DWTS Ask Courtney – What’s a “Heel Lead”?

Judging from the comments of my inaugural Ask Courtney post, it looks like many of you are baffled about this one. But fear not, I am about to shed some light on the mysterious “heel lead” Len seems to prattle on about ;-)

Before I start, though, I want everyone to stand up and take 5 steps in whatever direction you have a clear path. Did you do it? Well congratulations! You just did a heel lead. :-) Literally, all a heel lead really entails is taking a step where the first part of your foot that hits the ground is your heel, and then the ball of your foot, and then your toes. Unless you’re injured or just prefer to walk on your tiptoes all the time, this is how people normally walk. It’s a very natural motion.

Where it gets dicey is on the dance floor. In the ballroom dances (waltz, tango, foxtrot, quickstep, and Viennese waltz), you’re (almost) always supposed to step forward on your heel; in the Latin dances, you’re always supposed to step forward on the toe. You step backward on the toe in both dances (it’s nary impossible to step backward with a heel lead…I dare you to try. You will feel silly ;-)). When Len starts bitching about heel leads, it seems like it’s usually a male celeb stepping forward on the toe in one of the ballroom dances – it leads to a very stilted, awkward gait, and seems to throw both the male celeb and the female pro off balance. It also negates the possibility of them getting the proper “rise & fall” characteristic of the ballroom dances (with the exception of tango, which has no rise & fall). This is probably most noticeable in the regular waltz, which has the most exaggerated rise & fall.

As for doing a heel lead when you’re not supposed to – the only thing that springs to mind is Derek’s infamous rant after Shannon’s rumba in season 6, where he accused the judges of overlooking some other couples “doing heel leads out there!”. I haven’t the time or patience at the moment to pore through all of the other rumbas from that particular night and look for heel leads, but I imagine that they probably looked kinda bland. Part of what makes rumba (and all Latin dances, for that matter) look cool is the hip action – hip action that can really only be done well if you’re leading with your toe. So if you’re doing heel leads in Latin dances, it probably looks like you’re just walking like a normal person – hardly the exciting movement we’ve come to expect from dancing on this show. ;-)

Hope that clears things up a bit ;-) Keep the questions coming, guys!