Etiquette

People who learn to dance always have a place to go and a way to meet people when they get there. Attending a ballroom dance event is a great social activity, either by yourself, as couples, or in groups.

You do not need to be an expert dancer to have fun at a social dance. People who have excellent interpersonal skills, instead, often have the most fun.

Every social environment has a set of rules – some written and some unwritten.

For people new to attending social ballroom dances, this article will attempt to capture those rules.

Being confident enough to ask other people to dance (and to respectfully decline invitations to dance) goes a long way to making you a desirable dance partner.

Conveniently, attending social dances is a great way to continually develop your interpersonal skills. Becoming skilled at dancing also is a great confidence booster.

Attending a ballroom dance is primarily a social activity. You should expect making small talk and connecting with a variety of people of different ages and wonderfully different backgrounds. If you are willing to network with the people who attend dances, you will make many new friends.

Additionally, ballroom dancers socialize by dancing with each other. With friends. With colleagues. With neighbors. With the romantic partners of their friends, colleagues, and neighbors. This topic is the focus of the remainder of this article.


You do not need a date/partner to attend a dance

Despite the intrigue, romance, and sometimes sex appeal you see on the social dance floor, it is just dancing! Dancers are just having a good time on the dance floor. Occasionally, the people you see dancing are romantic partners, and the romance also takes place off the dance floor. Most of the time, however, you will see people simply getting into the character of dancing and having a good time with it.


Correcting the dancing of other people

People go to social dances to have fun interacting with other people while dancing, not to have someone correct their dancing or to be bombarded with new figures or new concepts. (Learning new things is the purpose workshops, classes, and organized practice sessions.) Correcting your dance partner while at a social dance amounts to providing unwanted criticism, and is poor etiquette.

Dancers of all levels, including new dancers, attend social dances all the time and should be welcomed (not intimidated). Instead of trying to address nuances of posture, Cuban motion, rise and fall, etc, keep the dancing simple. Do a basic / a box / a turn and enjoy a three-to-four-minute conversation while you are meeting someone new and perhaps making a new friend.

People do remember the first dance they attend and the first people with whom they dance. Make a pleasant memory for someone new to dancing and show that you are a gracious partner to dancers of all levels.

The people who injure other people should be told so they can take steps to address those issues (take dance classes, practice with a partner sometime, spend some time with a coach, etc).

Remember the people who are unwilling or unable (for whatever reason) to stop injuring you and decline their invitations to dance in the future.

People justifiably have a long memory regarding the people who make them feel uncomfortable or awkward.

The only exception to correcting your partner on the dance floor is if that person is hurting you or is making you feel uncomfortable in a creepy way. Twisted fingers, hands dug into shoulders and back, yanked arms, “accidental” brushing or rubbing, etc. are never tolerable from anyone. You should never accept being injured or, for lack of a more pleasant-sounding word, being groped as part of dancing.


Who should ask?

Ladies and gentlemen are equally encouraged to ask other people to dance. Skilled dancers and new dancers are equally encouraged to ask other people to dance. It may take several evenings out social dancing for new dancers to develop the confidence to ask others to dance. When at a social dance, it is always appropriate for anyone to ask anyone else to dance, regardless of experience level.


What if I don’t know what the dance is?

If you are asking someone to dance and you do not know how to do the dance that goes with the music that is playing, let your partner know by saying something like “I don’t know how to do this one – will you show me the basic?” Gracious partners will happily do just that, keeping it simple and enjoyable for you.

It is rude to ask someone to dance and then withdraw your invitation. It is rude to accept an invitation to dance and then withdraw your acceptance.

If you ask someone to dance who tells you, “I don’t know this one – will you show me the basic,” it is your duty to graciously do just that. Keep it simple and enjoyable for the other person.

If neither one of you knows the dance, just wing it, or have a conversation instead, or meet the people standing nearby and wait for the next one.


What if people are not gracious with new dancers?

How can you tell who the good dancers are?

These questions are directly related. The good dancers do not necessarily have the flashiest moves or the best presence on the floor. Instead, the good dancers at social dances are the people who remember what it was like when they, too, were new. The good dancers are the people who are consistently gracious to dancers of all skill levels.

If someone treats you with a lack of consideration or is grumpy (or worse) to you if you say “I don’t know how to do this one,” by the above definition, that person is not a good dancer.


What if people say “No”

Every person has the option of accepting or declining an invitation to dance for any reason whatsoever. If you hear no, it may mean the person you asked is tired, sweaty, needs to get some water, or otherwise wants to sit one out.

Some dancers follow the convention that if you decline a dance with a person, it is your responsibility to seek that person out and ask that person to dance later.

If you decline a dance and then someone else immediately asks you to dance, it is considered good etiquette to decline the second person as well. For the remainder of the song, you will sit out. Otherwise, it looks like you were waiting for a better offer to come along, and you are not being very considerate (or social) regarding the first person who asked. Maybe the second person is someone with whom you have danced many times and you know would be a good partner for the song. Too bad! This is a social dance. You are obligated to respect the dance rules or risk being considered rude.


Personal Grooming and Hygeine

Make sure nothing is unsavory about your hygiene. Yes, your hygiene is important! This seems so obvious that it should be common sense, but enough people fail to recognize obvious problems.

Dirty hands, sweaty clothes, bad breath, onions or garlic for dinner, body odor, dirty clothes, among countless other things, always work against your desirability as a dance partner.

