A friend of mine – a follower – brought up an interesting point at the end of a bachata social last night. Her eyes trailed over me, slanking about in my pleather leggings and lace I’m-not-sure-if-thats-a-bra-or-a-shirt top, with a pair of stilettos slung over my shoulder. She laughed, then gestured around at the crowd of women changing their shoes. She asked me: “how do you deal with other followers?”

“What?” I responded, distractedly. My hair was getting tangled in my stiletto buckles.

She rolled her eyes. She said “how do you deal with having other followers around?” I stilled. “How do you cope with women who are talented dancers, who have clearly been doing this forever, who it’s clear lots of talented leaders enjoy, who are good looking, or who are otherwise slanking about in pleather leggings and lace almost-shirts?”

We laughed. I hugged her. I said, “Fuck if I know.”

But I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

This is a really challenging issue for a lot of people, and has been for me, personally, from the very beginning. My heart swam in self-doubt for a lot of my journey. I have since learned how to overcome the bulk of the weight of that (no small thanks to simply improving as a dancer), but it is still ever present, looming at the peripheries of my vision, ready to pounce should I have an off night or moment, for any reason.

I think also, as a quick aside, that this may be a particularly pressing issue for women, and, generally speaking, followers. I know that men deal with self-esteem issues most definitely. I do. But as women we are encouraged from birth to compete with one another for male attention, to judge our self worth based on what men think of us, to be wary of one another, to backstab one another, to be mean girls. This is exacerbated by the surplus of followers relative to leads in many dance communities. The latent competitive feelings we have become pressurized and magnified by the presence of so many other women, making us feel simultaneously doubtful of our own worth as well as resentful of others.

I am certain that I am not the only woman in salsa who “hates” particular follows because of jealousy, or resentment. “God, I just hate her so much,” I have not infrequently uttered to my closests friends. The tendrils of possessiveness and fear are quick to pounce. I really try not to think and to feel this way, but the impulse is there. And the impulse to doubt myself, especially when I am new to a particular dance, is also there. “God, I just hate myself so much,” is just an easy, if not easier, sentence to fall into the habit of thinking.

So how do we deal? How can we cope with the surplus of amazing dancers and beautiful people around us? How do we still be good people and feel love for everyone on the floor–including ourselves?

I can’t say I have all the answers – but I do have some that work for me:

1. Acknowledge that no one is malicious

Not a single person on the dance floor is out to make you feel bad. Well, come to think of it, it’s possible that some people out there wouldn’t mind if you felt jealous (I have been, horribly, one of them), but the vast majority of people have nothing but love for the dance and for each other in their hearts.

No leaders, or followers, will reject you for a dance because they think you are an unworthy human being. You have no idea why anyone ever says yes or no to a dance – it might have to do with the way that you dance, or it might have absolutely nothing to do with you at all.

No one intends for you to feel bad, ever. In fact I am quite sure they would like for you to feel nothing more than warm and fuzzy… they just may be too caught up in their own lives to go out of their way to help you achieve that. That’s simply human.

2. Acknowledge that all have their own insecurities

You know that woman slanking about in her pleather and stilettos? She is just as human, and she wrestles with just as much insecurity, as anybody else on the floor.

I grant that a degree of confidence does often come with improving one’s dance ability. I grant that some people become cocky and even real assholes about it. But far more often than not, people that you find intimidating are also worried about their dancing, about the way they are dressed, about the way they look, about their reputation, and about how many dancers love them and want to dance with them.

I don’t care how apparently badass someone is… we are all human, and we all feel concern about the approbation and love of others.

3. Cultivate emphathetic joy for others

This is probably the most important and helpful point for me.

We tend to live in egotistical little clouds. I can’t condemn any of us for this–it’s incredibly natural. We simply think about ourselves, our joy, and our pain, much more than we do that of others.

But if we step outside of ourselves… can we experience joy because we are grateful for the joy of the people around us? It really helps me when I see two people do a super badass dance to think “wow, how amazing that they’ve worked so hard to dance so beautifully and can relate to each other so subtley and intimately” instead of “oh god I suck so much.”

When I focus on the positive emotions that other people are feeling, and think about how great it is that joy is being added to the world in any measure, it keeps my own negativity and doubt from creeping in.

4. There is plenty for everybody

Even while I have always felt envy for people at higher levels of dancing than me, and even while I was a super beginner, there were still so many people with whom I developed great, loving dance relationships.

These relationships often occurred within a similar level of dancing… we were reasonably compatible in terms of our range of dance abilities. Of course they didn’t, and still don’t, always. I have great connections with people at a whole range of dance abilities.

But my point is this: there’s no need to think that you are deficient, or that you won’t find anyone to “love” you or dance with you, at any level of dancing. You definitely can, and will, and I am sure already do.

You might not dance ten times a night with the local hotshot, but you can certainly do ten a night with someone who values and enjoys you precisely for who you are, in this moment. And there is not a single thing wrong with that. We are all at different places on our journeys and can connect to different people differently.

