Tips for Leads

Quick Tips

  • Keep the beat
  • Dance with partners of every skill level
  • The “Rule of Three”: Do a move no more than three times in a row
  • Ask before doing a dip or other special move
  • Respect your partner’s boundaries
  • Communicate clearly with your hands
  • If you stagger your feet with your partner’s feet you won’t step on their toes
  • If possible, wear shoes with a little “slip in the toe, grip in the heel”
  • Try out your new moves on at least two follows
  • Go for quality moves over quantity of moves

The Rule of Three

Don’t do any move more than three times in a row. Most moves hit a sweet spot at three repetitions, where anything after that looks boring, feels boring, and has the potential to sabotage your next move because you’ve created a rut. Your follow will enjoy the variety, and you will avoid being on the wrong foot if you follow the Rule of Three.

This rule does not apply to the Basic Step, Inside and Outside Turns, and choreographed routines. If you need 4 or more reps of a move to line up with the music, go for it!

Feel free to use a combination or favorite move multiple times in one song, just not in a row.

Keep the Beat

Most beginner leads will have questions about footwork more than anything else. “What count is that on again?” At the end of the day, counting is not as important as maintaining the steady beat throughout the dance. The dance isn’t strictly in three steps or beats (L L R), but based around that structure. Most dance teachers will say, “This move is a pattern of 3, this one is a pattern of 4,” etc. but personally I feel like that gives me too much to think about!

I’m going to make your life simpler, are you ready?

If you keep your feet moving to the beat, and your body in the frame you will be fine. 

That’s good news! So don’t throw in the towel if this is difficult for you. Here are some tips for how to maintain the beat and commit the basic step pattern to muscle memory. The key is to always feel the basic rhythm “Quick quick, slow, slow” until it becomes second-nature. Eventually it will be running effortlessly in the background of your mind.

  • Listen for the bass and drums for the most reliable steady beat. Try nodding, tapping, or stepping to the beat.
  • As you are driving and listening to the radio, try thinking through that pattern with the song you are listening to. Drum it out on the steering wheel.
  • If you lose your sense of the footwork during the dance, just switch to a walk pattern, picking up your feet for every beat “One and two and three and…” You can get back on track if you keep moving this way.
  • Reestablish the basic step footwork with the “back step,” which is the one where you move to the right. That step says “Ready, here we go.”
  • You can say the pattern out loud as you dance too, many beginners do this, and if you are counting, your partner will be gracious because they know you are learning.

Consent is Sexy!

Dips and special moves are the “sex” of dance moves. Go ahead and show off! But be sure you’re a dancing stud and not a “you-know-what” by following one simple rule: Communicate!

Dancing is a calculated risk. So stack the deck in your favor:

  • Ask before doing a dip, flip, lift, or aerial for the first time with that partner.
  • Give clear body signals, feel for the points of contact I mention in my tutorials. Use verbal signals if needed.
  • Don’t dip someone who is a drop risk (drunk, throwing their weight around, presents a physical challenge*).
  • Don’t be pushy on the dance floor–if there isn’t room, don’t launch into big moves. And especially don’t use your partner as a battering ram to get through a crowded dance floor!

*The height, weight, flexibility, and agility of both partners are factors, but they do not completely rule out these moves. My best advice is to ask an expert how to modify the move to fit your limitations, then ask your partner to practice the move with you until you gain confidence.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. find out what it means for dance…

Everyone has a different sense of personal space and comfortability with physical contact. Dancing with someone can be a good way to get closer to them in this way, but you have to show them that you respect them first and earn their trust. If you cross a line with them and make them uncomfortable or show disrespect, you might not get the chance to dance with them again. Pay attention to their body language and verbal signals:

  • When a follow says “no dips” or “no aerials” take her at her word. If she earns your trust you might be able to convince her later, but respecting her on this matter first will go a long way toward earning that trust.
  • After you do a move, look at their facial expression. Are they still having fun, or has their smile evaporated? Is their smile genuine, or is it forced or awkward? Sometimes people smile to be nice, but they are really bothered. You can tell the difference if they are smiling with their eyes or not.
  • Some dance moves and positions are sensual and very personal. Your best bet is to do those moves only with someone with whom the trust and closeness is mutual. This includes a significant other, and could include close friends or long-term dance partners as well. If you try them on a stranger you risk coming across as extremely creepy.
    • A long-term dance partner would be someone with whom you have an arrangement to practice and dance together regularly.

Test your skills!

When you’re learning a new move, you will break down the steps and practice it over and over with the same partner (Practice Partner). Muscle memory will kick in, and the follow will learn to anticipate the move, but here’s the catch–you won’t know if you’re solid on the move until you try it on someone else. Dance it with at least two other follows.

I encourage all dancers to dance with multiple partners of all skill levels. Find one at an intermediate or advanced level to test out the new move on (Test Partner). If they got it without verbal prompting (except maybe the name or grip for advanced moves), you are an expert at that move! If it didn’t work, go over it again with either your practice or test partner.

Quality Over Quantity

Yes, the point of this blog is to teach you new moves, but I want you to digest this content in small bites. Otherwise you will likely forget everything just as quick as you learned it. Instead of bulldozing your way through a bunch of new moves in one night, try to solidify one new move at a time. You’ll look better while dancing if you take your time to learn it well.

Run it through this series of tests:

  1. I know the steps of this move.
  2. My practice partner knows what I want them to do without me telling them. They feel confident in me leading them through this move.
  3. I can do this move with a different follow–someone of a comparable skill level to the move.
  4. I know a few ways to combo in and out of this move, so if my partner messes it up I’ll still look good.
  5. I know how to lead someone of lower skill level to learn this move with some verbal prompting.


Ideally you want something with a smooth sole. As I say, “slip in the toe, and a little grip in the heel.” Why? To minimize the effort you have to put into your turns you want to turn on something slippery. Work smarter, not harder.

Rubber soles are the worst for dancing, leather or suede is the best. The style of shoe doesn’t matter–dress shoes, cowboy boots, or even Toms are frequently worn in the country clubs. Duct tape on the ball of your shoe can be a quick fix if you shoe doesn’t have enough slip. This is not as critical for leads as it is for follows, but still worth mentioning.

Body Talk

The fun thing about dancing is you do most of the communication with your partner with your body. And when you’re dancing, you will almost always be touching your partner somewhere–in most cases, hands, arms, back and shoulders.

P.S. Dancing is a great way to break the touch barrier with your crush.

Those points of contact build your partner’s confidence in you to perform different types of moves. Let your hands send the right message:

  • A normal, relaxed grip is used 95% of the time. It is neutral.
  • A tight grip like you’re about to arm wrestle says “What we’re about to do is risky and I need you to trust me,” such as The Suicide Dip, and some aerials.
  • A forearm grab says “Hold on tight, and don’t move around too much!” and is used for things like The Step Over and The Wrap Up Dip.
  • Finger interlocked means we’re dating and strolling through the park. Yeah, so just avoid that one altogether. 🙂
  • In the middle of turns a gliding motion is used so you don’t get locked into one position. A grip or change in the lead’s hand position signifies the end of the turn.
  • During the end of a turn or spin, your fingers trace their forearm from elbow to hand. This says “I need your hand.”

So you see, using an arm wrestler grip on an Outside Turn sends the wrong message (It says “I’m new to this, and I don’t even trust myself with these moves!”). So when it comes to regular moves, listen to what the 38 Special song says, and “Hold on loosely, but don’t let go.” In my guide I will let you know every time if an uncommon grip is needed.

You can also send messages with your eyes, hips, etc. but I’ll leave that for you to decide, you animal. 😉