People sometimes bring spare shirts or spare pants if they know they often sweat heavily. Sweating is not bad. Having a sweat-drenched shirt and expecting someone else to put a hand on you is! Plan accordingly.


What if I consistently hear “No”

If it is not your hygiene that is unsavory, then it may be your dancing. Do you pinch fingers or yank arms? Do you injure people or make them sore after dancing with you? Do you make people uncomfortable by insisting on very close contact dance positions? Do you correct people on the dance floor or attempt to teach new moves?

You need to candidly talk with the organizers of the dance you attend and discover what other people might be saying about you.

Yes, people talk about other dancers. If you always treat people respectfully, you should never have to worry about what people might say.

If someone is unsavory, tell your friends. I do not mean gossip about everything. I mean discuss the injuries, bad vibes, and creepy feelings caused by specific people. Do not let your friends find out the hard way.

If you are one of the people about whom others warn their friends, then you are making other people unhappy at the dances you attend. You need to address your problems.


What if it is not my hygiene, I do not injure people, and I still hear “No”

Are you interested in dancing and learning to be a better dancer, or are you trying to find a date? In general, the people at dances tend to have a low tolerance for anyone who is not actually into dancing. You do not need to be a skilled dancer – being new to dancing or not knowing a lot of dances is perfectly fine. As long as you are genuinely interested in continuing to develop your dance skills. you are always welcome at social dance events. People at social dances are there to dance with other people who like to dance. If you legitimately enjoy dancing, then a social dance is a wonderful environment for meeting new people.


How come no one asks me to dance?

Let us assume that hygiene, injuries, and attitude toward dance are not the issues, as described above. Are you sitting or standing? Are you close to the dance floor or far from it? Are there other people near you or are you on an isolated side of the floor or in an isolated area?

Remember, this is a social environment. If you want social interaction, you need to make yourself approachable. Retreating to a distant part of the room, sitting behind a table, and remaining in a conversation all night with your back to the dance floor do not make you approachable.

Where are the people who are being asked to dance located and what are they doing? Are they looking down or up? Are they smiling and looking happy? Do they look like they welcome invitations to dance or do they look involved with other thoughts or conversations? Are they behind a table or in front of one (or nowhere near one).

Try standing near the floor with all the other people. Engage in small talk. Make eye contact with people leaving the dance floor. If waiting for an invitation to dance is taking too long, then you should ask someone to dance already!


How do I ask someone to dance?

Walk up to the person, make eye contact, and say, “Would you like to dance?” If the person is involved in a conversation say, “Excuse me / Pardon me, would you like to dance?” Interrupting a conversation is definitely permitted.

Remember, people may say “No” for any reason whatsoever. In invitation to dance is not an obligation to dance.


How should I not ask someone to dance?

Thrusting an open hand in the direction of someone you are attempting to ask to dance is not an invitation to dance. That is a demand, and it looks terrible.

Grabbing someone’s arm and walking toward the dance floor is a demand. Placing your body between two people having a conversation is a demand. Sitting on someone’s lap is a demand. Lifting someone off the ground and carrying them unexpectedly onto the floor is a demand.

Remember, respectful people ask other people to dance. You may hear “No” as a result of asking. You have given the choice to the other person whether to accept your invitation. The fact that you give the choice already makes you a more desirable dance partner.


What do I wear?

Your choice of attire depends on the event. Some events may be formal – tuxedo and gown. These events tend to happen around the winter holiday times.

Some events are casual. You can wear jeans and a tee-shirt, though it is easy to be casual in something more comfortable for dancing than jeans.

Some events are semi-formal. Dress shirt and a tie for gentlemen. Cocktail dress for ladies. Contact the event organizer in advance if you are not certain.

USA Dance-Madison events are “dressy-casual”. See What to Expect for details.


What shoes should I wear?

Please see the separate article on Dance Shoes.


One person asks me to dance every dance?

It is rude to prevent a dancer from accepting invitations from other people by always asking that person first. If you really enjoy dancing with a person, be gracious and allow that person some time away from you.

There is a not-so-fine line between flattery and appearing obsessed when asking someone to dance frequently in one evening.

Remember, dances are social events and people attend to be social with other people – usually many other people. If you are interfering in their social activity by not allowing the other person time with everyone else, you are rude.


My spouse / romantic partner dances with other people?

Well of course! Dances are social events. People attend for the purpose of dancing with other people. You do not have to dance with other people, but almost everyone at a dance – even romantic couples – are willing and excited to dance with other people. You may want to reserve certain dances exclusively for your romantic partner – all the Boleros or all the Viennese Waltzes, for instance – but dance other types of dances with other people. This is okay. This is why we go to dances.


How do I know what dance to do?

Recognizing the music to which each of the genres of ballroom dance are danced can take some time. Some dance organizers will prepare set lists of music in advance and print a sheet for each table having the name and artist of the song along with the corresponding dance genre.

However, even that is open to interpretation. You could dance a Swing or Fox Trot to many of the same songs. You could dance Lindy and Quickstep to many of the same songs. West Coast Swing and Cha Cha. Merengue or Hustle. Ultimately, it is up to the dancers to decide what to dance. You will develop the skill to recognize what to dance to each song played.


Final Words

This article gives you a good idea of social dance etiquette. Realize that eveyone involved in ballroom dance was a beginner at one time. Most people remember what that was like and help acclimate others to the environment.

Adapted from the Art of Dance Etiquette Faq. Used with permission.

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