What makes a great leader (in social dance)? Poll results

"In some types of partner dance, lead and follow are designations for the two dancers comprising a dance couple."
"The lead is responsible for guiding the couple and initiating transitions to different dance steps and, in improvised dances, for choosing the dance steps to perform. The lead conveys his choices and direction to the follow through subtle physical and visual signals, thereby allowing the couple to be smoothly coordinated." Wikipedia

If you look at the above description of a lead, the task seems concise and maybe even fairly simple. Leading is not rocket science. But being 'a great leader'.... ask any follower and you'll get a long list of things (or perhaps, a long silence). 

In the last month's poll we asked you to tell in your own words, what makes a great leader (in social dancing)?

Leaders; Do you recognize yourselves - your leading - in these words:

A lead should be able to give clear indications to the follow, without forcing the follow to move, but rather “seducing” her/him to perform an intended movement, also allowing for the follow to input into the dance.
[The leader] can bring the follower into his own world but tries also to understand the universe of the follower. He dances for two. He shares. And creates something new. With the music of course. Musicality is very important.
Making [the follower] feel as she was the song itself.

These poetic responses above came from the respondents of this poll - from the leaders themselves!
Let's look into detail at what you thought below.

At the end of this post you can reply to this month's poll: What makes a great follower?



A summary of Your responses - A recipe for a "great leader"

To sum up, what makes a great leader according to Zouk The World readers? In the poll last month I let you share your thoughts without any ready options to limit your opinions. From the responses I did however collect the most frequent topics. A surprise or not, the most frequently mentioned topics were on the top of both the followers' and leaders' lists, so there seems to be an agreement on what makes a great leader.

Topics mentioned most often in the replies, in the order of popularity: 
1. Adapting to the follower (and her/his level)
2. Musicality
3. Clear lead
4. Good connection
    Safety (watching out for others around)
    Making dance feel enjoyable for the follower
8. Being gentle / not using force

Other topics that were mentioned:
Good rhythm / timing
Responding the following
Having a good balance / providing stability
Making the follower look good
Making the follower dance better
Make the dance enjoyable for both
Being calm
Transmitting confidence
Practicing with many people
Versatility in styles

Below all the replies in full - first those written by leaders and then responses from the followers. And after the readers' responses you can read my take on what makes a good and a great leader - and tips for those that feel less great than they hope to feel!


What leaders think makes a great leader

Being very clear in the lead, while being as gentle as possible, and realizing that the most important thing is to make the lady look good!

Making the follow feel a connection both with the lead and the music, making her feel as she was the song itself.

Calm. Be gentle. A precise leading without wasting of energy.  Ensure the partner's safety. Transmit confidence and comfort. Respect partner's and own limits.

Take care of partner (watch carefully if you have space for next move), trying to compare level to her (for example, if it looks like she have difficulty in spins, avoid it), trying to make her feel good in dance making me feel good to.

I think a great leader is someone who can adapt to every follower. His leading is clear and he takes care of the comfort of the follower. He can bring the follower into his own world but tries also to understand the universe of the follower. He dances for two. He shares. And creates something new. With the music of course. Musicality is very important.

Ability to interpret the music. Practice practice and practice with as many different followers as possible.

Connection, musicality, clear leading and versatility in styles (in that order =) ).

In general would say a great lead should be able to make (more or less) any dance an enjoyable (and safe) experience for both the follow and him-/herself, optimally while also interpreting the music and adapting to the follow and the environment they are dancing in. More specific such a lead should be able to give clear indications to the follow, without forcing the follow to move, but rather "seducing" her/him to perform an intended movement, also allowing for the follow to input into the dance. Very important: a lead also should be somewhat of a "follow" by observing the follow and reacting to the follow, if necessary compensating, even better taking both intentional and unintentional Input from the follow to create and innovate in the dance. And probably most important for any dancer regardless of the role: A dancer should always build a good and intensive connection with the partner, upon which all of the dancing rests.


What followers think makes a great leader

When the leader really connect to you and your energy and level.

As follower I'm eagerly searching for great leaders: for me they are the ones who feels the music, feels the beat, doing pauses, being clear in their lead, interpret the music, not just plainly doing steps. Kills me when the leader is off beat.

