Leadership Lessons from Dance – Preparing for a “Turn”

During a group salsa class one of the dance instructors, Marcus Negron (pictured with Reiko Rivera), was explaining the nuance of leading and following a right turn. He explained that when, how, and where the leader raising the follower’s hand communicates a lot about what is to come for the follower and what is expected of the follower.

When: In order to initiate a follow’s right turn the leader must raise the follower’s hand several counts before the initiating the turn (sometimes called a prep short for preparation). The prep communicates that there will be a change from what the pair are currently doing.

Marcus also recommended that when a followers hand is raised that they need to look at and follow their own hand as they turn rather than anticipating what is expected. This is especially important outside of the structure of the class when there is free style (i.e. social dancing) and not an instructor calling out the next movement. Marcus shared how when watching people dance he can anticipate when they are going to be out of sync with one another simply by watching for when the follower looks away from their hand being lead or in other words when the follower stops paying attention to what is being asked of them.

How: Marcus emphasized that prior to initiating the turn the leader needs to be aware of their arm length and the distance they need to be in proximity to the follower to execute the turn while also giving the follower enough energy to get around on beat. Marcus shared that he knew that he could execute a turn if he could stretch out his hand and reach behind his follow. With this knowledge he then estimates the distance he needs to be from his partner before prepping them for a turn.

Marcus also explained that the follow’s hand has to be raised to the follower’s eye level or just above but never below and not to leader’s eye level which could be uncomfortable for the follower.

Where: Another point Marcus emphasized was that when the leader is raising the follower’s hand in preparation for the turn it is important that the hand be raised in between the pair. He explained that if the follower’s hand is raised off to the left or right that may be confusing as it may communicate a different expectation, move, or turn not intended.

I thought Marcus’ instruction and advice to his class was another brilliant example of life lessons from dance. It could also be a metaphor for life and the “turns” or changes that can occur…

Here are some of my take-a-ways:

  1. Leaders need to prepare a follow ahead of time for what is to come (in dance terms: put the hand up several counts before the turn is anticipated). This way the follow can prepare their mind and body for the change in what has become the norm and perhaps even contribute to it more than the lead could anticipate (in dance terms: hand or body styling).
  2. Leaders need to be aware of the needs of the follows, adjust to the follow’s learning style or development level, and meet them where they are (in dance terms: putting their hand at their eye level).
  3. Followers need to be engaged, attentive, and aware in order to be led (In dance terms: look at and follow the hand being led). Followers play an important role in the partnership and without their active participation the outcome will not be as seamless as it could be. This can be translated to attending meetings, taking notes, contributing to the work rather than just being a body occupying space.
  4. Change (In dance terms: going from a basic step to a turn) is hard and can be scary so as much compassion a leader can have in understanding the situation, communicating in multiple way what’s coming, and providing support and stability as it is happening the better. (In dance terms: Maintain points of connection, be grounded to support the follow if they get off balanced, use additional lead cues to guide and show them the direction in which they are being invited to go, be clear, and be there when the turn is over to catch them and help them return to a basic step)

Remember: Everyone has the potential to lead (and follow)…
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*Note: I use the terms “leader” and “follow/follower” without adding gender as all genders/gender expressions can assume either role at any point.

If you liked this blog post please comment and visit others in the series: Leadership Lessons from Dance

4 comments on “Leadership Lessons from Dance – Preparing for a “Turn”

  1. This is incredible and like you said, so relevant to leaders being clear and effective (leaders in the dance world or otherwise).

  2. Excellent read, and very applicable to leadership in general. And of its dance related so I definitely loving it. Can’t wait to use this with my students.

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