It was roughly one year ago where I went out to a salsa club, dug up the courage to ask a girl to dance and try out some of my new salsa moves. It was roughly 30 seconds later that she politely ended the dance and I decided that I had enough of dancing for the night. It was somewhere in between a few misdirected turns and prematurely losing a dance partners’ interest that I made a pact with myself to become a solid salsa leader, at any cost necessary.

Here are some of the things that I’ve done to improve my lead over the past 12 months:

Learning to dance on time.
Dancing on time is paramount and I recommend practicing as much as possible to stay on time. Need help with timing? Check out my previous post on timing.

Learning to read your partner.
Solid leading isn’t about doing a million turn-patterns, it’s about observing your partners’ body language and adjusting your moves/style to better match hers. Starting with the basics and throwing in a few turns will give you a good sense if you should amp up the moves or keep it simple. Learn to read your partners well and your dance card will always be full.

Guide, not force your partner.
This is easier said than done and the number one cause of frustration for beginners. Simply put, a leader guides their partner by using confident signals (J-stroke for a right turn, hand flags for in-and-outs, etc) and not by forcing them with Wookie-like strength. If you feel that you must make your partner do a move by adding more force then fall back to moves that they do feel comfortable with. It’s not ‘he who has the most moves wins, its he who has the most dances’.

As for developing the proper amount of resistance, the best way to learn is to dance with as many partners as much as possible. Whether it’s at the Sunday Social or a friend from class, ask them to let you know if you need to apply more or less ‘juice’ in your leads. While it may hurt at first, after a while you’ll instinctively develop the right pressure for everyone you dance with.

After I made my pact to become a better leader I practiced the basics and all of the moves I was learning every chance I could get. This meant everything from one-hour drill sessions in my living room to getting out to the outings and clubs as much as possible.

Observe other leaders.
When you’re not dancing, use the opportunity to see more experienced Salseros on the dance floor. See how they style, move and communicate with their partners as they dance. It may seem weird at first but trust me, you’ll pick up little things here and there and will be a true leader in no time.

Fake it till you make it.
I’m a huge believer in this one. Be confident even if you are not even close. Take comfort in the fact that you’re just beginning and that you’ve got a lot to learn. It’s the learning that’s the fun part and every step you take out there is one step closer to leading mastery!

Have some tips of your own, I would love to hear from you!

Keep Shining, Salseros!