5. Improve at the dance; be improving and proud of it

Not everybody cares all that much about being a “better” dancer, in terms of technique and the like.

But a lot of people do.

If you do, I advise that you simply accept where you are, enjoy it, and commit yourself to growing as a dancer. When you do so, it can give you a degree of pride in yourself and how far you’ve come, and can even make you excited about how much further you have to go.

I personally find that the more I improve, the more I realize how much more improving I could do. Dance perfection is an ever receding horizon… so I recommend enjoying the journey, more so than focusing on a destination that doesn’t really exist. Improving at dance can be seriously validating and addicting… so I even sometimes find myself being grateful that I have flaws. It means I get to keep working on my dance.

6. Invest yourself in the community

If you are envious of more experienced dancers or worried about your own dancing and worth, you might want to try investing in the community. Engage people off of the floor. Get to know them. Do nice things. Become their friends. See them as equally imperfect and equally lovely human beings.

When you do this, you not only might be able to learn about dancing from your new friends, but you will be able to demonstrate to them–and to yourself–what it is about you that makes you special. You are fun and funny and kind and sweet (or whatever, maybe you’re a dick but in that way people can appreciate) and this is apparent to everyone you interact with.

Perhaps more importantly to you, investing in your community can also mean that you end up dancing more often with people who have been in the scene longer and have more experience than you do.

7.Take pride in everything you have to contribute to the dance and the community

In any given dance you do, you don’t just have your good frame, your muscle control, your knowledge of how salsa rhythms work.

You also have energy, radiance, cheer, charm, and the like. People can love dancing and socializing with you for so many reasons. Your skill as a dancer is just one of them (if an admittedly important one). So if you are feeling self-conscious, just remember that you are a whole package, and any single aspect of you does not define who you are, or how much people enjoy dancing with you.

8. Take pride in your own journey, values, and story

Each of us has a specific background. Some people have been dancing for decades, some even before they could walk. Seriously, this is a thing. Sometimes parents carry infants in slings while they dance.

For better or for worse, that’s not 99% of us.

We are simply not in that position.

But what you might be is a warrior in your own way, having lived through a tough life, discovered dancing, fallen in love, and undertaken your own dance journey.

We all can only be who we are — no more, and no less. And we come from particular locations with particular difficulties. So I recommend giving yourself a pat on the back for everything you have managed to accomplish thus far. I mean this in terms of dance technique but also other things, like personal growth, overcoming tragedy, and the like. And screw anybody who judges you harshly or dismisses you… they simply don’t know your story; they can’t understand what makes you beautiful.

You are totally, remarkably, a badass, and please don’t ever, ever forget it.



So this is how I deal with being surrounded by talented, beautiful followers all of the time. This is how I sooth the nervous, threatened mouse in me, as well as tame the selfish and voraciously competitive tiger.

There is of course the one final option for mitigating your confidence issues – the one many people choose, and which is the most blantant – which is to have patience, work really hard, and get super talented. Improving helps alleviate feelings of being threatened, for sure. It can create confidence. But I want to be clear, and this is why I didn’t address this method above, that it still never does away with doubts completely. That has to come from the inside.

(For more on the hate and competition issue, this is an excellent article.)

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I am a prickly creature.

I love easily, but I don’t love easily.

I have been single now for almost a decade.

I work alone; I live alone; I go for coffee alone.

I have friends, don’t get me wrong. At least two, last I checked.

But for a wide variety of reasons that are completely irrelevant, currently, I simply don’t often find myself experiencing affection. Or intimacy.

This is why I dance.

I crave love.

I know this. My friends know this. Everyone I encounter on Facebook knows this. I talk about it so openly and frequently it’s obnoxious. The most obnoxious.

But I do so often talk about what I call my dance addiction in part because I think it’s something very important for us to talk about, as dancers.

How it works is really quite simple:

It isn’t that you want a boyfriend. It’s not that you need a girlfriend, or even a hook-up. You just (I just) need your intimacy-itch scratched.

Dance is a world in which we connect. When you step onto the floor with someone, you are fully with each other. You are present with one another. The music, and the floor, and the flying elbows from the couple next to you play important roles but you are, ideally, all that exists for each other.

You meet eye contact, and you watch out for one another. You pay attention to one another. You tune into each other. Psychologically, you play the role of protector, or maybe even of confidant.

Often, you experience a lot of physical contact. You trace your fingers along your partner’s shoulder blades; you interlock your fingers with theirs; you accidentally bump noses; you inhale against one another’s chests.

Physical contact is arguably an absolute necessity for both physical and psychological wellness. Oxytocin – the “love hormone” released when touching – is thought to modulate the body’s immune response, lower blood pressure and reduce stress hormone levels. It stimulates the release of beta-endorphin, which is the molecule secreted by ‘runner’s high’ and which creates ecstatic feelings of joy. Touch also causes serotonin and dopamine to rise. No wonder that as healing as physical touch – and dance – can be,  it can also be powerfully addictive. Truly, powerfully addictive.

