May 14, 2019

Why A Bad Lead Stays A Bad Lead

by Magna Gopal

Have you ever had a dance where everything was lead off time?

How about a dance where the lead was so rough that you were certain you’d lose an arm? Have you ever danced with someone who never made eye contact, never smiled, or worse, looked at everyone else but you?

When we have dances like this, we tend to think of that lead as a bad lead.  The most common criteria that throws a lead into this category include:

  • leading off time
  • being excessively strong or rough
  • not accommodating the level of the follower
  • throwing the follower into other couples
  • being self-absorbed
  • not making eye contact or connection
  • having a constant RBF (resting bitch face)

Lack of Ability & Lack of Awareness

All of the above reasons occur throughout the dance journey for any and all leaders. They are often a result of a lack of ability or a lack of awareness.

As leads, we all start with the basics. It’s natural for us to not master everything all at once, if at all.  As we progress in our dance life, we constantly enter and leave stages where we are beginners.  This happens even more often if you’re constantly learning something new. The process of not knowing, trying, making mistakes, learning and trying again is present in every aspect of life.  As a result of this process in dance, we might find ourselves off time, so deep in our own thoughts that we don’t connect with our partners or we end up unaware of the world around us and bump into everyone.

Lack of ability and awareness also pertains to what we’re comfortable expressing. Cultures, society, friends, family, upbringing, etc all have an impact on what we think we’re allowed to express and how we finally express it. Sometimes, we spend years not even being aware that there are other acceptable ways of doing things. It often requires a constant exposure to a new method to finally accept it and use it in our interactions.

If we are truly trying to be better than we were yesterday, then a lack of ability will exist in some fashion or another throughout our journeys.  How does this pertain to being a bad lead? Basically, we’re all going to be bad leads at some point or another.

Photo: Salsa Union NYC / Dancer: Andrew Cabrera
Photo: Salsa Union NYC

Caring to be Better

Whether or not we stay in that stage of being a bad lead depends a lot more on whether or not we care.

  • Care to grow
  • Care to improve
  • Care to adapt and adjust
  • Care to admit we might not know something
  • Care to try and express ourselves
  • Care to communicate our feelings in a way that our partner understands
  • Care about our partner’s enjoyment
  • Care about our partner’s comfort
  • Care about our partner’s safety
  • Care about the people around us

Once and Forever

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “once a _____, always a _____.”  In this case, the simple act of genuinely caring about your impact can change that.

Essentially, once a bad lead, does not have to mean always a bad lead.

But, the only way that’s possible is if, as leaders, we can:

  • step out of our own heads
  • suppress our egos
  • humble ourselves
  • accept that there are other ways of doing things
  • care about connecting with and taking care of our of our partners

With that last part alone, you’d be surprised how much and how quickly you can improve, how much more fun you can have, and how much your follows will love and appreciate every dance with you.

Photo: Glenn Sloat / Dancer: Freya Chen

Connection is a 2-Way Street

We put a lot of responsibility on the leaders for the direction of the dance. But followers, you know based on my philosophy, that our role is never a passive one.  Sure, we can go through a dance that’s rough, off time, disconnected and then complain about it later. Or we can play an active role and contribute in some way. Now, we can’t necessarily improve our partner’s technique, moves or timing within a dance. But as connection is a two-way street, we can always try to connect with our partners even when it’s clear that’s not their priority.

The simplest way to do this:

  • smile
  • laugh a little
  • be patient
  • if you need an adjustment, communicate it with kindness
  • did I mention smile?  – It’s amazing what this simple act can accomplish. ?

A good lead is not just about your technical prowess but also how you connect and respect your partner. All of these things can be improved upon by simply having a genuine interest in doing so.


  • What’s your criteria for a bad lead?
  • Do you think you’re responsible for the outcome of the dance with a bad lead?
  • What is your contribution to the dance?


  • Do you think you’ve ever been labeled a bad lead?
  • Do you care if someone thinks or says that of  you?
  • If you don’t care, what is the most important thing about social dancing to you?
  • Can you think of the possible consequences of caring or not caring when it comes to any of the above reasons for a bad lead?


To all of my leaders feeling slightly defensive right now, don’t worry, as follows we have lots of room for improvement, too.  I’m working on an article to address that as well.

In the meantime, what constitutes a bad follow in your opinion and experience?


  • Top 3 Qualities of a Leader
  • What to do when you can’t connect with your partner


If you enjoyed this or know someone who could benefit from this information, please share and tag me so we can continue the discussion.  You can also show your support through Ko-Fi.


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