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The Soul of Dance

The Soul of Dance:   Fancy Feet |  Fancy Turns |  Learning to Let Go |  Main Menu

It is important that you do not think of dancing as merely a collection of patterns.  Patterns provide structure to the dance but they do not complete the dance.  Dance is complete when it brings to life the emotion of the music that is playing.  If you are dancing to music that is passionate and romantic, then the way that you move yourself and your partner should be passionate and romantic.  Likewise, if you are dancing to music that is cheerful, teasing, and silly then the way that you move yourself and your partner should be cheerful, teasing,and silly.

During a dance, a good dance couple will find themselves transcended to another world where all the world's problems are temporarily forgotten, and where they think only about the emotion of the music, the movements of their partner, and the fact that the world is spinning around them.

It is important to remember that you do not dance with your feet, you dance with your heart.  If your heart is not in your dance this will be obvious to your partner and to anyone who sees you on the dance floor.  Try to draw upon your inner spirit, and make your dance movements a projection of your inner spirit.  Rather than trying to move to the music, try to let the music move you.  An experienced lead will adjust the emotion of his movements to the changes of emotion within the music.  Good dancers take larger steps when the drum beat is loud, and smaller steps when the drum beat is soft.  Good dancers will travel across the floor when the music is loud, and will stay in one location when the music is soft.  I propose these ideas as merely suggestions, because choreography is something that should come from one's heart, and should not be governed by "rules".

The man and the woman have equally important status in the dance partnership.  Pay attention to your partner, and make sure your partner knows that they are an important part of the partnership.  Keep your priorities straight, and remember to dance 1st with your partner, 2nd to the music, and 3rd everything else.  Both the man and the woman are responsible for maintaining their own balance and for bringing balance to the dance partnership.  Good dancers will keep their weight forward on their feet, and will keep their toes pointed regardless of the direction of travel.  A good follow (the lady), shall maintain her rhythm and balance and shall try to be a graceful reflection of the movements of the lead.  The lead (the man) will not only decide the direction and size of his own steps, he will decide the direction and size of the lady's steps as well.

Partner dancing is often called touch dancing.  The touch part of partner dancing is a critical information path between lead and follow and its importance cannot be understated.  Experienced partner dancers can easily dance hundreds of patterns with both partners blindfolded.  An experienced lead can always sense which foot the lady is standing on without looking.  The lead should only use as much tactile pressure or tension as is necessary (no more, no less) to signal to the lady what she is supposed to do.  The man's lead should always be done in a manner that invites the lady to follow.  He should never push or pull or, heaven forbid, drag the lady through the dance.  Additionally, the man should learn the art of "foreshadowing", in which he precedes "big moves" (double turns, triple turns, ...) with a build-up in his choreography to signal to the lady that she needs to get ready.

Though beginning dancers should strive to mirror their partner's choreography, experienced dancers should strive to expand on their partner's choreography.  The man will usually try to use choreography which conveys strength.  The lady will usually try to use choreography that conveys gracefulness.  The lady should learn to move her free arm and hand softly and gracefully.  Regardless how good the lead is, the lady is almost always the person who is watched most by the audience.

Fancy Feet

Fancy Feet:   The Soul of Dance |  Fancy Turns |  Learning to Let Go |  Main Menu

Experienced partner dancers dance smoothly across the floor with quiet footsteps.  Even with hard-soled shoes on, experienced dancers will dance across the floor almost without making a sound. Keeping your weight forward on your feet will go a long way towards enabling you to dance smoothly and quietly across the floor.

Good dancers will always have a little bend in their knees as they dance.  This has several benefits.  For the smooth dances, this bend enables dancers to make sure that their shoulders are smooth (they shouldn't bounce) throughout the dance.  Another very important reason for having bend in the knees is to increase the reach of your free leg enabling you to take larger and more dramatic steps whether you are traveling forward, backward, or to the side.  The combination of standing on a bent knee and stretching the free leg outwards creates many opportunities for dramatic and sensual leg choreography especially in dances like the tango.