When you dance for love, like I have done, dance can become your world. It becomes the place you flirt, the place you are validated, the place you relax, the place you feel at home, the place you feel cared for, the place you feel the most alive. If dance is the best source in your life of affection, intimacy, touch, and the like, then I wouldn’t be surprised if you were like me, absolutely obsessed with dancing at every opportunity possible.

Quite literally seven days a week.

Quite literally disregarding other opportunities and responsibilities, because they seem so dull, like such terrible drags, compared to the power of dance.

But what happens, if you fall in love? Or into something that is intimate, and warm?

Interestingly, when people who dance for love end up meeting people they care about – they slow down their dancing. Often quite a bit. We all have that friend who gets a girlfriend, and then we don’t see them for three months. When they roll back into the club on some arbitrary weekday night, we know the relationships didn’t last.

Time is a factor, obviously. Relationships take time. But I do also really believe, from watching this phenomenon ebb and flow throughout my communities, that people also simply meet their needs for intimacy. They feel less of a desire to dance because they have such good and strong connections elsewhere.

Then they are freed up to do and explore other things, like skydiving, or tattoo artistry, or poetry, or whatever the hell else they like.

Or, they start to scramble, like I have experienced, to remember how wonderful and valuable other aspects of the dance can be, such as friendship, movement, playfulness, and, perhaps most sustainably of all, the music.

Or maybe not.

More on which another day. There are so many reasons to love dance and to stay committed to it, and to weather changes in your relationship with it over time. I can’t wait to write more; this is yet one installment.

There are no real takeaways from this post, except for a few things I think worth mentioning:

1) To my friends who disappear into relationships: that’s cool, I support you and am glad you’re getting your fix. Don’t forget the other amazing things about dance!

2) To my friends who have lived with the same addiction that I have to some degree or another: Enjoy it! It feels good to dance. On the other hand, I feel for you very much, and please know I love you. I will hug you always.

3) To my friends who are lonely but don’t dance: this is good stuff here. really. good. stuff. check it out.

4) To the charitable and wonderful people who have followed this blog: Please forgive my absence. I don’t dance (or write about dance) quite as obsessively as I did a few months ago, as my addiction has lessened into something more sustainable. I have been asked to write more about balance, more about spinning, and more connection, and I promise I will get to them in due time. After I spend some time skydiving, writing poetry, or whatever the hell else I am free to pursue.


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One of the most common beliefs in the Afro-Latin dance scenes is that mistakes are always the leader’s fault.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been on the dance floor, experienced some sort of miscommunication with my leader, and said “my bad” only to have the leader positively insist that it is always the leader’s job to make the dance go well. They always say, “no, no, no, it’s my bad, it’s always the leader’s fault.”

I think this statement could not be more wrong. I always fight back. I roll my eyes; I shout over the music; I say, “I’m allowed to fuck up, too.”

The whole idea of it is just blatantly incorrect. It’s plain wrong. I know that everyone wants leaders to be chivalrous, and in charge, but that completely misses the point. Sure, a leader can assess a follower’s skill and attempt to adjust for it. I know that. Some of them are experts at it. But I know extremely talented leaders who still sometimes get smacked in the face by an errant arm. There is no way they can anticipate every move a follower makes.

One time I hit a guy in the head with my own head… while we were shining. How could that have possibly been his fault at all? It most certainly was not.

There are infinite ways in which followers can make mistakes. I could step forward on 1 instead of back. I could be off time. I could throw my weight into a dip unexpectedly. I could lose my balance on a spin. I could collapse my frame and let my elbows go behind my body. I could backlead. I could let go of my leader’s grip. Leaders can sometimes anticipate these things, especially in the case of advanced leaders dancing with novice followers, but not always.

Sometimes – often – it is simply the case that mistakes are the follower’s fault.

What’s more, I find the whole idea to be rather insulting. Saying that everything is the leader’s fault denies that followers bring any sort of agency or skill to a dance at all. It says that the quality of the dance doesn’t depend upon what the follower has to contribute, but instead upon how well the leader maniuplate’s the follower’s body.

It’s sexist.

If we are going to continue to do these dances but do so in a way that honors equality, we need to acknowledge that followers have agency and skills that make a difference.

In the examples of followers making mistakes that I listed above, in every case, the leader can surely compensate for them. For example, a leader could lead dips that are less deep. A leader could more carefully guide a follower’s timing. A leader lead turn patterns equal to the follower’s level. But there is still a very big skill set that a follower can bring to meet the leader half way. A follower can learn how to do a better dip, can fix their frame, can learn timing. Leaders pick the moves but these moves are selected and executed in part based on what the follower contributes to the dance.

Let me be accountable for my own mistakes, leaders, and we can make a better dance together.

