdy since there's more surface contact.
Don't bend the wrists upward! As a leader just keep the wrist straight, the ladies need to push them downward gently to make sure the connection holds when the leader pushes into your fingers. Don't let your wrists float upwards like "bunny arms"! It not only looks weired but makes proper connection impossible.


Leading & Following From Your Center

When a leader signals a lead, he doesn't just want to move the follwers arms, but he wants to move her whole body from A to B. We need a certain tone in our arms to create a so-called "frame". But that doesn't mean you should make them stiff and rigid. Think of it as connecting your solar plexus with your fingertips and creating stability from your back muscles. Wherever your center moves, your hands follow and vice versa. This is a rule that will be broken when it comes to pure handleads and styling, but the awareness of a connection to your center should always be there. Your arms (and elbows!) should ALWAYS be in front of your body, never let them go back behind your body. Make sure your elbows are not overly bent or straightend, the hands should stay at an equal between both partners.


The 3 Parts Of Leading & Following

A lead consists of 3 parts:

  1. The leader gives a signal, be it a direct push or pull or a change of direction
  2. The follower "answers" it, meaning she will do THE SAME as the leader: if he pushes, she pushes against it, if he pulls, she pulls too. This might seem counterintuitive, but first that will lead to:
  3. The actual movement, both moving in the same direction

The second part is the most difficult for the ladies. It's basically saying to the guy: "Yup, I got your signal!" and then moving along with him. For the guy this will create the point of connection, where he will be able to feel where the lady is and wether he will be able to lead her through the move. In terms of "speaking with each other", this is the part where the guy listens and the lady "confirmes".


Tips For The Leader

  • lead from your center if possible 
  • a clear signal does not mean a forceful lead 
  • understand the ladies point of view, or rather her path of travel 
  • do not lead too sudden: build up force gradually 
  • if your follower does not react the way you expected, do NOT force her through the move 

Tips For The Follower

  • Get comfortable with the idea of being guided by the leader rather than moving by yourself 
  • Never let your elbows slide behind your body 
  • ALWAYS remember the 2. part of leading (see above) 
  • Keep your wrists bend downward 
  • It's your responsibility to carry your own weight and keep your balance


Watch this excellent video explaining connection in salsa dancing:

 

 

Leading Following Salsa 

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