Good dancers always travel on a narrow path with the feet tracing close together whether they are traveling forward, backwards, or to the side.  Traveling on a narrow path allows dancers to take long, flowing, smooth, and balance steps, whereas traveling with wide steps make dancers look unbalanced and tends to make them waddle.  Traveling on a narrow path with long steps will also enable you to travel faster and more dramatically across the floor.

An important aspect of good dancing is the length of our steps. When partner dancing, of course, it is very important that we match the length of steps taken by our partner.  Also, when rounding corners with our partner, the person on the inside of the turn (usually the lead) should always take smaller steps to allow the outside partner to be able to round the corner and keep up.  In general, dancers will take smaller steps when the music is fast, and larger steps when the music is slow.  In dances with both quick steps and slow steps, the quick steps will be smaller than the slow steps.  However, all steps, even quick ones, should progress past the other foot and should never be "stutter" steps. Partner dancers look good when they take long, flowing, steps that are perfectly coordinated with their partner.

Lastly, as we try to dance smoothly and dramatically, it is important that we do not overreach or strain beyond our abilities. The best dancers stay within their abilities and work on dancing as naturally, skillfully, and effortlessly as possible.

Fancy Turns

Fancy Turns:   The Soul of Dance |  Fancy Feet |  Learning to Let Go |  Main Menu

Proper technique on dance turns is crucial for good balance, control, and style.  Although, all of the techniques and rules for proper turning apply equally to both the man and the woman, the woman always turns many more times than the man in partner dancing.

In partner dancing, the underarm turn is the most basic turn.  To help the lady maintain her balance through the turn, the lead should make sure that the joined hands pass just above the center of her head as she goes under the arms.  In the underarm turn, the lady should keep the weight forward on her feet as she turns.  Also, she should never duck her headduring a turn.  No matter how tall or short we are, we can all go under our own arm without ducking.

In partner dancing, the spot turn is the next most important turn.  In this turn, as in any turn where one foot crosses either in front of or behind the other foot, it is important to keep the feet fairly close together to make it easier to keep you balance through the turn.

A good follow should finish a turn with her body and shoulders squarely facing the lead.  By squarely facing the lead after each turn, the follow will project an image of strength and skill.  Also, by facing the lead after each turn, she will help the lead by offering both of her hands to the lead for the next pattern.  A lady will also look like a better dancer, if she keeps her shoulders straight when the lead pulls one of her arms to lead her forward, or pushes one of her arms to lead her back.

A lady will be a better follow if she makes momentary eye contact with the lead after each turn.  This small habit will help to make the follow more aware of and more able to follow the man's lead into the next pattern.

When the lady is traveling and spinning down the dance floor by rotating a half turn on each step, she will look good if she keeps her free hand(s) on her waist with the elbows out.  Also, as she spins, it is crucial for good balance that she spins on her center axis and keeps her weight on the front of her feet on each step.  Her poise and balance will improve if her feet stay on a narrow path as she travels and spins down the dance floor.  If the lady is turning continuously, she reduce the effects of dizziness by looking at a spot straight ahead while her body continues to rotate.  Then, when her body has rotated so much that she can no longer keep her head forward, the head should turn quickly around until it is again facing the spot.  For traveling pivot turns, it is helpful to have two spots (one directly ahead, and one directly behind) to focus on.  As the body rotates using "two spots", the head alternates between looking at the forward spot and looking at the backward spot.

Learning to Let Go !