If you do so, perhaps most importantly of all, then we can all become better dancers. 

If we constantly tell followers that mistakes are not their fault — and if followers then get in the habit  of blaming mistakes on leaders — then followers literally have zero impetus to become better dancers.

One major component of quickly becoming a badass social dancer is constantly evaluating and correcting oneself on the dance floor. I am constantly in a state of self-correction on the floor. Every time a hiccup or mistake occurs, I immediately think “what could I have done to have avoided it?” There are always many different answers. Maybe I could have better balanced myself. Maybe I could have better connected with my leader’s frame. Maybe I could have stepped more evenly in the line of dance.

If I thought “oh he could have led that better” every time there was a mistake in a dance, like our culture apparently wants me to do, I’d never learn what mistakes I was making. I’d never improve. It is 100% because I consider myself culpable and responsible for the quality of a dance that I have managed to become a better dancer at all.

People often say that leaders should be able to read followers and craft a dance that matches their skills… but followers can also read leaders, and tailor their skill set to fit within the context of that particular dance. This is an important quality of being a good follower, perhaps the most important. None of us will ever get good at it if we expect the burden of communication and execution to lie on the leader’s shoulders alone.

Ultimately, my greatest fear here is that teaching dancers that it’s a leader’s job to fix things prevents followers from reaching their true potential.

So the answer to my initial question of whether mistakes are always a leader’s fault is no. It is not always the leader’s fault. Dances are not composed of robot leaders and robot followers — masters and puppets — but rather human beings who communicate. This mean that a complex set of both leading and following skills are necessary for a good dance, and that everybody is accountable for the talent that they bring to a dance.


I have a feeling you disagree. Go ahead, let me have it. 🙂

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This blog is by and large about following.

But following doesn’t exist without leading… every good follow needs a good lead to make it happen. And, boy, do I have opinions on what a good leader is, or what.

I spend a lot of time ruminating on what leaders and followers need to do to enjoy their time together. Here is a list of what I think are the 8 most egregious wrongs a leader can make on the dancefloor:

1. Squeeze my hands

Seriously, leaders. Don’t do it. You can lead a follower by simply touching your fingertips to theirs if you want to. There is absolutely zero, and I mean zero, reason to squeeze a follower’s hands.

It is uncomfortable. It is painful. It hinders the dance. It hurts your partner. Don’t do it. A simple light grasp is all we need.

2. Be forceful

I understand that some leaders like to be “stronger” than others. They put more force behind their leads. Of course this varies from leader to leader – it is only natural.

There is a difference, however, between a lead with more energy and a lead who is forceful. My favorite leads — my absolute favorites — are extremely gentle. This does not mean they are not clear. Some leads seem to think that in order to be more clear they have to be forceful. But  that could not be more wrong. You can be extremely gentle (given that your follower is receptive to the gentleness) and still be very clear.

There is an important technique that can help with this problem. The brilliant west coast swing champion Bill Cameron calls this “power steering.”

What Bill means is this: whenever you apply force in one direction, you should also be bracing your muscles, exhibiting a degree of force, back in the opposing direction. This provides a feeling of cushioning to your leads, which is extraordinarily comfy for followers. If you don’t power steer when you lead, now is an excellent time to start.

3. Dance too big

This one goes out to all the beginning leaders.

One egregious mistake beginner dancers make is dancing too big. They take too big of steps, they extemd their frames too much/break the lines of their frames, and they throw their arms out in a broad circle to lead spins.

The thing is, the bigger your lead, the more you throw your follower off balance.

Partner dancing happens much more easily, smoothly, and quickly if it must if it’s kept close and tight. When you spin a follower, all you gotta do is raise your hand and give a bit of a rotational motion to the back. Like, a fraction. Seriously. Don’t over lead… instead quality lead.

4. Dip without proper technique

Perhaps this goes without saying, but if I didn’t say it somebody else would.

Dipping followers without knowing the mechanics of dipping and people’s backs is a gigantic, and I mean a gigantic, no. 

Some mistakes leaders often make when dipping is snapping back at the shoulderblade level, which makes the neck snap uncomfortably, not giving enough of a circumference on a dip that rotates, which interrupts the otherwise fluid motion of the spine, or giving deep, fast dips to followers they aren’t already sure will be able to follow them without being hurt.

If you haven’t thought about these issues (and others) and are a leader, it may be time to start.

5. Dance above your follower’s level

One thing that drives me absolutely crazy is when an “advanced” leader is paired with an intermediate or beginner follower, and continually gives them moves that they cannot follow.

This frustrates the follow, makes them feel incompetent, and ruins any kind of positive connection you might have in the dance.

It’s one thing to lead one move, or a move at the beginning, and discover that the follower can’t do it.  It’s another thing to learn their level early on and then ignore it entirely. Sometimes I think leaders do this out of habit — they are simply too lazy to change their normal patterns of movement — and other times I think leaders do this out of arrogance — they are displaying disdain for their partner’s lack of technical ability.

