Etiquette for Social Ballroom Dancing and at the Studio

The following information on dance etiquette subjects is meant as a guideline and by no means a set of iron-clad "rules". It is intended to give an idea of how to help make you a popular dance partner, the event you attend successful and hopefully help avoid an unnecessary embarrassing or uncomfortable situation.  Remember, social dancing is dancing-for-fun, so get out and enjoy it!

We've all come to the dance for a bit of fun, so let loose a bit - let your fun side show!  As in any social situation politeness is the name of the game when interacting with others but it may be somewhat more expected in a social dance environment since we are often in such close proximity with everyone.  The goal is never to be "stuffy" but to always treat others with respect and good intentions. 

Ideally we show up with a good attitude, ready to have some fun out on the floor and contribute positively to the event.

bad hiegeneDancing involves a lot of close contact so personal hygiene is paramount. Before going dancing make sure you bathe or clean yourself properly, use antiperspirant/deodorant, brush your teeth, etc. Mints or breath fresheners can be very helpful as well, but never as a substitute for cleanliness. If you must wear cologne keep it to a minimum.

If you sweat profusely when you dance you may consider bringing a hand towel with you and a change of shirt for later in the evening. For ladies it is more pleasant for the man to dance with you if you do not have bare underarms so avoid clothing of this style if you can, particularly if you sweat a fair amount -- this style of clothing should be avoided for the men also but at least the lady's arm is usually not underneath his when in the closed hold.

dance wanna danceHaving been based on traditional lines, it is customary at most social ballroom dancing functions for the men to ask the ladies to dance.  Generally speaking it is acceptable for the ladies to ask the guys as well.  It is always the best policy to observe what is going on, ask a few questions of your event organizer about what is appropriate if you don't know, and act accordingly.

For the most part, when you ask people to dance, ask politely. You can be playful with it when you know people well but keep the snapping fingers, nodding toward them, grunting or waving toward the dance floor to a minimum.  Especially if you do not know them well,  walk up to the them, look them directly in the eye, extend your hand and ask them to dance politely. From there escort them onto the dance floor and dance with them to the best of your ability.

dance - i wanna dance with somebody shorterIt is considered basic politeness that when asked to dance at a social dancing function to always answer "yes".  This is especially so in those situations where there is a community feel to the event or a club-membership type atmosphere.

If you absolutely must not dance at this time for some reason (and this is only in the most extreme of circumstances:  maybe you're having a leg cramp or something) offer a polite, kind refusal and then do not dance that particular dance with anyone else.

It should be the objective of couples on the dance floor to avoid collisions. For dances that travel around the room, the traffic flow will be counter-clockwise around the room.  If dimensions allow, the traffic on the floor in these traveling dances will use the logic of the following diagram:

Line of Dance Coquitlam vers1 alternate

Leads should maneuver the best they can, knowing that their partner is trusting them to keep the dance partnership out of danger. Remember that this trust is earned and a well developed maneuvering skill will make one a sought-after partner as a lead.  If the lead cannot yet maneuver, then use the centre of the floor. It should be the "eye of the hurricane" of dance floor activity, and is usually the safer place to be, especially on a fast moving floor.

[This map also has some application on lessons in the studio.  When the studio is busy with many lessons going on, priority should be  given to lessons with moving dances (those that move around the floor) around the outside, while priority should be given to lessons with spot dances in the center area of the floor.]

The follow or responding person in the dance partnership should help keep track of dance floor traffic and indicate to the lead partner if they are about to back into someone.  They should endeavor also to keep the partnership from wandering into other dancers' space, etc. Dancing with a good partner does not suddenly give one the license to take over the dance floor and run over everyone.

On the very crowded social dance floor, the dancing should be kept more compact. If either partner does end up bumping heavily or stepping on someone, apologize and move on. Should you be on the receiving end of the blow continue dancing if you possibly can and, if the injury is serious, excuse yourself to a quieter area with as little 'production' as possible.

dance walking onto floor cutWhen the music for the current dance ends you should thank your current dance partner for taking the time to dance with you and, if you are leading, escort your current partner to the place that he or she was when you asked them.

The follow/responding person should allow his/herself to be escorted from the dance floor. It is considered highly impolite for either person to abandon his or her partner out the middle of the dance floor - it sends the message that the future partner matters more than the current one and that you can't get away from the current partner fast enough.