Learning to Let Go:   The Soul of Dance |  Fancy Feet |  Fancy Turns |  Main Menu

Partner dancers should always strive to develop expressive choreography. Hand and arm movements that transcend mere directional movements, and become expressions of emotion, power, confidence, and flair.  Partner dancers have free hands and joined hands.  A joined hand is a hand held by your partner.  A free hand is not held by your partner.  The free hand offers tremendous opportunities for hand and arm choreography.  The free arm can be held straight out, straight up, straight forward, straight backward, or in a million different angles.  With each arm movement the free hand can be held either palm up or palm down and with the wrist in any direction.  This choreography can be combined in any manner, for example, left arm projected straight forward palm down, right arm projected straight backward palm up.  These movements can either mirror your partner or be in completely opposite directions as your partner.  Choreography can be extremely attractive if partners do NOT mirror each other, but do completely different things.

The man's choreography should project strength, strong straight lines, and a sense of command.  The man's choreography will sometimes mimic a matador or sword fighter.  The lady's choreography should project grace, beauty, confidence, and passion.

The man should frequently let loose of the lady's hands to give her the freedom to add powerful arm choreography to the dance.  (Important note:  Always let loose of the lady's hand slowly so she knows in advance that you are letting go of her hand and has time to prepare for it and so she does not loose her balance when you do this.)  If the man holds the lady's waist, then the lady has two free hands that she can choreograph as she pleases.  If you completely let go of your partner, she will have two free arms and two free legs to choreograph as she pleases.

The BIG question here is:  "How in the world do you lead the lady if you let go of her?".  The answer here is to hold on to her and lead her into a desired foot pattern.  Then, once she is comfortably doing the desired foot pattern, softly change your hold on her to a hold that frees her arms and hands, and walla!  Each person is now dancing individually but in perfect synchronization with their partner.  And each person is now free to add elaborate arm and hand choreography to the dance.  Then when you want to exit that foot pattern, offer your hand to her (which she will take), then capture her with the other hand, and you are free to then lead her into the next pattern.


  • The gentleman must lead.
  • Leading is 3 times as hard as following.  Guys, as the lead, you are the primary choreographer for the dance.  You will decide (on the fly) which patterns are done and how many repetitions of each pattern are done. It is your job to make the dance interesting. Try to change the order of your patterns randomly so the dance is different and interesting every time. Try to learn as many patterns as you can for each dance. If you repeat the same pattern over and over, your dance partner will get bored, and may not want to dance with you.
  • Leads, it is your job to stay on the beat.
  • An old saying about ballroom dancing is that "the guy is the frame and the lady is the picture". No matter how skilled of a dancer the gentleman is, the audience will tend to watch the lady. This is similar to the fact that women will pay more attention to how other women dress than men pay attention to how women dress. To prove this, ladies, simply ask your husband or boyfriend what you wore yesterday.
  • Guys, if you are unsure, the lady will be unsure also.
  • Through sight, the leader can see in the follower's eyes and body if she is ready to move on or whether she is satisfied continuing with the same step
  • Practice: Leads, practice basic cha cha while thinking about her feet rather than yours.
  • Leads: Pretend your partner is blind.  To help the lady follow your lead, try starting each pattern with a slight torso lean in the correct direction before your foot touches the floor. Lean a lot before taking a big step, lean a little before taking a shorter step. Remember also to begin each movement with a slight flex of the knees. This will also help your partner prepare for the next move.
  • You may need to adjust the strength of your lead for each person. If your partner is a beginner, she may require a stronger lead. If your partner is an experience dancer, she will not need a strong lead.
  • Be careful not to give the lady mixed signals. Remember that very small movements of your hand, arm, or body can signal the lady to change her direction. Even if your hand doesn't move, changes in pressure (either compression or tension) can signal the lady to change her direction.
  • If the lady does something you didn't expect, just go with it. Keep going and pretend that that's what you wanted her to do. Then, give her a stronger lead next time.
  • Be careful not to accidentally squeeze the ladies fingers together in such a way as to cause her to be in pain. This is a common mistake that leads will make. Ladies be sure to tell the gentleman if he is squeezing your hand too hard.
  • Lead smoothly. Be sure to lead each pattern ahead of time – don't wait until the last second or the lady will not have time to react.
  • It is extremely important to initiate a lead at the correct time. If you miss the right time for a lead, WAIT until your next opportunity, don't try to "hurry" a "late" lead.
  • Guys, do not change your mind in the middle of a lead.  This will make the lady angry.  Treat the lady like a lady.  Never jerk or yank on the lady's hand when you lead. Do not injure your partner by bending, twisting, or yanking on her arm (Ladies, this applies to you too.)  If you are dancing with a beginner, you may want to count aloud softly to help your partner.
  • Guys, do not spin or rotate your partner so much that she becomes dizzy or nauseous.  If you are leading, DO NOT force your partner to dance closer than they want to. It's the choice of the person following (i.e. the woman) to set the distance at which they feel comfortable. Followers should do this when they establish their frame with their partner.
  • If one couple runs into another couple on the dance floor, it is almost always the man's fault because he is the lead.
  • Guys, if you do a lead, and the lady follows in a way that you don't expect, just try to adapt to what she does.
  • A good lead will initiate a turn or pattern, then watch how the lady executes the turn or pattern, and then blend (or resynchronize) with the lady at the completion of the pattern.
  • Leading is more difficult than following.
  • It is terrific practice to lead a beginner. If you can lead a beginner, you can lead anyone. Good leads can dance with almost anyone.
  • To become an exceptional lead, it is very worthwhile to learn the ladies steps as well as your own. You will be a much better lead if you know exactly what the lady is supposed to do and where she needs to move each foot on each step.
  • The man always starts on his left foot.
  • I may refer to you simply as "leads".
  • Teamwork
  • It is important to remember that leading and following is teamwork. You must work together. Partner dancing depends on synchronized physical and mental cooperation between a man and a woman.


