Social Dancing: 7 Qualities Salsa Leads Look for in a Follow

Salsa lead-and-follow

Photo credit: Paul Steinlicense

For all the ladies out there who are wondering what leads look for in a social dancing partner, this post is for you.

Some of these things might surprise you at first, but keep in mind the whole idea of Salsa social dancing is to share an enjoyable moment with someone. It’s not about how fancy you ladies can get with your styling or how many new moves the lead can whip out during a dance. It’s all about having a friendly connection with your partner both emotionally and physically. It’s about walking away from a dance having that feeling of “WOW, I can’t wait to do that again”.

When you find the right person, things just click. So to help you start clicking with more people, we thought we would share some words of wisdom with you from a lead’s perspective.

Top 7 Things Salsa Leads Look for in a Follow

Personal Connection

#1 Smile!

Ladies, I know it sounds simple, but you won’t believe how often leads get a ‘frowner’. When we ask you to dance and ten seconds later we’re greeted with an awkwardly blank expression, It totally kills the mood and we feel like you really don’t want to be there.

What we want is simple: When we meet, let’s exchange a friendly smile. If you are enjoying the dance and the interaction between us, smile. If it’s not natural for you to smile, don’t force it, but keep in mind we’ll be wondering why you appear to be acting indifferent to our presence.

Your facial expression tells a story and it’s difficult to enjoy a moment with you if we are getting negative vibes.

#2 Eye Contact

Eye contact is incredibly important when sharing a social dance with us. We are together for the next 5 minutes and if you don’t look at us, there’s a good chance we are going to assume one of the following:

  • you dislike social dancing
  • you dislike our dancing and/or leading
  • you dislike us as a person (this might sound odd, but this feeling can arise!)
  • you are having an awful evening
  • you have some sort of A.D.D. issue

As you can see, the simple action of looking at the lead makes a big difference in our perceptions and interactions. This visual connection allows us to gauge how your experience is going and interact with you. It allows us leads to:

  • Connect with you on a deeper level (especially if we don’t speak the same language!)
  • Enjoy a friendly conversation
  • Get an indication of how your experience is going. (i.e. Are the dance steps too complicated?)

Lastly, eye contact will also help you the follow. It helps you be more responsive to our lead. When you can see all of our visual cues like body positioning, hand targets etc. then our dance together will be much more successful.

Overall, making eye contact with your partner is one of the strongest indicators that you are present in the moment. It shows you are interested in sharing this dance with us and opens up the door for fun times ahead.

#3 Partner Engagement

Partner engagement is one of the top ingredients in the recipe to making that social dancing spark come to life. It includes the basics of eye contact and smiling, but also requires consistency in the interaction between partners. It needs a friendly welcoming connection that starts from the first moment one person asks the other to dance. Salsa social dancing is a give and take scenario. As, the lead initiates the dance and you begin going through various patterns, it’s nice to maintain your engagement or presence in the moment by chatting, laughing, joking, smiling etc. All of these things are part of a complete social dance experience. When they are missing, a dance can feel very empty. Everyone likes something a little different, so pay attention to your partners body language and signals to identify what they enjoy.

When a social dance lacks this sort of give and take exchange, the experience is sub par. It leaves both people craving that fun, relaxing, social atmosphere that Salsa is all about. If you ever find that there is a lack of engagement in your social dance, try and spice things up by throwing in an extra smile or joke. Try and cheer the other person up and get them excited about what you are doing. Work on playing with the musicality of the song to bring some soul and life into the dance. Most importantly of all, be mindful that you aren’t the one giving off that blank vibe of “nothingness”. For all you know, the lead could be mimicking your expression. If that’s the case, you could be responsible for sending your social dance experience downhill towards rock bottom.

Follows: if a lack of confidence seems to be spoiling your fun or you are otherwise distracted while dancing, tell the lead. We’ll be happy to know that we aren’t the ones causing your apparent dissatisfaction. If this is the case, we’ll often be able to take things easy so you can adjust and become more comfortable during our dance together.

Physical Connection (technique)

Personally, what I like most in a great follow, is that human connection we spoke about above. It’s an absolute must if I’m going to truly enjoy my dance. When it comes down to it though, having a great emotional connection isn’t everything. The follow must be leadable! After all, we do have to dance together. If that part doesn’t work, nothing much is going to come of our interaction (unless we both have a good laugh about our clumsy moments!).

So in the spirit of giving the follows a stronger understanding of what is important to a lead, here are some key physical elements that leads appreciate in a good follow:

#4 Hand and arm connection is done properly

In the close hold, this means you are giving us forward pressure with your right hand and making sure there is no space between our arms on your left side.

In the open hold, this means you cock your wrists back slightly so we can put the back of our hand against your palm. From here we can properly lead you in a front/back motion.

#5 Pay attention to hand targets

When we are in the middle of social dancing (especially during a fast song), we need your attention during our every move. If you start missing our hand targets and neglecting our other hand signals, then our dance experience is not going to rise to its full potential. Often, this problem can occur when follow’s over-style. They become so concerned with how they look and how fancy they can make their movement look, that they completely miss out on the lead’s cues.

Don’t be a diva, keep an eye on us leads!

#6 Maintain tension when it’s needed (be responsive)

Without slight arm tension from the follow at the proper moments, leading becomes very difficult. Follows: make sure you’re connecting with the lead’s hands and arms properly and provide that slight push/pull tension so he can use it to communicate with you. If you are too loose, the communication between each of you will get lost. Whatever you do, avoid having spaghetti arms and swinging elbows. This will make you unleadable and not so enjoyable to dance with. If you ever feel like there is a disconnect with your partner and you are not sure if it’s your fault. Talk about it and identify what’s going wrong. In the end, you’ll both appreciate taking the time to fix your technique so that the dance can be more successful.

#7 Keep your frame

Keeping a strong frame goes hand in hand with maintaining tension. Always keep your shoulders down and back to allow the lead to direct you properly. If you start dancing in a posture that resembles Quazi Modo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, then leading you becomes very tricky. Another common pitfall for follows is when they release their shoulders and let their arms stray too far behind their frame. Doing so makes turning and redirecting the follow a big challenge. To avoid this, always remember that a follow’s elbows should never go back behind the hips.

Wrap Up

So there you go follows, you now know the top 7 things leads look for in a partner. Follow these tips and be aware of the vibes you’re giving off and I promise your social dances will become more and more enjoyable. Want some more Salsa advice? Check out our full list of Salsa Tips here.

Now it’s your turn: Let us know what you look for in a great lead!