It helps build your social dancing skill to dance with a variety of levels of partner, from beginner to advanced.  Be kind to your current dance partner when he or she is trying out new skills on the social floor, no matter what their level.
Remember that every new skill we learn goes through the Stages of Learning, starting with the Initial Introduction, then to Awkward Use, through Conscious Use and ultimately to Natural Use.   Only by conscientious, repetitive practice can we hope to attain the Natural Use stage of the higher level skills.

Stages of Learning 1

Good dancers have all attained Natural Use with many of the skills required to be good.  Only selfish dancers will want to ALWAYS dance with a more advanced partner - it is usually a way for them to rely on their partner to do the 'heavy lifting' in the dance partnership and create an illusion of higher skill in themselves.  The most selfish dancers will constantly monopolize the highest skilled partners, like dancing "stalkers", and will soon garner a bad reputation among their fellow social dancers.
Don't allow yourself to become "The Stalker"!  Try not to let your neediness determine your approach to any dance partnership, however brief.  Instead, seek to add positively to the experience of the dance partnership in whatever way you possibly can.  Like some kind of "dance karma" this will always reflect back to you in a very positive way.  Enjoy each social dance experience as the uniquely fun experience that you make it.

Remember, dancing with someone less advanced will depend on YOUR own skill to help make it work and will develop that independent skill for you. That being said, it is also true that fear and avoidance of dancing with a more accomplished dancer dancer can only hold you back, as well.

So, the motto of all this is basically:  Get out there and "play the field" on the social dance floor!

Use every opportunity to get that repetition practice in to attain the benefits of becoming a good dancer with Natural Use for the more advanced skills...

ettiquette dancepounceMost social dances are organized both for social interaction and dance practice.  If you have a permanent dance partner you can dance mostly with that person, of course, but you will exclude yourself from the social group if you absolutely NEVER mix with others to dance.

Try to contribute positively to the social part of the event. Particularly if it is a very socially focused dance function that fosters a lot of partner switching and mixing you should endeavor to dance with every other possible partner if you arrived alone, or to mix with other partners roughly half of the time if you arrived with someone as your permanent dance partner.

If you are attending on your own, remember you may not dance to absolutely every song that is played.  Make yourself available to be asked by not hiding in the back row of the seating area or deep in a corner.  But...try not to "troll" the edge of the dance floor for your next partner - allow those couples finishing a dance to leave the dance floor together without being "grabbed" for a dance while passing by and having their exit from the floor interrupted.  This is considered highly impolite.  Make the most of times you are not on the floor dancing.   Chat with others, mix around, move to another spot in the room occasionally.

It is often considered rude to ask an advanced dancer a lot of teaching type questions in a social dance setting even though at first he or she might find it quite flattering. Of course it is o.k. to share dance knowledge, even encouraged, but beware of the pitfalls that this might take in a social dancing setting.

Remember, also, that the social dance floor is not the place for teaching others and you may offend with offered advice on their dancing. If someone asks for your opinion on something to do with his or her dancing you can oblige if you want to, but try to do so briefly and lightly.

It is usually best to simply dance each dance to the best of your ability at a social function, enjoy it, and use the private and group lessons you are attending to take care of the knowledge building.

Dance -Semi-Formal-Dance2There are, at times, special occasion dinner dances that can be quite formal functions and it can be helpful to be aware of proper dinner etiquette (which is beyond the scope of this list).

If we follow tradition, the lady he escorted to the event, should that be the case, will be seated beside him on his right.  Once the general dancing has started, he would start by dancing with that person.  You may dance most of the evening together, but be sure to ask all the other possible partners at your table for a dance, also.

If we have arrived to the event solo, it is usually considered a polite gesture for the man to start the dancing first with the lady to his right, or the lady nearest so, and then with all appropriate partners at the table before asking partners from other tables to dance.