  • Hand and body choreography should be in sync with the rhythm of the dance.
  • Hand and body choreography
  • Integrate Jazz and Ballroom dance
  • Don't have free hands very often
  • During apart position
  • Watch your partner out of the corner of your eye, and mirror each other's choreography.
  • Be Patient & Kind
  • Be patient with yourself and be patient with your partner. Be forgiving of mistakes. Remember that everyone learns at different speeds. You can't become a great dancer after just one or two lessons.
  • Be good to yourself and be good to your partner.

    Competition Partners

  • If you are a competition partner of a dancer, then you are a very significant person to that dancer.
  • Both competition partners will invest significant time and effort in mastering their dance technique.
  • The dance relationship requires trust, patience, respect, and friendship.

    Types of Leads

  • Types of Leads:
    • Tactile leads
      • Hand motion leads: push, pull, turn, raise the hand.
      • Hand position leads
    • Visual leads
    • Verbal leads
    • Sequence leads
  • In closed position, you turn the lady by turning your shoulders (body).
  • Tension leads:cause the lady to move forward and to turn.
  • The "give me your hand lead". The guy offers his hand palm up.
  • Raise the hand leads:In general, you raise the ladies hand (and arm) to tell her to turn. Be sure to lower the hand when the turn is complete or she will keep turning.
  • Compression leads:cause the lady to step back (example: outside break)
  • Shoulder and hip leads.
  • Let go leads:to the challenge position
  • Rotational leads:cause the lady to spin: Tuck turn (unwrap lead) → re-wrap lead
  • Visual leads (as in the chase pattern)
  • One-hand leads
  • Two-hand leads:(On two-hand turns, be sure to apply more tension to one arm so the lady knows where to go.)
  • Whenever the man is going to turn:The man turns his hand upside down so the palm is up.
  • With so many patterns, lead differentiation becomes an important issue.  Just for fun, try practicing leads with both partners keeping their eyes closed.