In either case, I do not approve. A good leader leads a follower, and is present with the follower.

6. Collapse your frame / have bad posture

Almost nothing is more important to me in a dance than the quality of my leader’s frame.

The frame is where all leads come from – so it’s super important for the quality of connection and the clarity of the directions being given me.

But the frame is also where, in closed position, you rest. If a leader has bad posture, it will collapse on the follower and feel uncomfortable.

If, on the other hand, a leader has great posture, I’ll ask them to dance all. night. long. I won’t be able to keep my hands off of them. There’s something very homey and sexy feeling about a great frame — because a great frame is, after all, a great embrace.

7. Verbally tell the follower what to do or correct them

Every once in a while a leader will say something to me like “keep your hand there behind your back.” I’m like, “I was going to anyway, but thanks?”

Telling a follower what to do before it even happens is a statement of a lack of faith in their ability to follow.

Telling a follower what they should have done afterwards implies that you think they were wrong.

What partnership really is taking accountability into yourself whenever possible, and doing everything you can to support your partner.

What’s more, if you want to lead your follower in a complicated move, learn how to do it in a way that you can lead it without verbal indication. Many people say it’s “always” the leaders fault when a move goes wrong. I don’t agree, really – I personally make mistakes or could be following better all of the time. This mentality is what has enabled me to improve as a dancer. But it is still by and large a decent guideline to follow that leads should try their best to lead followers in a way appropriate to them. For more on which, see this post on feminism and latin dance.

8. Overstep bounds of intimacy

This is a problem unfortunately many leaders are guilty of.

They overstep the bounds of intimacy.

Now of course a follow is complicit in what happens in terms of physical intimacy during a dance, too. But just like we live in a society in which men take sexual actions and it’s a woman’s job to say “no” – in dance men often initiate intimacy that women are uncomfortable with.

The acclaimed leader Juan Calderon likes to talk about this issue in terms of traffic signals. Dance is usually non verbal. So how do people communicate? With their body language.

Pay attention to your follower’s body language. If you move to close the gap between you two and your follower resists, that’s a red light. If you move your head forward to connect and your follower tilts theirs away from you, that’s a red light. You should probably stop your current course of action immediately and back off until the follower signals more comfort.

If your follower lets you connect your head to theirs but doesn’t initiate any of their own movement, that’s a yellow light. This is a signal for caution, and may mean you should back up and wait for them to give you more positive signals.

If, on the other hand, your follower notices you inclining your head and moves to incline theirs to meet yours on their own, or initiates another sort of intimacy when you do so such as stroking the back of your neck, that’s a good sign that they’re into whatever you’re leading. This is a green light.

Now, partner dancing is NOT a race to get as many green lights as possible. But it is an intimate space between two people, so ways of thinking about boundaries is necessary.

Don’t overstep intimacy. If you detect any yellow lights, back up to make sure your follower is comfortable. You can still have a great and connected dance without your bodies smushed together from head to toe.


…And with that, I draw my list of my personal biggest leader “no”s to a close. What do you think? Dyou do any of these, leaders? Love / hate any of them, followers?

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Image Credit

In the most recent video in this series – TPF006: Spinning in Place, I discussed the mechanics of spinning in place.

Spinning in place is a fairly simple skill, once you understand the concepts and begin integrating them.

Travelling is simple, too, but a lot more goes into it that most people don’t know about.

This video is all about a great set of techniques not just for a good but a seriously great travelling spin.


In the video I cover:

-Your frame

-How your frame works in a travelling spin

-Where to spot in a travelling spin

-How to spot and why it’s crucial in ways most people don’t think

-What to do with your feet, knees, hips, glutes, back, chest, arms, and head in a travelling spin

-What it means to spin “in a plane”

-How to make this movement happen

And of course – I close with the reminder that this is just one set of techniques among many. It may not  be the best for you. But it’s a great starting place and I know for sure that it works wonders for me and many others.

Let me know what you think or if you have questions!




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In this post, I wrote about what a “pure follow” is, and why you might want to be one.

Today, I want to talk about strategies for achieving that goal.

Of course – it is a forever receding target. We can never be the most perfect, or the most “pure” follows. Never. But I really do think we can come close.

Here are the few ways I’ve discovered that work best, at least for me, in helping enhance my capabilities as a pure follow:

1. Practice.

Nobody ever improves without practicing. The more you dance — and mindfully so — the faster you’ll improve, and the better you’ll be.

This happens at home, it happens in the studio, it happens at rehearsals, it happens on the floor. The more frequently you practice (and in a thoughtful way), the quicker you’ll improve.

2. Do more than one dance.

I know I’m pretty obvious about this being important in this blog, but I do several dances. Every single dance I add enhances the quality of dancing I bring to the other dances I already do. Why? Because each dance has its own specific set of skills that it focuses on (eg, kizomba, zouk, bachatasalsa, west coast)…. and these skills are useful in all of the other dances, too. For example, the range of torso motion emphasized in bachata can really help follow a salsa leader who likes body rolls and dips.

