Etiquette for Ballroom Dancing
The following 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.
As in any social situation politeness is the name of the game when interracting with others but it may be somewhat more expected in a ballroom dancing environment. The intent is never to be stuffy about it but to always treat others with respect and good intentions.
Dancing 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 change of shirt for part of 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 ballroom hold.
Asking Someone to Dance
Having been based on traditional lines, it is customary at most ballroom dancing functions for the men to ask the ladies to dance. There are, however, certain dance events that are planned specifically around other modes of conduct. Generally speaking it is acceptable for the ladies to ask the guys once in a while 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.
When you ask people to dance, ask politely, even if you know them well. Snapping fingers, nodding toward them or waving toward the dance floor are not acceptable methods of asking people to dance. Walk up to the them, look them directly in the eye, and ask them to dance politely. From there escort them onto the dance floor and dance with them to the best of your ability.
When Asked to Dance
It is considered basic politeness that when asked to dance at a ballroom dancing function to always answer “yes”. If you absolutely must not dance with this person for some reason (and this is only in the most extreme of circumstances) offer a polite excuse and then do not dance that particular dance with anyone else.
On the Dance Floor
It should be the objective of each of the ballroom dance couples on the floor to avoid collisions. The man, who is customarily in the initiating (lead) position, should never use his partner as a ‘battering ram’ and just charge forward. He should manoever the best he can, knowing his partner is trusting him to keep the dance partnership out of danger. Remember that trust is earned and skill in manoevering will make him a sought-after partner as a lead.
The lady, customarily in the responding (follow) position, should help keep track of dance floor traffic and indicate to her partner if he is about to back into someone else. She 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.
When the Music Ends
When the music for the current dance ends you should thank your dance partner for taking the time to dance with you and, if you are leading, escort your dance partner to the place that she was when you asked her. The lady should allow 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.
Remember that it helps build your skill to dance with dancers of all different levels from beginner to advanced. Only the most selfish of dancers will always want to dance with someone more advanced. Dancing with someone less advanced depends on your skill to help make it work and will develop that independent skill for you. Fear of dancing with someone who is a better dancer can only hold you back as well.
Try to contribute positively to the social part of the event. Particularly if it is a ballroom dance function that fosters a lot of partner switching and mixing you should endeavor to dance with every other partner if you arrived alone, or to mix with other partners at least half of the time if you arrived with someone as your permanent dance partner.
Dinners for ballroom dancing 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). 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, 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 one’s 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.
Practicing Your Dance Skills with Others
As dancers we should all endeavor to improve our skills in dancing with others as there is an endless set of skills and adaptations to be learned. Beware of dancers who say they have “learned it all” and don’t need any more skill development as they are usually selfish dancers who rely instead on the skills of others in making up for their dancing shortcomings.
As you dance with others you will notice that there is every possible range of skill and training level. Remember that the social dance floor is not the place for teaching others and you will probably offend with offered advice on their dancing. If someone asks for your opinion on something to do with his or her dancing you can deal with it but try to do so briefly and lightly. It is best, however, to move on quickly to other topics as this type of questioning can “bait” you into a long conversation on the subject that can lead to an unwanted and unnecessary altercation.
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 dancing knowledge, even encouraged, but beware of the pitfalls that this might take in a social dancing situation. It is usually best to simply 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.
As 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, ballroom 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 persuing the learning that truly makes the difference. The only difference between a new and an advanced dancer is training and time in skill development.
As an advanced dancer it is important to remember what it is like to be new and to make new dancers feel welcome.
Sometimes you will hear others talking negatively in great generalizations about other dance communities or styles of dancing. It is best not to engage in such gossip 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 exhibit the skills of good dancing such as speed, shaping, muscle elasticity, musicality and adept partnering ability, among others. These are the true skills that we call “dancing” and they ultimately transcend any style or type.
After 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 garnered 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 dancing community in general. Other dancers will see you as a representative of the style you dance, the dancing school in which you have taken the bulk of your training, the dance teacher(s) 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 dancefloor 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 pay your school or your teacher is to always conduct yourself well in a dance setting. Remember that your behaviour reflects on them as well.