Social Dance Etiquette

Grooming   •   What to Wear   •   Dance Floor Etiquette    •   Asking someone to dance    •   Accepting (or not)
During the Dance   •   Dance Level    •   Touchy Issues

Ballroom dancing can be a lot of fun – for the dancing itself and for the social interaction. Come prepared to have fun and you will! And, of course, an evening of dancing can turn a bad day into a fabulous one!

Grooming – Putting You’re Best Foot Forward   Go Top

Social dancing requires a certain degree of physical closeness. Good hygiene before and during the dance party shows respect and consideration for the other dancers.

The day of the dance or lesson, a shower or bath is a requirement. If you have an occupation that gets you dirty, a shower after work is strongly recommended. If you just can't get home, try to at least wash up before leaving work and definitely bring clean clothes to change into; dirty clothes are not acceptable in a social dance setting. You will feel better and so will every one else around you. Brush your teeth to freshen your breath.

Deodorants: Use Them!
If you are going to a dance and/or lesson, deodorant is a requirement – not an option. For added insurance, many people carry deodorant in their dance bags.

Cologne / Perfume: Please Don’t!
Many people are sensitive or even allergic to perfumes, colognes, and other heavily scented products; reactions can range from mild to very severe. Please be considerate of your dance partners’ health and safety and refrain from wearing strong scents.

What Should I Wear?    Go Top

Wear clean, comfortable clothing that’s easy to dance in and won’t cause you to overheat. Some dancers like to dress up more for dances, but some don’t – it’s really your choice.
Guys: Ties and jackets are certainly not required, but do consider wearing nice casual clothes. You won't see many jeans at a ballroom dance. Tank tops are strongly discouraged - most followers do not enjoy resting their arm on their leaders’ sweaty arms.
Ladies: tops that leave your midriff bare are just as bad. If wearing a skirt or dress that may fly up on spins or turns, “full coverage” undergarments are necessary. Dance underwear can be purchased at most dance stores or online.

Notes on sweating:
Some dancers sweat a little and some sweat a lot. If you’re in the latter category, we recommend bring extra shirts in your dance bag. A fresh shirt or at least a toweling off will make you more appealing to your dance partners; it is not fun to dance with a dripping partner. If you find yourself getting too sweaty on the dance floor, you should stop, dry off and cool down before asking another partner to dance.
Undershirts: This is only a suggestion, but an undershirt will soak up sweat and the sweat will take longer to reach the outer shirt. While you might feel uncomfortable with a wet undershirt, at least your partner won't have to feel it and you look drier.
Towels: Many dancers who perspire a lot like to bring along a clean hand towel to wipe the perspiration off between dances. Your next dance partner will appreciate it!

What About Shoes?
This is a must: Bring a different pair of shoes to wear for dancing! They do not need to be dance shoes, but you should not have worn them while arriving at the dance. This helps to prevent damaging the floor by minimizing tracked-in dirt, grime, and water. This is particularly true during the winter.
Be kind to your feet: your shoes should be comfortable and supportive. Do not wear clogs, flip-flops, or other shoes that can fall off or fly off your feet. Also, make sure that the soles won’t leave dark marks on the dance floor. Smooth, leather soled shoes (not rubber) are best for ballroom dancing. (You don't want to wrench a knee if your knee turns and your foot doesn't!) If you don't have leather bottom shoes, a temporary solution can be duct tape. (Where would the world be without it?) Duct tape is somewhat slippery, but has the advantages of being cheap and easy to replace. You could also obtain leather scraps or purchase pre-cut chrome leather soles and glue them on yourself – or bring your shoes to a cobbler and have them glue a layer of chrome leather to the soles.

Dance floor etiquette     Go Top

Following dance floor etiquette helps everyone to have fun. Simply put, it means being courteous and respectful to those around you. It’s more important for a social dancer to be a considerate and thoughtful partner than to be a technically expert dancer. Following the rules and suggestions given here will help you to become a successful and appreciated dance partner.

Being a Good Neighbor
If you are not dancing, don't stand on the dance floor! Move off to one side to talk or watch. Many floors these days are small and not muchis more irritating to dancers than having to manuver around people who are standing around and talking.
Don't carry drinks onto the dance floor. Spills can cause people to fall and also ruin expensive dance shoes.

Asking Someone to Dance    Go Top

In a social dance situation it is appropriate to dance with a variety of people. It is generally less acceptable to partner up and dance with the same person all evening long. Naturally some people will prefer certain partners to others, but this should not prevent them from asking or accepting an offer to dance with a new person.

