Lead and Follow from a Female point of view

A Man Dancing the Lady's Role in Salsa

It's very unusual of me to talk about the theory about Lead and Follow in Salsa from a female point of view, since I am yet of an instructor calibre and importantly, I am a true 100% male. However, I have been "forced" to dance the ladies part during salsa intermediate lessons and rueda, that I truly have a revelation about lead and follow. 

I totally agree with Mr Pierre Dulaine quote of wisdom, saying "it takes as much strength to follow and to lead". 

The genral public thinking of a lady dancer is that all they need to do is follow and follow.  They do not need to remember all the variations and therefore it's easier to learn how to follow. However, I beg to defer. 

Following is certainly never a easy chore or skill to be mastered and it's very difficult to describe in words unless you personally try to play the role. However, these are the accounts that what I have learned when I danced Salsa as a follower . 

Ladies Do Not Back Lead While Dancing Salsa

During any dance, there is a tendency for some ladies especially inexperienced ones, to backlead the guys, specially for me since I know how the variation flows. As a result not only the ladies (which includes me) look bad because they did not accept the gentlemen proposal to lead the dance, but also backleading tends to create friction between the dancing couple, causing them to look like two dancing persons instead of a couple.

As my instructor, Justin has pointed out that one of the semipro track students, Ariel, has an excellent way of following; she just does her basic (or rather marching on the spot) on the same spot and wait for the guys to push her around. I tried to follow her method and it works very well, provided I have absoluely no intention of starting up any move on my own unless I want to do ladies styling. (yucks) After I picked up the trick from her, I realised that there is another problem. 

Following a Salsa Partner Requires Sensitivity

The secondly problem arises whether can I (as a lady) be able to feel and react to the guy's lead. I am not going to write the gentlemen's problem till later and now focus on the ladies problem. I admit that I am not as sensitive as the veteran ladies dancing in Xenbar such as Yan Qing, Vivan, Cindy Hoh etc. Therefore, when someone tries to turn me double round or offer his hand, I cannot really interpret or react fast to his lead.

Up to now, I do not have any workable solution to this, and I guess training up sensitivity to follow take considerable long hours of social dancing to master it. Also the fact that I (as a guy) was never taught how to provide the tension that ladies are supposed to have, so probably I will have to learn it the hard way...... 100 hours of basic salsa classes in the dance school!

Tension & Hook for Salseras

The third problem is all about tension. Xenbar's tension is all about foaming the hands round the gentlemen's hand and also hooking on the third line of the finger. I didn't really or was too lazy to appreciate all these fundamental practices until...... 

I was in the bus, and the bus was speeding all along, making the trip quite a ride. The bus was traveling so fast that it is practically swerving right to left. I happened to be standing during the ride.That's where I got this lame idea of trying out the third line hook theory. I tried using the first line hook to grab the handle at the seat, end up I went flying all over the bus because I lost the grip. I tried to use the second line grip, and I really had a hard time holding on to the handle because my hands are virtually squeezing every portion just to maintain the grip and not fly all over the place like the first. Finally I used the third line hook and I was able to maintain at the standing position, not comfortable because of the speeding bus, but least I know I have secured my grip. 

I then realized that all the third line hook is about is to make sure that the ladies can maintain their contact to the gentlemen counterpart at all times, no matter how much the gentlemen twist and turn them, specially Justin's favourite Rueda command : El Calvo! 

For those who have no idea, what EL Calvo or other advance Rueda command, please attend Actfa's Advance Rueda Lesson at 8:15pm, every monday.

Each Salsa Dance is a Journey

Dancing as the lady also made realise the shortcomings of guy's leading. I had a conversation not long ago with Yan Qing on what we think when we dance Salsa. My respond is that "when I lead the lady to the dance floor, I lead her into a journey, into my world; in my world, you will always look very beautiful, you will always feel happy, you will not fall, you will always feel secure" (PS. Please girls, if I don't practise what I preach and I suck at it, by all means voice out to me.). 

When I dance with some of the guys, their lead wasn't there. There were no clear indication of what I am suppose to do (which can be my fault as mentioned earlier) and I felt completely lost because I have no idea what am I suppose to do since I am not suppose to think what am I gonna do. It's like telling me "please go to Orchard Road" but the person don't tell which part of Orchard Road to meet.

So guys, please show your lead very clearly, precisely and gently (or with minimum violence). Using of excessive force, which I will touch on later, may acomplish the trick, but it is totally unnecessary. As long as she provides tension at the appropriate time, use her tension to lead, push or pull her from one variation to another with minimal amount of effort spent. 

