What Makes a Good Lead?


Demetre Souliotes and Kristen Humphrey at the US Open 2014

A gentleman asked my friend and me, “What makes a good lead?” The answer varies heavily and remains subjective upon followers. I write this post inspired by this amazing post by The Dancing Grapevine. A good lead ensures both he and the follower enjoy the dance, takes risks (without harming/injuring anyone), and takes care of the follower in the end.

Fun for all! 

A lot of leads forget personality, and how carry yourself when you are dancing with a follow matters.

Story Time…

I was at an event where I danced with a pro where the whole time he had what I call “jerk face.” I am already nervous as it is dancing with someone way more advanced than me. To look across and see my partner not enjoying our dance shoots my confidence down.

The power of a smile goes a long way! Even if your follow is not as well versed as you, step up as a lead and make sure she has a dance to remember. Word gets backs, and you do not want a rep as the lead who acts rude.

Risk It to Get the Biscuit… BUT DON’T BREAK IT! 😉 

Ah, the lovely Champion, Ben Hooten… His motto is “you gotta risk it to get the biscuit.” I love it when a lead who is way above my skill ability trusts me enough to try something on me. In fact, Hooten himself lead me into a drop and right afterwards said, “you’re very trusting!” The reason I am is, because I love being challenged. How else am I going to improve if I do not test my limits?

DON’T BE AFRAID TO TAKE RISKS! This is how we grow as dancers! Be confident in trying something new you learned in a private or class. Before you really test it out, have an instructor show you how to properly lead the pattern. This is to prevent any mishaps/injuries on the social or competitive floor.

Take Care Of Your Follower! 

Leads…  your rank does not come into play. I have dance crushes on novice-pro leads. What is one of the most important aspects of partner dancing is for the lead to take care of his follower. Dancing Grapevine captures it so eloquent stating, “when we say ‘strong” we don’t mean using power. We mean clarity.” Dance is a conversation without words, and with our bodies. Your vocabulary can be lengthy or limited… but the fact we can have a crystal clear discussion with our movement for 3 minutes is magical.

I was in my latest private lesson with Michael Kielbasa and he told me something that made me feel like I made progress as a follower.

“Even last night we were dancing… I could feel like you were clearer in your dancing. I didn’t feel like I had to micro-manage as much. Usually as leads we feel responsible for taking care of you… but you felt more clear.” This means I reigned in my “cray cray” a little bit, and I am giving you more transparency on following the leads. Even if you just stick with the most basic of basics, always ensure your side of the dialogue is heard (and that’s heard! not shouted! ;)).

Be attentive… LISTEN to your follow, but command your movement with care. Kielbasa does that 100%.

There was a few YouTube videos out there, but not a lot on Demetre Souliotes. I had little to base my decision on whether to train with him or not, but I am so glad I did. He is a POWERFUL lead, but does not let dictate the dance. He is with his follows all the way. The fact he is a “connection geek” who longs for great communication taught me more about following quieter and more distinct. He is one of the rare leads who creates room for play, but does it with such confidence and consideration. Be in the moment… establish the conversation.

Again… like I said, EVERY FOLLOW’s opinion on a good lead fluctuates. However if you assure you’re having a good time, take a risk here or there, and conscientiously pay attention to your follow, the dance can be spellbinding! 😉 Go out, be bold… and dance!

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