There seems to be a way of leading that I hadn't noticed until recently. Or at least I hadn't truly appreciated it for what it was. In fact, it wasn't until I was feeling awful at a milonga - tired, nervous, sore - ready to give up on the night, that I really felt the effect of it.
Most leaders test the waters when the dance with me (or anyone, I presume) to find out the skill level of their partner. Sometimes, they do the movements and patterns they enjoy and just watch and see what gets followed and what gets missed. If something is missed, usually they don't lead it again. They adapt. (Some leaders continue to lead it, getting both partners more and more frustrated, but that's another story altogether.) These leaders have an idea (of course) how they'd like the dance to go, with the particular music playing, and make adjustments on the fly.
Some leaders start with their fanciest stuff first - eager to impress and dazzle their partner and the observers. I call these guys the "top down" leaders. Because they're leading their best sequences first - if it doesn't get followed correctly it's not only disappointing to both partners, but it can set up a feeling of needing to prove oneself throughout the dance. The leader frequently wonders if he's leading the step correctly and frequently tries the same sequence again and again, trying to "clarify" it. The follower meanwhile, becomes frustrated that she can't figure out what's being led, or what she's supposed to do. The connection can then become more difficult to maintain making even simple steps, well known to both partners, more difficult to perform.
Then there's the last kind of leader. These are rarer and I treasure them most - the "bottom-up" leaders. It wasn't until I had a very rough night, feeling awkward, heavy, tired, that I realized the profound effect that kind of lead would have on me. These leaders also have a dance in mind, constantly changing with the floor condition, of course. But they start very simply. First, they walk. Usually these guys are also my favorite walkers - but that's also another story. Once we have a good connection with the walk, we move into a cross, then some ochos. Then, with confidence built for both partners, and the connection going strong, they start to move into more complex steps and sequences. By that time, when they do lead something I don't know, the chances are quite favorable that I'll be able to follow them anyway - with a small amount of guidance (in the lead, not verbally) or extra time. Success builds on success, our comfort in each other increases and suddenly the music is over and we wonder where the time has gone. I go back to my chair feeling like someone listened to me, listened to my body communicating things I'd never be able to communicate verbally. And because I felt heard, it was easier for me to listen. To trust. To be open to more possibilities than I had originally seen.
Is this something other people feel or have experience with? Is it just me?