3. Listen to your partner.

Try as best as you can when you social dance to forget the moves you learned in lessons–or even moves you’ve done previously with other leaders–and just listen very presently to what your current partner is doing. This is very challenging but can be extremely rewarding both in terms of the quality of your following as well as the quality of your connection.

4.  Make social dancing your learning space.

Many people will disagree with me somewhat here. They’ll say – learning is for the classroom. The social floor is for fun. But I think they couldn’t be more wrong. There’s no saying you can’t have fun and learn at the same time. You don’t have to be a burden on your partner. Nobody ever needs to know you’re even doing it…learning on the dance floor. Just pay attention. Notice what your reaction is to different leads. Discover your own programming and presuppositions. Then get rid of it. Try and clear your mind of your predictions and simply go with the flow. Study your own social dancing and learn your own habits, so that you can simultaneously enhance the good ones and get rid of the bad ones.

5. While you’re at it, watch.

Watch other dancers. Learn from their movements. Discern what the more common patterns are… and figure out where they might be broken. Pay special attention to leaders and followers who don’t seem to follow the rulebook, but are instead playful and creative with their dancing. What do they do? What can you import into your own dancing?

6. Assume ‘mistakes’ are your fault. 

This is not just the nice thing to do, but it’s also the fastest way to become a better social dancer.

I go into every single social dance I do with a critical eye on myself. If something “goes wrong,” I assume it’s my fault. I pay attention to what’s going on. I press myself to find ways to spin more efficiently, to connect my frame with fewer leaks, and to read my leader’s intentions better. How can I change what I am doing to make this a higher quality dance?

This helps you continually refine your following such that you can follow whatever leads are giving you. It also enables you to be able to follow more. Higher level leaders have more precise, easier-to-follow leads. But they’re not the only ones you’ll dance with. Paying attention to your following and every leader you are with will help you with the whole range of leaders.

7. Ask for feedback from your leaders.

Ask: did I follow that like you intended? What did I miss? How do you think we miscommunicated? If I get a lead a few times in a night that I know I am doing wrong, I seek out a leader and ask them to show me what they intended.

This is directly related to the point above. You can start off by asking these questions in your own head – you will in all likelihood find the correct answer over time – but it always helps to get external feedback. Your own reflections combined with some thoughtful help from other dancers can really help fine tune your following.

8. Take classes from diverse instructors. 

Different instructors have different viewpoints on just about everything, from social etiquette to turn patterns to the quality of leading and following. Diversifying your instructor set can go a long way toward getting you out of a fixed mindset and into more flexibility as a follower.

For that matter, it’s important to focus on continuing to learn and expand your range, period. Many people give up on lessons far too early, or never take them at all (myself included). I consider this to be a big mistake, since some instructors have very literal magic to share with us.

9. Travel.

When I started travelling to different congresses I noticed my speed of improvement really pick up. Why? Because people dance the same dances with different styles all over the world. Compare, for example, bachata in Cadiz to bachata in Miami, or zouk in Poland to zouk in the Caribbean. There are huge differences between the two. In fact, having danced bachata only in the USA for my first few years, I could hardly follow anything given to me in bachata in Europe upon arrival. I’d say it took me about a solid six months to become proficient in European bachata.

But then when I came back to the USA, I could follow even more of the local bachata here than I could previously, because my skill set had been so expanded.

This goes for hemispheres and nations but also for local communities. DJs and instructors in Boston are different from DJs and instructors in New York, which makes for totally different dancing environments, and totally different kinds of leads.

The more you travel, the more expansive your following will be.


And with travelling I bring my list to a close. These are my favorite strategies for working on the “purity” of my following. Do you have similar strategies? Care about the same things? Want to recommend some ideas to me? (Please? 😉 )

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Image: “The Spinning Dancer” by Leonid Afremov


An elusive skill.

Something mysterious, even.

Instructors in beginning classes will often say – ‘and then the follower turns.’

Um, no.

There’s a lot more to it than that, right?

There is. And the thing is – it’s not rocket science. Spinning well in place is actually a fairly simple, straightforward act.

All you have to do is know the basics of how it works, practice the motions untill they become habit, and you are golden, it’s smooth sailing from there on out.

In today’s video, I describe my own personal technique for how to spin in place. There are of course many different ways to think of and to describe spinning, but I personally find these techniques to work very well. They come not just from years of salsa but literal decades of dance training. That’s not to say they are foolproof and will work best for everybody, but they do do the job for me.


In the  video, I discuss:

-prepping for a spin in salsa (when given a “j” lead),

-foot technique,

-core technique,

-frame technique, and


I also include a short clip at the end that shows me first doing some travelling spins and then ending in place… where the alignment of my body and spotting are very obvious components of my ability to follow that lead.

