The marriage concept has a parallel in the salsa world: The more mature leads don’t overshadow their partners, even if they could. She should always look better than you on average. By the time the dance ends, she should feel like a winner.
You may be a great, gee-wiz dancer, but news flash to the guys: It ain’t about you directly! Think of yourself as a director or executive producer. You get indirect glory by allowing your partner to shine.
When you do show off, don't do it for too long. By the end of the dance she should feel like she was the focus of your joint production, even if you're seriously more advanced than her. You may be the director, but she is the star on the team. When she shines brightly, you look even better.
I saw a perfect negative example of this last week at the Salsa Mambo Festival (SMF). Shani Talmor was dancing with a very experienced Salsero (NOT shown in the clip below!)
Shani Talmor social dancing with Cristian Oviedo
Watching the above clip, it's obvious Shani she can hold her own in the dance/shine department. She’s an amazing dancer and one of the best follows around. Cristian does a great job showcasing and complimenting her. In the clip they are social dancing; unrehearsed and just having fun in the moment with the music.
At the SMF, a different experienced lead (who will remain nameless, again: NOT Cristian) was social dancing with Shani. He had wide range of mature, complex partnering moves. He also had a ton of fast, impressive footwork he had clearly worked on over the years.
At one point the lead spun her out and they started solo dancing. Unfortunately, the lead seemed to treat the shine section as a contest with her rather than a dance. He started. She increased her intensity to match him, he raised the bar, she matched him again, but then he moved into energizer rabbit mode, increasing the intensity again and again.
The shine lasted much longer than normal. The more she worked to compliment him, the more he turned up the intensity, until at one point; she simply stopped and watched for about 4 bars, as if to say "OK, you win".
The lead was so into his show, he didn’t see her stop at first.
From where I was I could see her face, and it wasn't "wow, he's good", but rather "What the heck" (maybe more on the "WTF" side, but I doubt she would say that out loud). She shook her head for just a second, before reverting to her professional side and pretending she was cool with it. But she didn’t restart until he got the hint, shined over and picked her up for more partnering.
In other words, rather than extend the competition, she waited for him to finish the near madness, pick her up and completed the dance as partners. I'm guessing he got carried away and wanted to impress her, but actually stepped over that line from impressing her, to exasperating her. (Not exactly where you want to be.)
The music didn't say "maximum intensity" mode, and at one point she clearly had enough of it. It was obvious to experienced observers that she wasn't having fun, although she was a true pro about it. She had no problem keeping up; it was more, “why bother?”
There's nothing wrong with showing your cool stuff, but if it's way out of character with the tune, or inappropriate with your partner, do it for a few bars and then tone it down a bit. Less can be more, especially after you quickly demonstrate that you could increase the complexity, but choose to go a different route.
In contrast, I also saw Shani dance with some beginning/intermediate leads and she totally toned it down. She did amazing, complimentary stuff and keep it sensual, but avoided her sexy, "burn the house down" moves. She made her leads look much better, and the guys loved it. She appropriately complimented her partners, scaling up and down based on their lead.
Make no mistake, when the lady shows off more, the leads tend to eat it up. In reverse, that concept doesn't work so well.
If you have a set of very well rehearsed shines or complex moves, be sure you have the right partner to showcase them and the music makes sense for your intensity level. Contrast all the flash with some finesse moves, keeping her squarely in the spotlight.
To paraphrase Edie the Salsa Freak: The mark of a superior lead is making his partner feel great, and allowing her to make you look great. You can do that as a near beginner or very mature lead.
The last thing you want to do is look better than her the whole song. You may be the ugly guy, but that won’t prevent you from dancing with the better follows if you handle it correctly.
First-rate brains hang around with first-rate brains;
second-rate brains hang around with third-rate brains.