What Women Want… from a dance! (Tips to make you a better lead)

10 Feb

What do women want?

This question has stumped MAN-kind since the dawn of time and continues to frustrate the less-attractive sex on a daily basis.

Obviously, I’m not talking about knowing what women want from a potential mate in the dating-game… clearly I’ve already mastered that (hahahaha… excuse me, I couldn’t keep a straight face with that one!). No, today I want to talk about something far more pertinent to those men that spend their free time on the dance floor. I’m going to talk about what women want from a dance… not from a potential mate but from a lead!

“As if a MAN could answer that!!!”
… I can hear all you ladies screaming at your screens right now! You are right to doubt my opinion on this matter, I doubt it myself! So, with my gender-imposed shortcomings in mind I decided to take it upon myself and do something most men never do… “ask”.

R & D
I decided to write this article quite a while back so I began my research by asking a multitude of salsera friends of mine to tell me what, exactly, they most enjoyed from a dance/lead. For the sake of completeness I asked women from various different countries in Europe, Asia and North & South America who dance different styles of salsa socially and/or professionally. Basically, what that means is that I’ve ended up with information from a culturally diverse group or L.A., New York & Cuban social dancers, teachers and performers (the scientist in me wouldn’t have it any other way).

My eyes have been opened
I ended up getting a lot of different opinions but there were clearly quite a few common points that all of my sources brought up; some things I instinctively knew (after so long dancing, one would hope so); some things I needed a little reminder of and some things I had never even considered before. I imagine a lot of the gentlemen reading this will be in the same boat. In other words, I’m giving ya pure gold!

I’ve listed this cornucopia of knowledge with which I have been bestowed, below. Any points that were mentioned by multiple ladies appear near the start of the list with less commonly mentioned points following. Any commentary after the points is my own (influenced by what my sources wrote themselves).

So, without further ado, I present you with, quite possibly…

The most important tips that a salsa lead will ever need…

(you know, besides actually learning how to dance… which is kind of important too).

  • Show your partner you’re enjoying yourself
    There is nothing worse than dancing with someone who looks like they’re either bored out of their mind or terrified of making a mistake. Dancing is meant to be fun so feel it and show it. Smile and you’ll make your partner smile too.

    Letting your partner know you're having fun is one of the best things you can do as a lead.

    Letting your partner know you’re having fun is one of the best things you can do as a lead.

  • Show your partner that you’re dancing with her
    In a dance there is only the couple and the music and once you’ve asked someone for a dance you’ve basically committed to them for the entire song. Show your mutual connection with eye contact. You should only be focused on your partner when having a dance and not on whatever else is going on on the dance floor. Equally the dance is “not all about you” so don’t use your partner as prop to show off your moves.
  • Have a clear but NOT forceful lead
    You do not need to tear off a woman’s arms to get her to follow you. A good lead should be able to indicate clearly and painlessly which way you would like your partner to go. Timid leads (due to being afraid to touch your partner) and (sometimes) leading by the hips or the stomach are no good either. Also, don’t forget that if you use your thumbs to clamp down on your partners hands, she has the right to dig her nails into you in return. If you want an idea of what a good lead feels like, check out my article on the Cloudy Dancer.
  • Musicality
    This is by far the hardest concept to explain to those that don’t yet understand it. Be familiar with the music, appreciate the changes in tempo, start slow, get to know your partners style and build up into the dance, allow breaks for some shines and know when you need to up the ante or chill things out a little. I hate using this phrase but you need to learn to “Feel the Music” and translate it into your dancing.
  • KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid
    “A simple dance, danced well and on time is much better than a dance packed with moves that don’t work and end up off time”. Don’t dive straight into a dance by stringing together a unending combination of turn patterns and tricks without even listening to the song itself and exhausting your partner after just 3 minutes. Yes, use your tricks, but learn to enjoy the simpler aspects of dance.
  • Adjust to your partners level
    Just because you can do a certain move with certain people doesn’t mean that everyone will be able to follow you. It’s really disheartening and frustrating to a girl if she has a lot of trouble following you just because you’re trying to show off and don’t care if she can keep up. Start slow, adjust to her level and you can still have a great dance.
  • Don’t teach during a dance
    Following on from the last point, just because a girl can’t follow one of your moves doesn’t mean that you should stop right there in the middle of the song to show her what she’s doing wrong. It can be pretty humiliating. Finish the dance, have fun and maybe if she want’s to learn how to do it you can show her, off the dance floor.
  • Take care of your partner
    “Using me as a battering ram to clear yourself a space is NOT a good thing”. You are the lead and from the moment you lead a girl onto the floor to the moment you escort her off, you are in charge of her safety. Keep an eye out for potential collisions on the dance floor, don’t preform any dangerous moves, don’t tug roughly to lead. A good partner will of course keep an eye out for you too 😉

And that’s it. There were a few more points mentioned but these were the most common ones amongst the women I asked.

If you need anymore tips, check out my guide to salsa dance etiquette to get the ball rolling.

Men: Read them, learn them and most importantly, apply them and watch your salsa cred grow.

Ladies: What do you think? Is this what you want on the dance floor? Have I left anything out? I’d love to hear your opinions so let me know in the comments.

Keep dancing folks.


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15 Responses to “What Women Want… from a dance! (Tips to make you a better lead)”

  1. WanderingSalsera February 10, 2015 at 9:55 am #

    Be careful with the smiling and eye-contact. I know this is being nit-picky but keep it genuine. I’ve danced with men who spent the whole song with a goofy grin plastered on their face trying to hold eye contact for every second of the dance. You can imagine how awkward that was. I might say: rather than trying to adjust your facial behaviour to communicate your enjoyment or attention to me, genuinely relax, enjoy, and pay attention to me. Most follows can tell the difference between put-on behaviours and honest to goodness enjoyment and connection, and we’re well aware that it mightn’t happen with every dance, but we can hope!

