What It's Like to be my "Dog" during Salsa Dancing

It’s not like I dress in a dog costume or anything silly. But, I was reflecting on my salsa dance class (probably my favorite 90 minutes of the week aside from my dog agility class) and what it’s like to be a “follower”. In salsa dancing, it’s called “leader” and “follower”. In dog agility, it’s called “handler” and “dog”. Since I’m female, I’m the follower in salsa, which makes me the equivalent of a “dog” in agility. Both activities require partnership with clear communication, yet very little of it being verbal. While agility and salsa dancing couldn’t be more contrasting, because of salsa dancing, I gained some awareness of how my dog thinks.

When I am handling well in agility and giving clear direction – with my body language, speed (either lack of motion or acceleration), a calm sense of confidence and cheerful attitude – my dog follows my direction well. The second that I lose my confidence, he’ll knock a bar. If my feet aren’t pointed at the obstacle I want him to take, he’ll slow down, unsure of what to do, or he’ll take an off course obstacle.

When my partner is leading well in salsa dancing, I follow easily and effortlessly. No verbal communication is needed. His body language tells me what to do next and leads me smoothly into the next move. If his confidence waivers, I’m not sure of what to do either. If he’s tense, I’ll tense up. If he’s having fun, I’m having fun. And, like agility, there are no mistakes. Just “oops” and you keep counting and keep going and join in again.

We were reviewing “cross body leads” tonight in salsa class. It’s incredibly similar to a front cross in agility. The point is to get your partner from one place in the dance floor to another, as smoothly as possible (and in rhythm). The front cross in agility is to get your dog from one side of you to another as smoothly and quickly as possible.

I absolutely love dog agility and I still consider myself a novice handler, even though I’ve been training for four years. I feel as if I’m just starting to get the hang of it, and my 6 year old dog is running better than ever. Who knows, maybe I’ll keep taking salsa dance class and my agility skills will improve.

My personal dictionary:

Salsa Dancing/ Dog Agiltiy

Leader = Handler

Follower = Dog

Cross body lead = Front or Rear Cross

Rhythm = Knowing how many steps your dog will take between jumps

Taking small steps = Taking as few steps as possible