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7 Tips On How To Adjust Your Salsa Lead When Dancing With Beginners

So, you’re a beginner dancing with another beginner or maybe you’re more of an intermediate to advanced level dancing with someone who’s newer than you, less experienced than you, or someone who has relatively little technique and who may or may not have ever taken classes before. How do you make sure you and your partner have fun and you keep your leads clear? Today we’re talking all about how to adjust your lead for beginners.

Why Do Salsa Moves From Class Not Work When I’m Social Dancing?

What some of you might have realized is that not everything you learn in class translates perfectly to the dance floor, especially when your partner is less experienced than you. When your partner doesn’t understand her role in the lead follow relationship or has less technique, you need to adjust for that lack of experience to make the dance enjoyable. You have to adjust what you do and how you do it.

Adjusting The Salsa Steps You’re Doing

Dial The Difficulty Down

First up, you want to adjust the moves you’re doing. To do that, you want to dial the difficulty way down so that she feels successful and she’s having fun. She doesn’t want to feel over challenged like she’s writing a final exam so if her steps and her timing are a little bit shaky, stick to the basics. The front and back basic, side basic, and maybe a right turn or left turn should work out well. Now, if all the basics seem to be going okay, try a crossbody lead. If that goes well, try some inside and outside turns. If that’s going well, you can try some cross body lead variations like maybe a Suave or Rejection but definitely avoid complex hand holds because that might distract her from just doing the move that you wanted to do. Definitely avoid double turns too because she’s probably not ready for that. The point is you want to identify what she’s able to follow and what she’s comfortable with so that you can play within her comfort zone. Why is this so important? Well, to paraphrase Frankie Martinez it’s all about listening before you speak.

Listen Before You Speak

Listen first, speak second. The reason for this is because, again, you’re in a partnership. You can’t just forget the fact that your partner is less experienced than you and just try and do something difficult, hauling her around the dance floor. She’s not going to have a good time and it’s not going to look very good on your part. On top of that, you’re probably not gonna have much fun either because she won’t be able to read the signals you’re giving her. Don’t be one of those leads that’s always thinking about themselves and just trying to look cool. There’s too many of those people out there. What you want to develop is a sense of empathy — a sense of connectedness — to your partner. Again, listen to what your partner is saying to you with their body. Pay attention to how they hold themselves, what seems comfortable to them, what doesn’t seem comfortable for them so that you can adjust and have a more fun, fulfilled and connected dance. At the end of the day, that’s all we really want.

Adjusting The Style of Salsa You’re Dancing

Consider That Your Partner May Not Dance The Same Way You Do

Another thing to keep in mind is that your partner might be more familiar with a different style of salsa. I really notice this a lot when I try and lead someone in a cross body lead and they seem kind of unfamiliar with it. Or sometimes you can just tell there’s something a little off when they they walk through their cross body and it’s probably because they dance more of a Cuban or Colombian style of salsa that’s rotational. If that’s the case, I tend to stick to moves like the Change of Place or what they call the Enchufa in Cuban style salsa which you can do one time or repeat back and forth, catching her on the shoulder. By using the rotational back break and having that accordion feel of moving away from each other and coming together, the move flows really nice. The Setenta is another very common move that works well. Most beginners, no matter who I dance with, are able to follow it.

Another thing to consider is that the best time to kind of feel things out and gage your partner’s level is during the intro and first verse of the song. At the beginning, when the energy tends to be lower, things are slower, allowing you to really find your connection, understand what she’s comfortable with, what she’s not comfortable with and adjust before the energy goes up in the song.

Now that we’ve talked about how you can adjust your style of salsa let’s go into more detail on how you do it.

Adjusting How You Lead

Give Your Partner Time To Reset

Most beginners are little shaky on their basic steps, their balance, and their timing so you want to account for that. Let’s say you give her a basic right turn. As soon as she finishes that turn, don’t send her into another turn right away. See how she finishes it. Does she exit with good timing? With balance? If not, give her time to reset. Do a couple basics in between moves so that she’s comfortable and ready when you initiate the next move. Another tip is to use simpler hand holds. I definitely like to avoid something like double cross hand holds because that’s only going to distract her from what you’re trying to accomplish.

Shorten The Lever For Turns

By shortening the lever I mean lead a move closer to her body. Instead of using her hand, you can use her upper arm, the shoulder, or the hip. The easiest way to understand this is imagine picking up a 20 pound weight in your hand. It’s easy to hold close to your body but as soon as you stretch out your arm, you’re going to drop it because it’s harder to hold up. That’s because of the length of the lever. So instead of trying to lead a move from her hand, which is far away from her body, what you could do is use the upper portion of the arm. If I try and use the lower portion of the arm like this, it could bend her elbow. Now if I lead from the upper portion of her arm, I’m probably going to be more successful at moving her entire frame — her center — because it’s closer to her body. Likewise, you can lead from the shoulder or the hip and you get a similar effect. Along with that, if you’re giving a turn and you’re turning her to the outside, it’s easier for her to disconnect her arm and shoulder from her chest and disassociate them so when she does that she’s probably not going to read the signal and she’s just going to move her elbow backwards. What you can do to stop that is, when you lead a turn, lead the turn from the arm across her body. You can do that lead from the hand or from the upper arm and that’s going to make sure she does the turn. In a similar way, if you’re leading something like an outside turn, you can always give a little nudge or push on her shoulder to make sure that she understands that she’s supposed to start the turn.

Don’t Attempt Something More Than Twice

If at any point something isn’t working out, don’t try it more than twice. If she seems a little confused the first attempt and it’s something simple, give it another go. If she doesn’t get it on the second try, cross it off your list. She’s obviously not ready for it. She doesn’t have the technique or understanding of how to read your lead and you don’t want her to feel like you’re testing her. Dance is a conversation not a fight.

Watch the Exits On Her Turns

Lastly, watch the exits of her turns. Don’t let her fly away from you and crash into people. Honestly, it’s a little bit embarrassing for her, it’s not very fun, it doesn’t look good on your part, and it’s definitely not fun for the people that are getting crashed into. Be careful. It’s easy for other to get hurt. Typically, crashing tends to happen in two places: most commonly during the Inside and Outside Turns. If you’re doing an inside turn, as she’s finishing the turn — as she exits — cradle your right hand on the back of her shoulder blade. As she comes through that exit motion you’ll be able to get two hands on her as soon as possible so if you need to control her, you’ll be able to handle her inertia much easier. It also makes for a nice connected feel in the turn. Likewise, as you finish an Outside Turn, get ready to give her a little bit more attention in her hand and in her arm just in case you need to put on the brakes.

Some Final Thoughts on Leading Beginners

In summary, every dancer you dance with is going to be at a different level. Remember to listen before you speak. Pay attention to how she holds herself, how she reacts to your moves, and how she responds to your lead before throwing any advanced steps or combinations her way. Thanks for watching and if you have any questions for me, please leave those in the comments below.