“I wrote this about 7 years ago but with minor changes was still valid, here it is for ya” – Bruce Gombrelli

NOTE: These notes apply to social dancing. Competitive dancing has it’s own set of rules and techniques that don’t always apply well in social dancing. Dances that “look” the best don’t always necessarily “feel” the best.

This is kind of a bare bones overview on important lead concepts. There’s much more at higher levels of dance but I consider these foundation ideas.

Be a Body Leader

  1. This is the albatross of beginning leads and really hard to master. Here’s a few tips to help you with this one, but it’s actually even more than this.
  2. Just the step back doesn’t mean you aren’t arm leading. Lead with weight (center) shifts whenever possible. Lead from lower going back and slighter higher center going forward.
  3. Push off from the floor with your 3 toe base as you step back but maintain your level
  4. Learn Contra Body when you get more advanced. (not all leads are contra body)
  5. Turning can actually be a lead
  6. Some middle parts of patterns are arm lead but the assume the follower is not changing direction unless you indicate it. If she don’t follow this concept, she may get confused and disoriented.

I need 6000 patterns don’t I??

 Ahh err, well no actually.This is a catch 22. You need patterns for variety but pattern focus distracts on being a good communicator and can kill musicality. The bottom line, patterns are great but you need solid lead basics to be a good dancer and you need to listen to your follow to create the best moves and listen how she responds to your leads, it will add to creativity ultimately and make a more fun dance. Try variations off the basic patterns, that’s a GREAT way to develop.

Listen to your follow!

 This is really really important. You’ll never be able to be a good “Level Dancer” if you don’t listen to how your follow is responding to your lead. It’s all about communications, and it’s not a one way chat. And top level follows won’t enjoy dances with you if you don’t give them room to breathe. Ask me, I know, I’ve been there and it’s tough not to be too busy sometimes when the music is hot hot hot and she wants to play but your too busy “hard leading” patterns, and maybe not so well. You’ll have to adapt to your follows style as well.

Lead on time

Timing is everything. Focus on the “And A One” and don’t start leading on 6 (or whatever). This is a very very common beginning problem. In fact, I didn’t figure this out for a while at first because at lessons you dance with beginning follows that often come out early by default. Guess what, then your both broken. Managing beginning follows will be a real challenge when your skills are just developing. Use a delayed lead (occasionally) later on in your dancing development.


Stretch is important. This comes from the don’t lead early, so restated a little bit it that, you stretch away, maintaining a matched connection before you really engage the lead. It’s kind of like a slow acceleration. If they follow doesn’t stretch, then you’ve lost this precious holy grail of WCS. Practice on your refrigerator, you can apply a lead, but the door doesn’t open until you reach enough pressure. Not a perfect follow but you’ll get the idea. If the door POPS open right away, you’re not stretching, you’re jerking.

Footwork blues

Feetwork is the bane of existence. This needs to look good in order for you to look good. Rolling through the feet is really important, in other words, work on the rolling count. Remember “And A”! The typical counts are Step Step Triple Step Tripe Step – OR – Step Step Triple Step Step Step Triple Step (at higher levels this can be adjusted). Practice rolling your feet to 1 and a 2 and a 3, etc, without music, then add music.

Stay Level and balanced

In West Coast Swing your supposed to be smooth, level and styling. Don’t continuously run around your partner, get off balance, stoop. A good way to think of this is to stay level like there’s a level in your chest that detects tilt and vertical movement. Use your feet and stay balanced, sink into the floor.. One more note:

Vertical height changes are good at higher levels

Vertical level changes done deliberately can and is part of the higher level of dance once you mastered level dancing.

Don’t torture yourself

Have fun with your favorite dancers.If you find a favorite dancer, don’t be afraid to ask them to dance over and over if they like dancing with you. Also, don’t be afraid to not ask dancers that you don’t have a much fun with. Not everyone is the perfect dance floor match. It’s not a dig, it’s a fact and it’s ok :-) It happens at all levels. Don’t fret about it, just enjoy your favorite partners.

DO NOT correct the follow on the dance floor*

You’ll be corrected and sometimes you’ll want to correct her, but JUST don’t. The best plan it to just be sensitive to others feelings and don’t do this. It’s best to smile and just move on. If the gal wants help, that’s different, but let her come to you. Restated, don’t start tossing out fix it advice unless she specifically ASKS you for it!!  *If you have a “dance” relationship where you can do that, go ahead, but if you don’t know the follow, don’t correct.

Take Lessons (including privates)

Privates can address your individual style and dance issues and plus points. Group lessons are good for general ideas and getting new patterns.