Secondly, there are guys who don't realise that they are qualified WWE wrestlers. All they do is to pull, push, jerk and wack the ladies so rough until the ladies themselves become one ragged doll. As what Kyo, Wai Huang, James, Justin and Yan Qing ALWAYS ALWAYS nag, please take care of the ladies. When I was dancing as a lady, all I hoping inside my heart is "Please don't make me fall! Please don't try to torture me with all the complicated moves" It's like riding a roller coaster ride; you are at the mercy of the train; so are the girls when they are dancing with us guys.

So please, like I mentioned earlier, "when I lead the lady to the dance floor, I lead her into a journey, into my world; in my world, you will always look very beautiful, you will always feel happy, you will not fall, you will always feel secure".Do simple stuff if the ladies have not reached a certain level of dancing. Adjust the variation to suit your partner's perference. A simple turn, a simple cross body lead and simple cross body lead turn may be sufficient to make a lady enjoy her dance as long as you and her look nice with styling.

Adjust Your Lead to Suit Your Salsa Partner's Level and Comfort

And most important, please try to read off whether the ladies are comfortable with your complicated moves. One trick suggested by Justin and Yan Qing is to read the expression of the lady, specially after multiple turns. Turning a lady in muliple rounds like riding on a merry-go-round spinning at 6000rps. You get the idea right ? So don't do that to the lady unless the lady can take it. 

That's what I have for you folks. All these are just what I felt when I was dancing as a lady. I am still in the process of learning and all comments are welcome.

- Terrence, Oct 10, 2006

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Starlinn Actfa DanceSTARLINN CHOO YANQING joined the SFDF program in 2004 while studying in NUS, training 12 hours a day; she completed her SFDF, Diploma & IHDC courses in 3 years, using her teaching income to finance her classes in Diploma & IHDC. In 2008 she pursued her IMDC Dance Business & is now doing her 3 years IPHDC Dance Product Research. While pursuing her IHDC she was already traveling around the world for assignments. more


Bianca Actfa DanceBIANCA enrolled in the SFDF course after A-levels. Within 6 months she was dancing as a backup dancer for MTV. She has also traveled to many countries like Germany, UK, Taiwan & Hong Kong to teach & perform, & was offered a position to dance in a few Musical plays. 


 Libin Actfa DanceLB, a masters degree holder working for a MNC, decided to do a career switch after he completed his SFDF. He then worked as an International Sales Manager in dance products, an international artist & dance instructor. He is the Singapore Bachata Champion 2008 and the 1st runner up in the Asia Salsa Championship behind Serge and Polina from Russia in 2010. more


manfred Actfa DanceMANGGOH was one of the elite few selected for the Mediacorp Dance Academy in 2000. He graduated from NTU with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and used to work as a Project Manager in the IT Industry. He passed his examination & evaluation for SFDF and is currently doing his Diploma & IHDC. more


maricel Actfa DanceMARICEL, a professional dancer from the Philippines, joined SFDF in 2009. In less than a year, she has performed at the Esplanade Da:ns Festival 2009, Salsa Cruise Asia 2009, & has also been to China to teach & perform. In 2010 she was offered a full time dance instructor job in Singapore. She has since gone on to set up a dance studio in the Philippines and comes back periodically to upgrade her skills.


rachel Actfa DanceRACHEL an undergraduate in NTU joined the SFDF in 2010 and was offered to open a dance studio in China.  She has taught and performed in Guang Zhou, Shen Zhen, Hong Kong, Singapore.


 derrick actfa danceDERRICK has over 20 years of dance instructor experience with more than 30 types of dance. He was granted an exemption from SFDF after taking an examination & evaluation and signed up for the diploma & IHDC simultaneously.


tamil actfa danceTAMIL, a professional dancer & teacher actively involved in competitions & performances for Hip Hop, Bollywood, Indian Dance. He was teaching dance in secondary school and choreographing for SYF. He joined the IHDC program to further his training as a dancer & teacher in 2009.  Since joining the IHDC, he has taught, performed & competed in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan.


brenda actfa danceBRENDA joined the SFDF when she was 13 years old and was hired to teach and perform both locally and overseas after 6 months. She was also financing her own dance study while teaching private dance classes.  Under the SFDF, she was the 1st runner up in the Asia Salsa Championship 2010 and Singapore Bachata Champion 2009.  She was given opportunities to teach in Malaysia, Hong Kong, China.

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