Musicality and timing - dancing on the music.

Musicality and interpretation.

Good connection - can be very light or stronger depending on the speed and power of the music and on the figures used in the dance - some figures need strong connection. A feeling for the movements of the follower - giving impulses and following the initiated movement of the follower. No pushing and pulling the follower out of balance. Creativity - a good mix of different movements, diversity, surprising the follower but in a way the follower can still follow. Stability and awareness of his own movements and the effect on the follower - technique. Attention for the follower dancing with! Not just rolling down a program.
Respecting the followers level - not over-demanding a follower but also giving the best and trying to make the best out of it. Paying attention also to the couples around - taking care not to crash someone.

Caring for your follow, watching the floor, dancing to the follow's level, and clarity. Would have been nice under the 'primary social dancing role' to have a 'both' column, for those like myself who flip-flop depending on lead/follow ratio. (Editor's comment: your wish has been granted in this month's poll! See end of this post!)


Zouk The World's "Great leader"

I have to agree with many of the respondents and the points that they raised.

To go a bit deeper, I see that there are several stages in the learning curve of the leader. First of all a good leader is familiar with the basics of the dance, the rhythm and different elements of the music, understands the fundamentals of leading and following, and has a positive attitude to dancing & learning. A good leader is starting to feel comfortable on the dance floor and with the moves he/she is able to lead. The ultimate goal for the good leader is to make the dance enjoyable for both. Being calm, stable and kind is also important, focusing on safety of both partners and of the people around. A good leader also has a twinkle in his/her eye and they realise that dancing is not a matter of life vs. death. In the parties a good leader dances with people from all levels, is polite and isn't shy about asking a follower to dance. And wears deodorant and a fresh t-shirt.

Above all, a good leader aims not to impress or use force, but tries to adapt to the follower, respecting the follower's level and working tirelessly to establish a good connection. From the connection and in harmony with the music the leader gradually starts to build each dance, increasing the intensity and complexity of the movements when he/she feels the follower is ready, continuing to listen to the follower and the music. A good leader is not afraid to improvise, he/she can (and should be) creative and versatile, but knows his/her limits. A good leader is committed to the dance and that moment 100%.

A great leader has already had a fair share of leading (and following) experience. A great leader can read the follower not only in terms of what she/he can do but also what the person might like to do, and how. The leader is paying attention to and adjusting the lead every moment based on how the follower reacts to each signal. A great lead indeed takes implicit or explicit ques from the follower and can change the lead on the fly based on them to make the dance more fun for the follower - and ultimately, for both.

On the highest level, a great leader can take the follower to dimensions (mental and physical) that the follower has not reached before. A great leader can lead a follower into moves - with no force - that the follower have never done before, perhaps something they've "only seen others do", something they've felt is beyond their reach. A great leader can make the follower feel one with him/herself and the music, transporting the follower to a state where she/he no longer follows, but just is a beautiful extension of the leader & the song. All the same while, a great leader can dance and enjoy the moment him/herself, not only being a slave to the task at hand, leading.


I'm not a "great leader" - this is depressing

When you start out dancing you'll quickly notice how little you can do - and how much it (seems!) that other guys just like you are already doing. The beginning of the dance road can be particularly steep for the leaders; they are responsible for creating the dance. Or at least that's how it feels. Yes the leaders have a big role, but - in case you didn't know it already - the follower is just as important in making the dance as the leader. It two to tango, right?

Becoming great at something doesn't come overnight. When you first sat behind the wheel of a car, you didn't know how to get it moving, how to reverse it straight, or how to navigate in traffic...? Let alone how to make lap around a Formula 1 track in record time. Nope. 

The point being: nobody expects a person to be a great leader right off the bat. All of us have started from zero. If you want to be a great leader, that's fantastic! Even the fact that you want to reach that level makes you much better than any "average joe" who just shows up to the party and doesn't put any effort to being even a good leader.

For any beginner (and advanced) dancer that is struggling with the learning path, I recommend this post:

11 things I wish I knew when I started dancing zouk


This month's poll

See this month's poll and previous poll results here!