Tuesday's Opinions: The Ten Commandments of Dance Etiquette

Tuesday's opinions are a day late, sorry!  But this one required some thoughtful planning.  This week it's danced-themed.


Sometimes in our quest to have a good time, we forget that the people we're interacting with are also trying to enjoy themselves, and our behavior is affecting their ability to have fun.  This is especially true in social dancing.  At every dance event, there is always one person who is some sort of jerk or creep, and who has the potential to ruin your evening, maybe even your ability to enjoy dancing in general. 

These dance irritants are fairly easy to spot if you know what to look for, so listed below I have my 10 Commandments of Dance Etiquette.  These commandments will help you not only recognize those people who could possibly taint your evening, but will also help improve your own reputation on the dance floor

 Of Ballroom Dancing


Commandment I: Dance With Everyone!
And when I say everyone, I mean everyone!  Do not shun beginners or someone who doesn't dance particularly well.  They need to have a good time too.  You need only dance with them for one song.
This commandment also means that you shouldn't monopolize a partner for multiple songs.  Unless this person is your regular dance partner (such as a spouse or intimate other), you should only dance one, maybe two songs with each person.  And if you did come with someone special, dance with them a third of the time, but dance with others as well.  My husband and I have a policy where we dance one song together, and then find other partners for the next 2 or 3 songs, with the only exceptions being a dance that we love doing together.
By dancing with everyone, you show other dancers that you are social, and eager to get onto the dance floor and have a good time.
dance with everyone!

Commandment II:  Be Careful When You Say No
Sometimes, it's okay to say no; you don't know the dance, you're done dancing for the evening, or your feet hurt and you need a break.  And there are the occasional times when you are asked by someone you'd rather not dance with (ie., the jerk or creep).  But you should use "no" sparingly.  Being declined is an uncomfortable, unpleasant experience for dancers.  Plus, if you keep saying "no", then you might become black-listed as a snob or an unsocial dancer.
Another thing when you say "no": if you say "no" to one person, then you shouldn't turn around and say "yes" to someone else.  This is considered rude and makes the person you rejected feel terrible and unwanted, and most of the time, they don't deserve feeling that way.
be careful when you say no--you might offend someone

Commandment III: Be Presentable and Well-Groomed
How you dress for an event is important. If it's a formal event, dress formally.  If it's casual, dress comfortably and appropriately.  You want to wear clothes that are breathable, won't get caught on something, and won't slip and slide into inappropriate areas (such as tight dresses that slide up too easily and show your underwear, or low-hanging pants or sweats).  You also want to wear dance shoes, or at least shoes that resemble dance shoes (no flip-flops!!!). 
You also want to stay well-groomed.  Dancing can make you sweaty and smelly, so make sure you deoderize, and bring an extra shirt if you tend to become absolutely drenched when dancing.  Taking care of your appearance at an event makes your dance partners feel more comfortable dancing with you in general, although there's no need to be perfectly clean and dapper all night.  A little sweat never hurt anyone, but a lot can be a little awkward.
look presentable

Commandment IV: Be Fun, But Not Creepy
In my experience, there's always one guy who's a little creepy to dance with.  One guy kept putting his face too close to mine (like he wanted to kiss me, ick!), another guy kept putting his hands in places that verged on inappropriate (like on my hip, or brushing against my chest, ugh!).  There are also those elderly men who continuously ask the young ladies to dance, the ones that could easily be their granddaughters.  I frequently try to avoid these kinds of dancers, but every once in a while, I find myself dancing a song with them, and while they might not realize that they are being creepy, it's never comfortable.
To avoid being creepy, watch where your hands go, respect your partner's space, and, once again, dance with everyone, not just certain types.  Also, don't assume any romantic intentions while you're on the dance floor.  The dance floor isn't like a bar where you can pick someone up-- people just want to dance and have fun.  That's it!
don't be creepy

Commandment V: Practice Good Floorcraft
When you're out on the dance floor, it's not just you and your partner--it's you and at least a dozen other couples.  Which means you need to watch where you're going.  If you're doing a dance that travels, travel only down the line of dance (counterclockwise around the room). Don't be the salmon the swims upstream.  And if you chose to dance mostly steps that don't travel, stay on the inside of the circle, so that people who are traveling can go around you easily and safely.
As a leader it can be difficult to decide what to do next, but when you are dancing, try to be aware of the other dancers around you, and pick your next move based on the space available.  A good leader isn't the one who does the best, most complicated patterns--it's the one who pays the most attention to his/her surroundings and plans accordingly.
Followers need to pay attention as well.  As a follower, you need to watch the other dancers as well, and make sure that your spins and your arms stay in control without flailing around.  Sure we want our moves to look big, but we also have to make sure our moves don't collide painfully into someone else.  You are also responsible for keeping an eye out for the leader's blind spot.
exercise caution on the dance floor

Commandment VI: Always Apologize
Dancing is never perfect.  There will always be some sort of collision on the floor, but whether it's your fault or not, you should always apologize.  You don't need to stop dancing (never stop dancing in the middle of the floor), but you should shout out  a "sorry!" to the other couple.  By apologizing, the dance floor continues to be a comfortable, friendly environment.
If you're dancing with someone, and your partner isn't responding to you (or you're unable to recognize what the other person is doing), do not blame your partner. Blaming the other person, even if it actually is their fault, is a very negative approach to dancing with someone.  I see the blame game a lot as a dance teacher--at dance events and especially during dance classes--and it drives me crazy!  It doesn't matter if you say it to their face or not, but blaming others never feels good, and it doesn't make you look good either.  So instead of blaming your partner for bad leading or following, ask yourself this: why did this move go wrong, and what can I do to make it work next time?