    One more little thing which may be the death of me: DO NOT lead tricks, lifts, or dips on the social salsa floor. That’s how girls get head injuries and no one like head injuries. Salsa is far too fast to involve risky tricks when you’re not dancing choreo and you’re surrounded by fast-moving unpredictable couples who cannot be expected to clear the way for your trick.

    • The Dancing Irishman February 10, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

      I didn’t go into details on the eye contact point because I wanted to keep everything concise but it did leave me worrying how some guys might poorly interpret it. I suppose I’m really hoping that most people’s “social intelligence” would guide them when they interact with their partner. Sometimes thought, I do wonder how much social intelligence some people actually have.
      Thanks Brittney!

  2. Judith Durnford February 10, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

    I really love your posts, they are so what salseros/ salseras need to know..
    I have to admit, it’s related to your first point but when I spot a guy on the dance floor that smiles a lot when he dances, I make a beeline for him.. there’s nothing as good as dancing with someone that’s happy & spreads positive energy!

    • The Dancing Irishman February 10, 2015 at 3:08 pm #

      Thanks Judith.
      I could probably write an entire article on the importance of smiling while dancing. Nobody likes to be faced with a frown when dancing.

  3. Jay Nandu February 10, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

    Thanks, man.
    Your tips could be applied any modern dance.
    I try some of them on Kizomba and Brazilian zouk. It’s worked perfectly.

    • The Dancing Irishman February 10, 2015 at 3:06 pm #

      Thanks Jay
      Yeah, I figured they would be applicable to most different dance styles (if not all). Great to hear you’ve already done the testing. Keep up the good work.

  4. sita February 10, 2015 at 3:57 pm #

    i totally agree with everything you have said, since i am currently learning how to lead i can see things from both sides. as one of my teachers says to me you as the man are the driver, and every single woman is a different car, you must be aware of how she drives. a dance is something shared it is not about showing off. but about enjoying the music the moment and the connection. if a man can find a good connection, handle his woman like she is a precious stone and guide her through the song it can really feel like flying its magical, you don’t need to know a million moves to do that. i find that the connection points, the way a man holds your hand, and guides your body to be the most amazing thing to experience when done well. for me musicality really is so important, after living in south america for so long i have been lucky enough to dance with men that really know every song and every break down as they listen to it every day. i know my own dancing has improved so much since understanding the music and listening to every break down, it can be so frustrating for me to dance with a man that doesn’t listen to the music, that doesn’t change it up, that doesn’t let the music lead the dance and just follows 1,2,3,5,6,7. listen to the music and express yourself it is there to play with. thanks richie for writing this and spreading the love xoxo

    • The Dancing Irishman February 10, 2015 at 5:51 pm #

      Great comment Sita.
      I thinkI may have to use the “car” analogy when talking about it in the future. Musicality is something that I’m still only scratching the surface of but I really can’t wait to see where a better understanding and application of it will take my dancing.
      I can’t wait to see your leading either. Great to have both sides of the story.

  5. Cody Campbell February 27, 2015 at 8:07 pm #

    All these tips are right on point. It’s great to see someone sharing good Salsa information out there.

    First and foremost always keep your partner safe people. Social dance floors are a wild and crazy place and a lot of people don’t think before they act. @WanderingSalsera had it right on the money when she said that you should never try tricks or dips on the dance floor if you aren’t doing choreo. Unfortunately It’s not very safe and leads you have to remember that the follows health is in your hands. Respect that.

    On the bright side, the tips I like the most are K.I.S.S. and have musicality. Simple moves danced elegantly to the music are far better than over complicated patterns that don’t stay on beat. Take a chill pill boys – keep it simple and explore the music.

    Thanks for the post!

  6. LA Salsa April 1, 2015 at 12:12 pm #

    First of all, I love your blog. What an amazing journey!
    I couldn’t agree more about the first point but would like to add that it goes both ways. There’s nothing worse than dancing with a woman who looks bored; like they were waiting for someone better. Mind you, I may not be a professional, but I’m at a point where plenty of good female dancers seek me out. These ladies are of all different levels, but they have one thing in common…they all look like they’re having a great time. 🙂

    • The Dancing Irishman April 23, 2015 at 5:32 pm #

      Hey Brian
      Glad to hear you like the blog.
      It’s true, there are few thing’s worse than dancing with someone who looks like they’re not enjoying themselves.
      Here’s to more enjoyment on the dance floor.
      Thanks for the comment.

  7. Alex Jennings June 8, 2015 at 8:54 am #

    Thanks for writing this article; you look like a great dancer! I’ve always struggled with taking the lead, so I’m trying to get better for my wedding. All of your tips were very helpful, so I’ll keep them in-mind when I’m dancing with her. Do you have any song recommendations for our wedding dance?

    Alex Jennings |

    • The Dancing Irishman June 8, 2015 at 3:26 pm #

      I’m glad you liked the article Alex and congratulations on your wedding. I’m sure you’ll both look spectacular out on the dance floor. As for a song, I’m pretty sure it’s you and your fiancé that need to decide on that (read: let her decide 😉 ).
      Thanks for the comment


  1. What Women Want… from a dance! (Tips to make you a better lead) | Kizomba Musik - February 10, 2015

    […] What Women Want… from a dance! (Tips to make you a better lead). […]

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