Interrupting someone who is eating to ask for a dance is considered impolite.  All dancers should endeavor to keep their alcohol intake to a minimum as it decidedly does not improve their skill on the dance floor.

wife-scolding-husbandPracticing with others requires patience.  Especially in the case of a "permanent" dance partner, such as a spouse, it can be very helpful to stay away from charged language when practicing dancing together.  Know when to stop practicing for now and resume when things have cooled down.  Your teachers, in addition to having the skill to help work out the physical issue involved, also make excellent referees 🙂

There are actually two, very different, main types of practice for partnership dancing:

1: Stop-and-Go practice is where the two dancers meet on their own (not at a social event) and go through the material together slowly and methodically, stopping to review in detail those sections that they are working on.  Verbal feedback to your partner can be very important in this type of practicing.

2: Dance-It-Through practice is where the music is playing and the partners need to move through the entire dance together to the best of their ability.   Verbal feedback of what is happening in "real time" as they dance is rarely helpful here, if ever.  The objective is to fill in changes, mistakes and gaps, recovering, as necessary, spontaneously.  These skills are absolutely crucial to the development of a good partnership dancer.

In General:

Set the expectation with your partner of which type of practice you are doing.  Problems can really start to happen if one member of the partnership is attempting a "Stop-and-Go" style practice and keeps stopping, while the other is attempting to dance through material to the music like a "Dance-It-Through" style practice.

The "Stop-and-Go" style of practice needs be arranged by mutual agreement at a time convenient to both parties involved, but separate from a social event.  Social dancing events we attend, where the floor is moving and full of socializing people,  are always designed to be the "Dance-It-Through" style practice.

It is interesting to note that competition or performance style dancing requires these two types of practice, just as importantly as the social dancing does.

Dancing and mixing with others at a social event can help to "keep the peace" by providing a variety of dance experiences over the course of the event.  As you dance with many others you will notice that there is every possible range of skill level.

dance keep-calm-and-learn-to-danceAs a new dancer, never be ashamed of the fact that you are new. Everyone started as a new dancer and, despite what some people might say, skill at dancing is a learned activity, not something one is "born with". Of course everyone learns at different speeds and has different aptitudes, largely based on the activities they have pursued before, but it is the tenacity in pursuing the challenges of learning that creates a true skill. The only difference between a new and an advanced dancer is training and time in skill development.

It can be helpful to know that it helps develop the skill of an advanced dancer to dance with someone less advanced.   This can seem counter intuitive since, for so many other activities, this is not the case.  Look at any team sport or others, like golf, where a novice will hold everyone back.  In social dancing it will rely on the skill of the more advanced partner to make things work better for the dance partnership.  It is important that, as advanced dancers, we are able to  "step up to the plate" and use our skill to make a successful dance happen with a less advanced dancer.  So, remember, as a less skilled dancer you're actually helping others out!  🙂

As an advanced dancer it is also important to remember what it is like to be new and to make new dancers feel welcome.

Whatever your level, just get out there and do the best you can to make each partnership work to the best of your ability on the social dance floor.

Enjoy each partnering opportunity as the uniquely enjoyable experience that you make it!

no snobsSometimes you will hear others talking negatively in great generalizations about other dance communities or styles of dancing. It is best not to participate in those conversations and to remember the maxim: "the best of everything is good". It does not matter what the style is, the best examples of every style will exhibit the skills of good dancing such as speed, shaping, muscle elasticity, musicality, adept partnering ability and connection, among others. These are the true skills that we call "dancing" and they ultimately transcend any style or type.

shining-exampleAfter you have been training in your dancing for some time and you begin to gain a certain amount of dancing skill something happens to you -- you unwittingly become a 'dance ambassador' of sorts. It is difficult to say exactly when this will happen, but it is usually when people start to notice that you are quite good at what you are doing.

Because you have acquired a certain amount of respect for your attained dance skills, people start to look at you as a representative of the community that you are "from". Non-dancers will see you as a representative of the dance community in general. Other dancers will see you as a representative of the style you dance, the dance school you attend for your training, the dance teachers that you have worked with or all of the above.

Dancing is sometimes referred to as the "universal language" but remember it is not only your dancing skill that is speaking for you. Your attitudes toward others as fellow dancers, dance partners and other couples with whom you share the dance floor are just as important. Remember to treat everyone with courtesy and respect.

Positive inferences based on your behaviour reflect on more than just yourself and, as such, one of the greatest compliments you can give to your school or your teachers is to always conduct yourself well in a dance setting. Remember that your behaviour reflects on them as well.