Let me know what you think or if you have questions. I know this may seem easier said than done, but all it takes is a bit of thinking and a a regular dose of loving practice. 🙂

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Image: If Colors Could Dance

An old friend of mine–a west coast swing leader–once told me that he noticed a friend of mine, a bachata, salsa, and zouk follower–because she was a “pure follow.” He asked her to dance–and he recommended that his friends do the same–because of this specific quality. The pure following. 

I was intrigued. What’s that, I asked? And more importantly, why is it so desirable? And how do I become a pure follower too?!

What is a pure follow?

A “pure follow” is a follower who can follow whatever is thrown their way. A pure follower does not do canned steps. A pure follow does not backlead (do moves before they are led), or hijack (change what’s being led). A pure follow is not confined to the movements of a specific dance, but is rather well connected throughout their body, so that they can interpret and nail a lead no matter how unorthodox.

Now of course a pure follow can’t necessarily follow a shitty lead. A pure follow doesn’t have to perfectly respond to off-balance, jerky movements or to lack of clarity in the lead. But a pure follow does their best to do so, and will respond well to a high quality lead.

Why do you want to be a “pure follow”?

There are many reasons you might want to be a pure follow. Here are some of them:


You can follow a wide variety of leaders. You don’t need a particular style of salsa (on 1, on 2, etc) or a particular kind of lead (hard, soft). Hell, you don’t even necessarily need a particular kind of dance. For example, I once danced a great tango with an experienced tango leader, because he could use my efforts at pure following to manipulate my body, even though I know almost nothing about tango. Knowing tango would have made the dance much, much better of course, but it was an enjoyable dance for both of us. I also often go out clubbing with leaders and we just kind of do our own thing, mixing steps and moves and the like. You can do this, if you learn how to follow instead of how to do steps.

 You can do more than one kind of dance.

Each partner dance has its own unique flavor and is delicious in its own right. The more of a pure follow you are, the more your skills leak over into other dances and enable you to dive into a new community head first.

Versatile leaders love you like crazy.

Just as there are follows who transcend barriers between dances, so there are leaders. Unfortunately for these leaders, however, they are confined to lead only things within the vocabularly of one particular dance on a given night….unless they end up with a pure follow who will follow unorthodox moves or stuff borrowed from other dances. “Pure leaders” consider “pure follows” a godsend.

Advanced skill set.

At advanced levels, the lines between skills required for different dances blurs. The kinds of moves getting led can vary widely. Being a pure follow keeps you right up at the top of an expanding pool of talent.

Times change.

Moves change. Dances change. If you’re not a pure follow you might get stuck in old times, say, back when you took classes and learned specific turn patterns. But if you are a pure follow, when new movements come along (hello sensual bachata, hello “swouk”), you’ll be good to go. You’ll stay right on the edge of innovation, being able to follow whatever develops in the dance.

You liberate leaders…

and enable them to freely interpret the music. Many experienced leaders will tell you that there is a particular level or type of follow whom they trust implicitly–so much so that they don’t have to worry about only doing certain moves or keeping you balanced or on track. These followers enable them to truly let go, and become one with you and the music. It is much easier to be one of these followers — and for more leaders — if you are a “pure follow.” Since pure follows can do whatever is given them (within reason), leaders can let go. Knowing you can do this for some leaders is an incredible honor and gift.

Creativity. Since you are a “pure follow,” experienced dancers can get creative with you. They can test the bounds of their own leading and dance, and have fun discovering new things they can do. Creativity is a part of what makes partner dancing magical and it is greatly enhanced by pure following.

I’ll talk more in a forthcoming post on ways to develop your pure following. For now it’s probably enough to know that it by and large just has to do with listening, and an open-minded (open-bodied?) willingness to let your body go where it is compelled.

In the meantime – let me know what you think. Is pure following really all that important? Is it too obvious? What’s your experience?

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Image: Dance Shoes

This is a pretty long video – 8 minutes – for just talking about shoes. But I can’t shut up about shoes, and it’s all very important anyway.


Here’s what I cover:

  1. Shoes for West Coast Swing and other swing dances

These dances prefer flat shoes. I show you some options: Toms, Jazz shoes, and swing “sandals.” Why? Because these are ‘grounded’ dances that want you to stay close to the floor. I explain why that’s good for these dances, and how these shoes help you do that.

  1. Shoes for Latin dances

You can wear flat shoes for Latin dances – but a part of the reason Latin dances tend to wear heels is that these dances are “up.” The spins occur on the tips of the toes. Having heels on then means that you don’t have to go up and down and impose level changes (on yourself OR your partner) while you dance. You can put your heels down without losing three or four inches of height.

  1. Different kinds of heels

Some heels come down under shoes at different angles – and this varies, usually, by the company. You should find one that suits you well.

There are different kinds of heels – usually flare or thin heels. Thin heels are known for being harder to stand in, and they may be, but a high quality thin heel still provides a sturdy base off of which to stand.