General Rules for Following
  • Whatever you do, don't lead.
  • Be alert to your partner's lead. Listen to your hands.
  • Support your own weight.
  • Take straight steps, either backward or forward as the case may be.
  • Try not to anticipate your partner's lead.
  • Become familiar with the basic steps a partner is likely to lead.
  • The lady must follow. Ladies, listen to your hands.
  • Ladies, remember that your feet should follow your body rather than your body following your feet. Ladies, listen to the lead from your shoulders then let your feet follow your shoulders. Ladies, if your body is following your feet, then you are leading and not following.
  • Follows, remember that your feet should follow your body. You shouldn't have to think about the placement of every step. Your feet should follow your body naturally. Practice until you develop a "feeling" for the dance which allows you to not have to think about every step.
  • Ladies, practice following with your eyes closed.
  • Although, the lead may cause you to travel forward, travel backward, or turn; Ladies, you are responsible for maintaining correct footwork rhythm.
  • Be sure to face your partner (and keep your shoulders parallel to his) unless you are led to do otherwise.
  • Ladies, if you do not receive a lead in time, keep your rhythm by either dancing in place or by doing the basic step. If the gentleman indicates that he wants to restart the dance, bring your feet together and take the first step with your right foot.
  • Things that make following difficult include: traveling backwards, numerous turns and spins, and adjusting to different styles of leads from different partners.
  • Ladies you should "tune in" to the man's shoulders to help you to follow smoothly and responsively. Tune in to the man's lean. It will tell you the direction and size of the step that he is about to take. The man will usually flex his knees slightly before he moves; you can prepare yourself for his next move by "tuning in" to the man's leg flex.
  • The lady's steps should be split second after the man's.
  • "Ladies, the man is your partner not your porter. It is not the man's job to carry you through a dance."
  • Ladies, you should learn to follow responsively. You should not resist the gentlemen's lead.
  • The lady should never reach and grab a hand unless it is offered.
  • The lady should never release a hand unless led to do so.
  • Ladies should not lead
  • Ladies should not turn unless they are led to do so.
  • Unless the lady receives a lead to the contrary, she should automatically do the basic.
  • Ladies, when you are out on the dance floor dancing with a guy, you will often have to follow patterns that you have never done before. This may seem like an impossibility, but with practice, you will be able to follow all kinds of patterns, including patterns that you have never seen or done before – provided the guy can lead each pattern correctly.
  • Some ladies are almost natural followers and can almost dance as soon as their feet touch the dance floor. Some ladies struggle with following for months or even years.
  • The ladies that are natural followers learn how to feel the dance, and do not worry so much about the placement of every single foot. (Remember you should keep your head up and you should not be looking at your feet.)
  • Your shoulders and body will follow the guys shoulders, and your feet should follow your body, rather than your body following your feet. In fact, if your body is following your feet, you are not following the guy.
  • Ladies that struggle with following will tend to "grip" their partner to keep the guy from doing patterns that they are not familiar with. In this situation, the lady will be attempting to override the gentlemen's lead. The result: The dance will never be graceful if both the man and woman are both trying to lead.
  • To be a good follower, ladies, you must "let go" of your control of the dance and simply let the dance happen. Ladies that follow naturally will tend to "go with the flow" and will let the gentlemen's lead determine the direction that their body will travel on each step.
  • Rhythm is very important and you must keep your steps in accordance with the rhythm. If you skip a step, you will be on the wrong foot and you could step on your partners foot or even trip and fall.
  • Whereas, most good leads keep track of the count, most ladies just keep the rhythm of the dance and do not specifically keep track of the count. About 1/4 of women rely on the gentlemen's lead to establish the rhythm, and 3/4 of women rely on the music to establish the rhythm.
  • To be a good follower:1.
  • Maintain your rhythm. You must be in control of your rhythm.2.
  • Keep your balance. You must be in control of your balance.3.
  • Listen to the man's shoulders.
  • If the guy pushes you backwards, which direction should you travel? Answer: Backwards! Otherwise you might fall down.
  • Demo with Georgian: Straight box, Box turning, Forward balance.
  • The lady always starts on her right foot.
  • I may refer to you simply as "follows".

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