Bachata Dance: The Communication
Boy writes dance for girl, boy leads dance for girl
Last updated: 15 Jun 2021
There are a few main concepts required for communication in Street Latin Dances (Salsa, Bachata, etc):
- The Frame
- The Lead
- The Prep (specific to Street Dances only)
- The Follow
The main difference between Street Latin Dances and choreographed dances is in the communication, and it’s a big difference. (This is why En Motion’s FAQ recommends starting from scratch even if you have Latin or Ballroom backround.)
Although all dances see the Leader leading (writing) the dance moves for the couple, Street Latin Dance is a social dance that requires an additional communication step: the prep.
I will focus on the Frame for the Follower because this Frame is crucial for communication.
The Frame refers to:
- The body shape (we will term this “Shape”)
(including positions of arms and legs)
- Muscle tone (we will term this “Tone”)
(How easily moved are your arms)
The Frame is a rather complex concept because Tone is not a simple, constant level but a spectrum instead. For simplicity, we deal with 3 levels of Tone:
Zero Tone is used when the Leader is not signaling any moves at all. Medium Tone is used when the Leader is signaling a simple turn. Strong Tone is used when the Leader is signaling a double turn.
The Follower must present the correct Tone so that the Leader can lead the execution of the moves. We will next explain how the Leader leads.
When the Leader decides to call for a move on the Follower’s part, the Leader must lead the move.
The most basic premise of the lead: the Leader leads by moving the Follower’s body through the move.
The simplest example is the single turn, say a right turn for the Follower (we will discuss Soft Lead and Medium Lead soon):
- Leader preps the Follower (on 7; see The Basic for the count) by:
1. Raising her left hand
2. Looking to his left (her right)
(More on preps in a later section.)
- Leader does a Soft Lead on 1
(Leader moves Follower’s hand across her face.)
- Follower presents a Medium Tone in her left arm.
- Leader does a Medium Lead on 1.5
(Leader’s hand traces a quarter circle above Follower’s head, leading Follower to face away from the Leader.)
- Leader does a Soft Lead on 3
(Leader’s hand traces a quarter circle that descends towards Follower’s waist, leading Follower to face the Leader.)
- Leader can prep for next move on 4.
There are 2 levels of lead strength:
- Soft Lead
(To guide weight shifts for Follower.)
- Medium Lead
(To initiate actual turning for Follower.)
We’ll leave Strong Lead for later when we cover footwork changes. (Don’t use Strong Lead for turns; Follower only needs assistance to do her turns, not be thrown around!)
The lead as an empathetic guidance.
You’ll notice that the lead traces the exact motion of the Follower’s move; the lead is an empathetic guidance for the Follower, as well as a support for her balance through her move. To really learn to lead well, the Leader should closely study the Follower’s moves from her perspective.
There are leads that aren’t a complete follow-through, such as in dances where the Leader is attempting a synchronous move for both partners. In such cases, the Leader is himself also busy executing his own move, and he can at most afford a partial contact point (eg. a push of her hip bone in a circular path to suggest a turn). It’s best to avoid such leads when dancing with beginner Followers.
In choreographed dances, the Leader leads the dance moves, particularly to manage space and direction. However, in this case, the Follower is able to present the correct frame instantly because she knows the upcoming dance moves.
In Street Latin Dances, the Follower does not know the upcoming dance moves and will not know the correct frame to present. This is why the Leader must do a prep.
An example of a prep was given in the last section, using a simple right turn.
Double turns require a prep to distinguish them from single turns. We will discuss double turns, their preps, and their required Frames in another article.
The Follower’s job is just to present the correct Frame.
If the Leader is potentially signaling a simple turn for the Follower, the Follower must present a Frame with Medium Tone. However, the Follower should not execute the turn unless the Leader is indeed leading the turn with a Medium Lead. (Yes, it is bad leading if the Leader preps a single turn and does nothing further; giving a lot of false signals will confuse any Follower!)
An example where an unexpected move arises from the above is the Pivot Out (TODO: link to Pivot Turns). The Leader would do a “stop” (or “fake”) on 1, Soft Lead the Follower’s hand to her left on 2, and then Medium Lead a Pivot Turn for the Follower. (Of course, a correctly prepped Pivot Out will not have wrong preps such as “looking to her right”, nor even “raising her left hand” on 7.)