Dance Etiquette

Social dancing etiquette

Ground rules

Floorcraft:  Please take extra care not to bump other couples.  i.e. don’t step on others, don’t rock-step back onto others, don’t throw your partner into someone else (!) and don’t ram another couple (!!).  Always be aware of the others around you.   Guys, look where you are going to lead her before you send her there.  Don’t start a move unless there is room.  Protect her from collisions.

Some dances travel in line-of-direction, like waltz, two-step and foxtrot.  For these dances…
1) The fast lane is on the outside.  Please don’t block or slow down the traffic.  Dance in the fast lane only if you can keep up.  Choose variations which keep up with that flow… don’t be a rock in the rapids!
2) The slow lane or stationary steps are in the center, the eye of the hurricane.

If you’re not dancing for a moment, please clear completely off the floor.  The other dancers will appreciate it.

Don’t wear perfumes or colognes to a social dance.  Most people don’t consider it very sociable, and some have allergies.  And similarly..

Dance hygiene!!!  We often can’t smell our own odors so it’s important that you brush your teeth, shower, use deodorant and put on clean clothes before going out dancing, including to dance classes.


Don’t be sketchy.

Don’t attempt to correct your partners to conform to your preferred style.  True social dancing is mostly about having fun and letting your partners enjoy themselves.  Criticizing your partner is antisocial and simply isn’t fun.

If your partner’s style of dancing is different from your own, we encourage you to be flexible and go more than halfway toward adapting to your partner’s style.  You’ll impress your partner with your generosity (i.e. that you’re nice), open-mindedness (i.e. that you’re intelligent), and a side bonus is that you may learn something new that you’ll like.  See Fred Astaire’s advice on this here.

If you are far more experienced than your partner, simplify your dancing somewhat for your partner’s comfort.  Yes, some challenges and surprises are fun, but being pushed around uncomfortably isn’t.

Dance with people you don’t already know.  Most dancers will be happy to dance with someone new.

If you think you might get sweaty while dancing, bring spare dry shirt or two.   Most dancers hate to hold on to a clammy wet shirt.

If there is live music, don’t treat the musicians like canned music.  Let them know that you appreciate their presence and their talent.

Relax.  Don’t get flustered, keep moving, laugh at what happened if appropriate but keep dancing.  Truly exceptional dancers will almost always make a mistake look like something they planned if at all possible.  There are no mistakes in dancing, only new moves.

Dance for your partner.  But also dance with your partner — have fun yourself, and let your partner know that you’re having fun with them.

What is a sketchy partner?

1) Any partner who is physically or emotionally rough with their partner, with a controlling attitude.

A good lead knows and cares what is comfortable for his partner.  He cares what is pleasurable or fun for her, as opposed to just showing off, or using her as an accessory to his ego.  A considerate man dances for his partner’s ability and comfort; sketchy guys don’t.

A good lead clearly suggests an option, which is different from controlling her.  He proposes, not prescribes, a certain way of moving to his partner.  If his partner does not go with his proposal (does not ‘follow’), he adapts to her motion instead of exerting more power to press her to accept the proposal.

But guys, don’t be so afraid of seeming sketchy that your leads become wimpy.  Leads are physical, and your partner depends on clear leads.  If the physicality of the lead/follow connection is on a scale of one-to-ten, avoid 0 and 1 (wimpy); avoid 9 and 10 (physically rough).

2) A partner who corrects his partner.

Have you ever danced with one of these guys?  Often the first thing he does when he begins a dance is correct his partner!  “You’re doing it wrong. You have to do it this way.” Yikes!

The clear message to most women is that he’s doing this to exert absolute control at the beginning of their dance.  It’s his way of establishing dominance, saying in effect, “This is NOT a conversation and you don’t have a voice when dancing with me, so shut up and do as you’re told.”

To be fair, this may not be his actual intent.  Maybe his teacher gave him the misguided impression that he should correct his partners if they dance differently from the Only One Way he knows.  But regardless of his intent, a correcting attitude feels disrespectful to her, so men be forewarned that she may reasonably not want to dance with you again.

An only-one-way attitude is also unrealistic.  How can anyone not understand that dancers come in different shapes, sizes and experience?  Each partner has had different teachers.  Or maybe they just picked up dancing on the fly, by diving in and seeing what works.  Different doesn’t mean wrong.  When someone has a different style from your own, try to find ways to make dancing functional, fun and social.

Women aren’t exempt from this consideration.  When a woman exhibits a correcting attitude, it’s just as bad as when a man does it.

Exceptions:  Correcting is okay of it’s to let one’s partner know if they’re hurting you, “driving dangerously” on the dance floor, or if your partner actually asks you for advice or feedback.  Some dancers do request feedback and help from their partners, so if your partner requests feedback, then yes, it’s fine and even appreciated.

3) A man who tries to “pick up” a woman on the dance floor.

It’s smart to assume that women come to a dance to dance, not to find a date.  If there’s an exception, she’ll find a way to let you know, but the default assumption is that she came to have fun dancing.

a) Don’t ask her for a date (unless she initiates or hints at it).
b) Don’t ask the same woman for several dances unless she lets you know she wants more dances with you.
c) If she says no to a dance, then no means no.  Period.  Don’t pester her.

Some scenes may be exceptions to this.  OK, if that’s the understanding at a dance, fine.  But the inviolable part of this section is: if she says no, respect her wishes and don’t pester her.

4) Stinky guys (and women).

It’s amazing that some people haven’t learned the essential social skill of hygiene.  Always shower, brush your teeth, floss and use deodorant before going out dancing, including to dance classes.  And if you tend to get really sweaty, you get huge bonus points for bringing a second dry shirt to change into halfway through the dance.

Women, please don’t wear perfumes (or colognes for men) to a social dance.  Most people don’t consider it very sociable, and some have allergies to fragrances.


Advice to dancers by Fred Astaire

Above all, be yourself!  Dancing should be a form of self-expression.  Whatever else you may do, don’t make the mistake of being an unimaginative copyist.  Don’t be a slave to steps or routines.

After you have been dancing for a time, you will find that you do the Foxtrot, the Waltz or the Tango just a little bit differently from anyone else.  You have developed your own individual style.  That is nothing to worry over.  On the contrary, there would be more cause for worry if you did not develop a style of your own.  Styles in dancing are developed just as inevitably as styles in writing or painting.  The dancer without individual style is no more than a mechanical robot.

For ballroom dancing, remember that your partners have their own distinctive styles also.  Cultivate flexibility.  Be able to adapt your style to that of your partner.  In doing so, you are not surrendering your individuality, but blending it with that of your partner.