Who to Ask
Anyone can ask anyone else to dance. Leaders ask followers, followers ask leaders, experienced dancers ask beginners, beginners ask experienced dancers… you get the idea. If you end up sitting out more dances than you’d like it’s probably because you haven’t asked. Some people can find it challenging at first but pushing through the initial fear is so worth it! In a very short time you’ll become very good at asking which means you’ll dance more and have a great time!
Note: People have a tendency to dance more with people they already know; it’s easier and it reduces their fear of rejection. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re clique-ish, stuck-up, or that they don’t want to dance with you; often it means they’re a little shy or stuck in a rut. Remember – asking someone to dance is paying them a compliment.

How to Ask
"Would you like to dance?" is perfect, but anything similar is fine. When asking someone to dance, make eye contact, extend your hand invitingly, and ask in a clear voice. Be specific - always ask one particular person to dance. Do not go up to 2 people standing together and ask, "Would either of you care to dance?" The result will be that each of them will hesitate and defer politely to the other, but you'll experience it as rejection. If you partner says yes, extend your hand to them and lead (or follow) them onto the dance floor.

How many songs in a row?
Dance one song with someone, and then change partners. Two in a row is also fine, but more than that isn’t appropriate social dance behavior. Besides, the more people you dance with the better dancer you’ll become – and the more you’ll be asked!

Accepting a Dance (or not)     Go Top

Say Yes!
If someone asks you to dance, it’s nearly always appropriate to say yes. In a social dance environment it’s expected that you’ll dance with a variety of people and to say “yes” when someone asks you. And remember – every time you agree to dance with someone else you help foster a friendly thriving dance community!
That said, social dances are not endurance events where you must dance until you drop. Nor must you dance if you are only interested in watching the other dancers. It’s important to take care of yourself and dance as much or as little as is appropriate for you.

Say No... (if you must)
There are several good reasons for saying no when asked to dance. It’s absolutely correct and appropriate to say no if you are physically exhausted, if you need to get water or use the restroom, if you are injured, or if you’ve already promised that dance to someone else. If you decline someone for one of these reasons you can seek that person out later and ask him/her to dance.
However, keep in mind that if you do turn someone down it's considered very rude to then accept an invitation to dance from someone else while that same song is playing. Not only is this poor dance etiquette, it is inconsiderate and cruel and will dampen the evening for the rejected partner.
It is never acceptable to say “no” because you don't think the partner is good enough for you, or because you are hoping someone “better” will ask you. In order for social dancing to be a fun and joyous activity dancers must be supportive of and kind to each other at all skill levels.
If anyone has a history of invading your personal space, dancing too forcefully, causing you pain, or monopolizing your time, you are not obligated to accept an invitation to dance with him / her. Etiquette strongly supports you in saying no if the person is dangerous, offensive or abusive (physically or verbally).

How to Say No
If you do say no, etiquette explicitly says that you do not have to give reasons. It is kind, however, to say something like "No thank you, not just now; perhaps later". Add a smile to mitigate the blow.

Saying Thank You
Everyone likes to be appreciated so don't forget to smile and thank your dance partner for a nice dance – after every dance. Technically speaking, the person who asked the other to dance should thank his or her partner for the pleasure – but it’s completely appropriate for the asked party to say "thank you," or "that was fun" or something similarly appreciative.
In addition, good manners indicates that the leader should always escort the follower off the floor. Never leave your partner standing in the middle of the floor alone.

During the Dance     Go Top

Be Aware of Your Partner
Smile and make eye contact with your partner (but don’t stare). Always remain focused on your partner while you’re dancing; be aware of how they’re moving and what they’re doing. Not only is this great dance technique, but it makes the dance more fun for both of you. It’s a real drag to dance with a partner who seems oblivious to you.

Personal Space
You may see some dancers use a very close dance position. Be aware that not everyone is comfortable dancing close to someone he or she might not know. As a general rule, the dancer who needs the most personal space should set the distance in closed position.
Since experienced dancers are usually more comfortable with a variety of dance positions, they must pay particular attention to giving less experienced dancers enough space.
When leading, you should try to sense how much space your partner needs; if you try to lead your partner and you sense resistance, don't try to force it. When following, the left hand can be useful to help keep your partner at the distance you prefer; you are never obligated to dance closer than you feel comfortable.

