Give Me Direction, Not Force

     Yan Maschke, Feb. 23, 2018

leadership, direction, executive coach, Yan Maschke, Cleveland Ohio

      Art Credit: Parthenopi Armenaki, Greece


I have been doing salsa dancing socially for a while now. Dancing makes me happy. It's a commitment to self-care. It's a way of creative self-expression. It's a declaration of living a full life.

I dance as a follower, as most female dancers do. 

Recently I decided to take group lessons to learn how to be a leader in salsa dancing

I wanted a bit of a challenge in learning something new. Several great female dancers who inspire me can both follow and lead beautifully. I often feel empathetic towards the ladies sitting vs dancing during a dance social when there are more followers than leaders available - I often wish that I could lead and so that I could invite followers to enjoy the dance. Also, I think learning to be a leader will help me become a better follower. 

So far I have only taken 3 weekly group lessons as a leader. 

It is harder than it looks! 

I am learning that I have to envision and plan ahead in order to lead the follower to execute the steps that I envision. The signal for a turn has to be given to the follower BEFORE the execution of the turn. I need to be very mindful of how I communicate my intention. It’s not simply moving my hands and arms as it may appear, it's about leading with my entire body. These are just a couple of initial points of learning so far. 

Music is playing, lights are flashing, people are moving. Once again, it is the weekly dance social at the Viva Dance Studio on a Thursday evening. 

Being an avid learner, I am anxious to practice the leader steps taught to me so far. Being a perfectionist, I am too embarrassed to ask a lady (a follower) to dance as I am afraid she will find my leading steps too basic and too boring. 

In a timid voice, I told one of the male instructors, Slava, that I am just starting to learn how to lead. Right away, he very graciously offered to have me lead him for a song (so he would be a follower for me). That was an irresistible offer. Being a dance instructor himself, he could give me great feedback. 

After a quick pause, I toughened my skin and accepted his offer. Carefully and a bit tentatively, I started practicing the limited few moves I had learned so far. 

I tried to execute a move called “cross-body lead”. Basically, the leader leads the follower to change her (or his) direction by walking across the side of the leader’s body when the leader opens up the space for the follower. 

With a calm and encouraging voice, Slava instructed, “Give me direction, not force.” 

As a follower, I know it is a common mistake for beginner leaders to pull or push the follower too hard with an effort to change directions. Now I am learning the lesson from the other side. 

My leader moves came with good intentions, but bad execution

I listened to his feedback and tried to execute the same move a few more times. With more clear direction, and less force.

“Much better. You got it!”

The salsa song ended on an exhilarating note. I felt like a million dollars! Even though it was a very basic move, I know I experienced a milestone as a dance leader. 

After the dance social, I reflected on how I lead in my professional work and in my family life (for example, with my 11-year-old daughter). There are times I lead with direction and there are certainly times I may have lead with too much force. 

Today, I set an intention to frequently reflect on how I lead and make adjustments mindfully.

Learning how to lead in salsa is helping me become a better dancer, a better coach, a better consultant, a better business partner, a better wife, and a better parent. 

I am curious, what thoughts are emerging as you read my story about dancing? 

  • How do you lead
  • How do you set clear directions
  • How do you balance direction and force
  • How do you inspire intrinsic motivation from those around you - their force from within?

Growth opportunities: Contact me to discuss how I can support you in doing your best dance in life. 

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