Importance of a Cross Body Lead

Disclaimer: This article is written in the perspective of the leader of the dance, i.e. the guy.

A cross body lead, commonly known as a CBL, is a simple, fundamental, basic salsa step, or rather, footwork. It can even be taught in words, without a demonstration. Here’s how it is in words:

  1. Step forward on 1

  2. Side-Step on 2 (read: side step... yes... SIDE)

  3. Pivot on the right foot and open up perpendicularly on 3

  4. Pause on 4

  5. Step right on 5 with the right foot

  6. Step in front of the right foot with the left foot on 6

  7. Step your right foot in line with your left foot on 7

  8. Pause on 8

Sounds simple? Indeed it does. In fact, the CBL is taught in the first lesson of most salsa schools, right after the basic footwork is taught. Grab any male beginner salsa dancer who has attended at least one basic class and ask him to perform a CBL. Look at him accomplish it without much difficulty. So now, you might ask, what’s the importance of such an easy step?

The CBL, in my humble opinion (IMHO), is the most important step in salsa dancing. When taught by most instructors at beginner levels, they just simply put it across as an “exchange of places” between the leader and the follower. So, if your instructors don’t tell you that it’s an important step, will you be bothered to correct it? Or at least, do it nicely? I seriously doubt it. It was about 9 months ago when I realized how difficult it was to do a CBL correctly and nicely. It took me 3 hours daily for 3 days just doing CBL to clean up that footwork reasonably. I will elaborate more on that later.

Now, you might ask, what makes a innocent looking step which looks so deceivingly easy, important?

Firstly, the CBL is the “spark” that kindles the fire. More often that not, the first step, or move, made on the salsa dance floor, is a CBL. Someone, whom I shall politely not name, once told me a sentence of wisdom, “NEVER start dances with a basic.” At that time, I just took it as an advice from a senior to a junior. But after some time, I realized that there’s much truth to it. Here is my take on that statement.

When just starting to dance with someone, you do not want to look amateurish by doing something basic, hence, the basic footwork is out. Secondly, you need to try out how much strength you have to use to lead her, and whether or not she is able to follow your lead. Lastly, you want to look as though you know what you’re doing, so if everyone is starting on a CBL, and if you can’t beat the trend, join them! (Please ignore the last sentence.) Back to why the CBL is chosen as the “spark”. Since you don’t want to tax the follower when dancing, you’ve to do something that’s simple, but doesn’t look so amateurish, hence, the CBL. With that, an experienced salsa dancer will be able to distinguish between a beginner salsa dancer, and a salsa dancer with just the first move of the dance.

Secondly, the CBL is the “bridge” between variations. Let me quote you an example. After a Royal Spin, what’s the most commonly used move to continue the dance? Yes, a CBL. This is proven more so in rueda, i.e., salsa dance in a circle. After every variation, or command, called out in rueda, the group does the same move and ends off with a CBL 90% of the time. More often that most of the time, CBLs are used as literal “links” to connect steps together. Even the most advanced dancers cannot avoid this move on the social floor. The CBL, is one basic step that is not so basic.

Thirdly, the CBL is the fundamental footwork of many salsa variations. In the first lesson of intermediate class 1, the next move taught after Simple Turn is Cross Body Lead Turn, which, as the name says, involves the CBL. How about “Follow-Me”s? They involve the CBL footwork too, with a slight change that is the guy stepping back and sideways to open up a path for the follower to cross. But the fundamental is still the same.

Lastly, why did I say that the CBL is difficult to master? Like all things easy, it is difficult to look nice in it. Just the footwork alone requires hours and hours of practice, which I have, sad to say, experienced before. Each count of the CBL has to be clean and precise. What do I mean by clean and precise? Here are some points to take note of:

    1. Step forward on 1. – Sounds simple enough? Yes it is. But the point to take note here is that the heel of the left foot should be just before the toe of the right foot.

    2. Side step on 2. – The emphasis here is on the word “side”. Many people step diagonally on 2.

    3. Pivot and open up on 3. – You can either open up your legs shoulder-width here or put them close together, but, not squeezing them against one another.

    4. Pause on 4. – Yes, pause, freeze!

    5. Side step on 5. – Most people step diagonally back or backwards on 5. I will not say that it is wrong, just a different style. But the important thing is that, do they know where their legs are?

    6. Cross legs on 6. – Some people will over-cross their legs, looking like they’re constipated or stuck. Don’t!

    7. Feet together on 7. – This sounds simple enough, because it is.

I hope this article will explain how important a CBL is. So, just a gentle reminder again to guys out there. Don’t start dancing with a basic. Use a CBL instead. Doesn’t seem so difficult ya?

Best Regards,

Nigel Goh, Sept 6, 2006

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