There are  different kinds of straps. There are T bars, there are straps that wrap around the foot, straps that wrap just around the ankle, and straps that are less supportive.

When in doubt, err on smaller shoes rather than larger

When you try on a shoe, make sure that you are anchored and stand still very comfortably – otherwise, how will you be able to dance?


That’s it – please let me know if you have questions! I will also happily discuss different brands with you and help you find what works for you J

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This is the third post in a series devoted to honing particular dance skills. As I explained in the first post on Kizomba, I have found that adding new dances to my repertoire always increases my abilities in the rest of the dances I do. This is because each dance has its own set of specific skills it specializes in more than the others. But each of these skills is still useful in every dance.

I have discussed kizomba and zouk previously. Today we cover bachata … first in general and then “traditional” and “sensual” where they diverge.

Bachata, general

Body sensitivity and isolations

Bachata is an excellent dance for working on the subtlety of your following. Leads are often extremely gentle and nuanced, which calls you to a higher level of following, particularly in your torso.

Torso flexibility and fluidity / smoothness (and body rolls)

Bachata and kizomba are both great dances for working on receptivity in your torso. Bachata is particularly good for enhancing the range of motion and fluidity of torso movement. The range of motion is simply greater than in kizomba. Because of htis, additional strength is required in bachata. The combination of enhanced range of motion, flexibility, and strength results in a much more fluid and responsive torso.

Romantic enagement

I think romance is a legit skill that can be learned and practiced. Bachata is often a very romantic dance – and while doing it you have the opportunity to explore different ways to express yourself romantically with your body.

You can play with your hand on your leaders shoulders, neck, and head, can trace your hand along the line of your leader’s back or arms, can work on different hand holds, and can experiment with the way that different ways of touching heads (on the side, titled, head on) feels. There is a lot of variety here and bachata can make you a pro at it.

Bachata, “traditional” or “Dominican”


“Dominican bachata” is well-known as a dance for footwork. 

This is true – it’s a great dance for experimenting with your feet and the varying instruments and beats in the music. Dominican bachata has a lot of distinct musical riffs that are rich, fertile ground for play.

These songs are usually quite long… so knock yourself out.

Frame connectivity and footwork following

Dominican bachata, more so than perhaps any of the latin social dances, requires good frame connectivity.

This dance is often danced in open position. But it is still a led dance. For that reason, your frame needs to be well connected from your hands up through your lats, pecs and shoulders, and down into your torso. From there you send the signal to your feet, and you can (though you don’t necessarily have to) mirror or complement the footwork that your partner is doing. You will be pulled, pushed, and rotated in often complex patterns.

Dominican bachata is an excellent dance – perhaps the best of all the social latin dances – to work on sutbleties in the connection in your hands and frame.

(For more on frame connectivity, see TPF001: Frame Basics and TPF004: Advanced Frame Theory and Tips)

Bachata, sensual

There are a lot of kinds of movements relatively unique to sensual bachata. A lot of sensual bachata does come from zouk, as many will be quick to point out, but I also think it comes a lot from people just playing around with different body parts within the bachata rhythm (and sexually so). Bachata has traditionally been a relatively simple dance, so it is ripe for jazzing up with fancy moves.

Foot Sweeps

Sensual bachata is all about foot sweeps these days. What’s a foot sweep? It’s when the leader kicks the followers foot with their own foot to move it to a new position on the floor.

Great foot sweeps come from always being centered over a foot and having excellent balance on that single foot. A great frame and connection with your leader can always support you while the sweep is happening.

rib cage isolations; head isolations; shoulder isolations; ISOLATIONS

Sensual bachata isolates just about every body part that can be isolated.

Shoulders are grabbed and moved independently, arms are flung out to the side and expected to be handled gracefully; heads are rolled standing in place; rib movements are isolated; hips can be grabbed and moved with just one hand.


A part of what all of these isolations mean is that the rest of the body needs to be still. Sensual bachata is great for this.


Unorthodox body positions

Sensual bachata has some moves in it these days that you can’t really find in any other dance. For example, a leader will often press a follower down to the floor, so that her butt touches her heels. The follower could be spun out of this, leapt out of this, or popped to standing, then body rolled out of this.

Sensual bachata is the only dance in which my torso has been bent over to be parallel with the floor, my arms pulled behind my back, and then whipped around spinning into a standing position. I was super suprised the first time I was led in this, and even more surprised that I managed to make it work.

So this makes sensual bachata really great for expanding the range of your body and kinds of leads you’ll follow.

Ladies styling

I find ladies styling in sensual bachata to be a bit narcissistic, which I find obnoxious. But if you want to learn how to flaunt your own body and moves, sensual bachata has plenty of material for you to work with.


So that’s it for my list of bachata specific skills. Obviously there are lots of other great things you can learn from bachata – but these are the ones least commonly found in other dances.

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