I call the ideal lead a "finesse lead," rather than a light vs. heavy or soft vs. strong lead. And frankly, I never want to be considered a "rough" lead, even if I use a "powerful" lead with some women. Like taking a performance car and driving it hard. You may drive fast overall, but nothing says you need to accelerate or break harshly, squealing the tires all the time.
One of my goals is that women think the lead I give them is "my" lead, when instead it's a reflection of what works best for them. If I'm doing my part, they don't know my lead may be quite a bit stronger or lighter than my "normal," depending on their responses. When it works, they just know it feels good and clear to them, and it's just "right" in terms of intensity and feel.
A few important concepts:
- When you start paying attention to your connection, you are ahead of most guys
- No two partners are identical and you should adjust
- They should think it feels "right" when really you are simply matching them
For example, in open position, the lady pushes down with the same force as the guy pulls up. They balance each other. Same with closed position, where the lead puts his hand on his follows shoulder blade. She pushes back on his hand and he pulls gently so they create a comfortable, equal connection. All the physical connection points start off with a balanced, equal push/pull between the partners.
That is the perfect starting point during classes or with an unknown, new partner. It gives you a feel for a quality connection between the couple. I want to reiterate that it's a starting point, not a unbendable rule. For example, when spinning in the club scene, you'll find some ladies want much more power from the guy during the spin, and many of the best want minimum power but maximum clarity.
Our job as a lead is to figure out what our partner needs, and adjust our lead to match their return connection. If your partner is a high performance spinner like Edie or Ruby Karen, both of whom spin like the wind, they don't need us cranking them hard. They are more like high performance sports cars--just a tap on the accelerator and they are quickly in high gear and moving 90 miles per hour.
I've danced with a couple world class, brand name ladies who require MUCH more pressure to do the same spins. Anything I can lead, these ladies can do with excellent style, making me look much better than I am. But if I treat them like Edie or Ruby, they will think I want a single when I was thinking double, or do a double when I was thinking triple and we end up behind the music. They provide more back resistance than Edie or Ruby so unless I adjust, they think I'm a wimp and/or a poor lead.
You can often figure out the lady's style with the first couple spins and some cross-body leads. Some ladies also dance more with guys who are very strong (or weak) and if they dance too many dances with someone outside the "middle" range, they will start feeling that outside range is "normal."
They will expect the same from you, even if it's heavier or lighter than you normally lead. The finesse leader will adjust up or down, and work on making the lady comfortable, no matter what her connection/resistance preferences.
Next time you are dancing in the clubs, take note of the feel of the different ladies in terms of their back resistance toward you. Immediately you'll notice some push back harder than others; see if you can adjust to match their feel. Ladies who are lighter should get a lighter lead from you; heavier pushback should be meet with an equal response.
Over time these adjustments become automatic, but for a while you'll want to think about them, notice the differences between your partners and note the response as you adjust. I suspect you'll find your partners telling you how much you've improved, even though you are really just matching their feels.
If you give them the feel they like you'll quickly become one of their favorite dancers, and they don't need to know you adjust your lead for others. All they know is you feel "right" to them, and when that happens, they will seek you out for more dances.
The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.