Never criticize
Please don’t criticize your dance partner or correct them on the dance floor. We all learn at different speeds and each of us has our own quirks and weaknesses; we need to remain supportive on one another. Know that your partner is doing the best that they can, and try to make their dance as enjoyable as possible. And don’t forget – it’s possible that the mistake was yours…
However, if your partner is physically hurting you, you should let them know – as tactfully as possible. If they continue hurting you, it’s appropriate to stop dancing with them (for more info, see “Touchy Issues” below).

No unsolicited teaching on the floor! Ever. No exceptions.
NEVER offer instruction, unless your partner explicitly demands that you do so. (Do all instructing on the sidelines, by the way, never on the dance floor.)

Floor Craft
Floor craft is the term for how you maneuver around the dance floor. In order for a social dance to be enjoyable for all the participants, it’s crucial to be considerate and aware in your floor craft. You should be aware of where the other couples are around you, and do your best to avoid them. Leaders have some extra responsibility when it comes to floor craft. You must always look where you’re going – especially when moving backwards; check first to make sure that the area is clear. You’re also responsible for protecting your partners and always placing or leading them into safe space.
Dance to fit the conditions. Show concern for others. Crowded floors require that both leaders and followers use controlled moves and small steps.
Note also that some dances that can use the same music use different spaces on the floor. For example, many times Foxtrot and Swing can share the same tunes. In those cases the dances that do not travel should be danced in the center of the room leavind a "track" around the outside for the moving dances.

When a collision does occur everyone involved should stop and apologize, regardless if whose “fault” the collision was. If someone has been stepped on or hurt, you should make certain that person is okay before you continue dancing. Sometimes people are not okay; in that case it’s very nice to help them off the floor and offer to get them ice or a drink of water.

Dance Level     Go Top

On Dancing With Partners Of All Skill Levels
Dancing with partners of all different levels is a great way to make new friends and an excellent way to improve your skills as a dancer! When you dance with a less skilled partner, you have a great opportunity to become crystal clear in your leading / following skills and movement technique. Dancing with more skilled individuals can vastly improve your understanding of how the dance “should” feel (and the most skilled of dancers will make you look absolutely fabulous!).

Dancing With Someone LESS Skilled Than You
Be gracious - stick to stuff she or he can handle, and then, when you are comfortable with each other's dancing (and only then), slip in something one degree harder (or maybe 2 things). Try coming back to that one or two things later in the dance to help your partner become more comfortable with them; don’t push it if they’re stuggling. Never over-dance your partner's capabilities. Always try to make your partner look and feel like a terrific dancer.

Dancing With Someone MORE Skilled Than You
First, take a deep breath and relax as much as possible; this will make everything easier. Concentrate, smile, and do your best. Suppress the urge to apologize. Don't worry if you mess up things – even the best dancers make mistakes – just smile and move on. It’ll get easier every time! Remember, every advanced dancer has been exactly where you are now and each of them was helped along by dancers more skilled than themselves.

Touchy Issues     Go top

If your partner is hurting you, you should stop dancing for a moment, and say something like “I'm sorry, but you are holding my hand a little tightly. Could we try it again?” Usually your partner will be unaware that they’re hurting you and will be anxious to correct the problem.

If you receive an inconsiderate response, or your partner seems unwilling to modify their behavior, it’s appropriate to stop dancing and head for the sidelines -- even if it's the middle of a song. Say something along the lines of, "Gee, my shoulder is really hurting. I’d like to stop now." if you are timid or, if you are more straightforward, "Excuse me, but you've hurt my arm. I'm going to stop now." And then walk away -- it's not a discussion; it's not a negotiation; and you do not need permission or approval from the offender to stop dancing with him/her.

Same principle applies if you are being touched in ways you dislike: stop dancing, say something to the person, and head for the sidelines. How can you know if the groping was intended or accidental? Trust your feelings and you’ll be correct 99.99 percent of the time.
We encourage the victims of gropers to say something to the perpetrator. Whether or not you’re able to address it directly, PLEASE talk to someone in charge. We work hard to discourage this kind of behavior in our dance community and we do address it whenever it comes up – but we can only know about it if you tell us. A word from you could prevent someone else from having the same bad experience.

How Did I Do?

To truly measure the level of your success ask yourself the following questions:
Was my dance partner smiling?
Did she (or he) have a good time?
Did I have a good time?
Did the two of us look like we were dancing *together*?
If you can answer yes to all of these questions, you are truly a successful dancer and you’ll never lack willing partners!

Special thanks to Shirley McAdam of Vermont Swings for much of the content of this page!