Commandment VII:  No Unsolicited Teaching!
There's always one.  At every dance event, there's some guy who feels he can correct you on what you're doing and tries to teach you how to do it right.  It actually happened to me last Friday.  Some guy, "who has been a gymnastic teacher for 25 years," sought me out and spent several minutes telling me that I wasn't spinning correctly, and he didn't even ask me to dance.  I didn't bother telling him that I've been a dancer most of my life, and that I've been a teacher myself for years; I thought it was pretty amusing that someone was trying correct me.
It's not always so funny, however.  Unsolicited teaching can make the receiver feel humiliated and inadequate.  In addition, the teacher usually doesn't have a full grasp of the situation or what they're talking about, so the information they're giving is either wrong or inappropriate at the time.  If you become a victim of unsolicited teaching, just smile and walk away, and don't take what they're saying to heart; talk to your dance teacher about it instead.  And if you feel the need to tell someone what they're doing wrong, just keep it to yourself and just enjoy their company.  If your partner asks you for advice about a certain step, keep your answer tactful and brief.

Commandment VIII: No Rough-Handling Or Back-Leading Please
Everyone dances differently, but there are some people who are harder to dance with than others.  In the case of leaders, there are guys who treat their partners very roughly: they crank their partners arms during a spin (ow), they don't wait for partners to finish their step before moving on (whoa), they grip too tightly (uncle! uncle!), or all of the above.  A good leader doesn't need to constantly wrestle with their partners; instead they work gently with their partner, making sure they are on the right track, and using small but efficient leads (seriously, when you spin a partner, you only need to twirl your wrist, and not use your whole arm).
As for followers, we've all done this at one point: we've backled our partners.  Backleading means anticipating steps and taking control of the movement, as if your leader is a puppet under your control.  This isn't fun for leaders, and oftentimes they're trying to do something else.  It's always best to let the leader try to lead, even if the lead isn't all that well-done.  You'll have a more positive experience as a result.

Commandment IX: Dance To The Level Of Your Partner
While dancing, your goal is to make your partner's experience as enjoyable as possible.  While the above commandments are meant to ensure that this will happen, you should also try to dance to the level of your partner, particularly when your partner is more beginner than you.  As a leader, you should always execute patterns that your follower can manage comfortably.  I always tell my students that when they dance with someone new, you start with the easier steps, then gradually try harder moves, stopping at a certain point when it becomes clear that the follower is having trouble with the step. By working with the follower's level, you can make even a beginner feel like an amazing dancer.
As for the followers themselves, you should also dance at the leader's level.  If the leader is not as advanced as you are, tone down your technique just a little bit so that the leader doesn't feel inadequate.  Beginner leaders often lack confidence on the dance floor and feel very intimidated by the more advanced dancers, so as a follower, it's your job to build up that confidence; it is not your job to show off your amazing dance skills.

Commandment X: Just Keep Dancing!
The most important thing to do at a dance social is to just....keep....dancing!  Dancers seek other dancers, which means that if they constantly see you on the dance floor, they are more likely to want to dance with you, so you'll get more time on the floor.  And if you aren't dancing a song with someone, keep moving anyway!  Last Friday there were a couple of fun songs where I didn't get asked to dance, but that didn't stop me from dancing by myself on the sidelines! I even got others to join me!  Dancing also creates it's own inertia, so the more you dance, the more likely you are to have a good time.  Sitting down will kill that energy momentum pretty quickly, so get up and dance, and enjoy yourself no matter what!



By following these commandments, you'll be able to ensure that you, along with everyone else, will have fun dancing.  And if you see someone breaking these commandments, don't be the etiquette police and point it out to them.  Chances are, your act of goodwill will backfire and worsen the situation.  Just leave them alone; they will just have to figure it out for themselves.  If what they're doing is really creating a really negative, even dangerous impact on the dance floor, point it out to the hosts of the event and let them handle it.

I have one more piece of advice to offer: never stop taking dance lessons!  Taking a hiatus from lessons is okay, but don't ever stop!  Lessons keep your technique sharp, and prevents bad habits from creeping in.  Plus, it allows you to advance in your dance skills, so you can do more on the floor.  Even teachers continue to take lessons, so there's no excuse for you to stop.  So dance, and have fun!



I confess I did a little online research before writing this post, and the two links below belong to websites I relied on heavily.  They're very well done, so if you'd like to read more, go ahead and click on them!

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