We’ve all heard the expression, “less is more,” referring to the idea that sometimes, one doesn’t have to go over the top to be effective. This is especially true when it comes to leading a follower through a dance. Although people often speak of someone being a “strong” lead, in this sense, “strong” is not a synonym for “forceful.” The “strength” of a lead instead comes from two aspects: first, how supportive the lead is of the follower through having a good frame and second, how clearly the lead communicates their intention to the follower.
As I repeatedly remind students in class, having a supportive frame means actively engaging core and upper body muscles, keeping one’s hips and shoulders (mostly) aligned, and providing tension and compression, as appropriate, equal to that of your partner. If one partner over-powers the other, not only do we “break frame,” we also run the risk of injury to one or both partners.
In a similar vein, clear communication doesn’t mean yanking your partner across the floor. That’s like suggesting yelling at your partner is the best way to get your verbal message across! Instead, the lead should indicate their intention at the initiation of a move, then “take their foot off the gas” through the rest of the count, enabling the follow to — as the name suggests — follow.
Here’s one way of thinking about providing a “less is more,” strong lead. Think of the standard salsa count of 8 beats, broken into two groups of 4 beats. On the 1 into the 2, provide the follower with the appropriate tension or compression to convey the intended move. For the rest of the 4-count, simply guide the direction of the follower through the frame, without adding additional strength. Repeat the same idea for the 5 through 8 counts.
The responsibility of the follower here is to provide an equal-but-opposite frame, and to “listen” closely to the invitation of the leader’s guidance. Resist the urge to anticipate the move. Instead, “follow” the direction of the tension or compression at the beginning of the count, and follow through with the guidance of the remainder.
Providing a strong frame between the partners while the leader uses a minimum amount of physical strength when guiding the move makes it safe and fun for both.