Dance etiquette - What to expect when social dancing


Social dancing outside of the dance studio has become quite the challenge.  Things are not as they were when I was an up and coming dance instructor.  Now, there is dancesport, dance federations, associations, amateur clubs, etc.  I've come to realize that the "real world" (outside of the dance studio) exists a whole different type of dance experience.  So, here's my take on What to expect at a dance social.

First there are several types of "social" gatherings with and without dancing.  Types of socials can range from casual to elaborate including weddings, special events or weekly/monthly practice sessions that include instruction.  I wanted to take a moment and share my thoughts and tips for knowing what to expect when going to socials.

If you're just going to a friends house to listen to music or a concert to hear a band, don't expect to have to take your dance shoes, shoe brush and request to have a quickstep played. There may not even be a dance floor.  Then the rules of the dance floor do not apply.  If you're going to a wedding or reunion, more than likely there will be some sort of dance floor (normally 12'x12') and casual, freestyle dancing is what you can expect.  Wear street shoes.  You would not want to soil your suede bottom dance shoes because of the food or drink that may be spilled.  Normally, these kinds of celebrations won't have the ballroom dancer in mind.  Anything goes and the DJ or band playing may not know what MPM's to play a proper Foxtrot.  Your best bet is to just move to the music and apply a few "freestyle" moves.  If you go to a paid event that offers a specific genre then you would more than likely see a more organized version of a social dance where Ballroom music is played but these events are not as popular as all of the other socials. Therefore, dances like Swing, Rumba, ChaCha and Salsa would be more popular as is with modern music.

I've discovered that most social events can't accommodate some styles of ballroom dancing such as Viennese Waltz, Quickstep or Tango.  Nor does it allow for the average ballroom dancer. These dances require such skill and technique to properly dance and DJs are not likely to understand what MPMs (measures per minute) to play for the social dancer.  And consider that most people don't take ballroom dance lessons and you will probably be a minority at a regular social function. 

This got me to thinking about what everyone else experiences on a regular basis at socials and how we can protect ourselves and still have a good time doing what makes so many of us happy, which is dancing. So, here are a few basic rules of engagement on the dance floor to help you "fit in" that I follow myself.

1.  Always be courteous, kind and have a soft touch on the dance floor.  Dancing should not turn into a free for all or a wrestling match.  Partnered social dancing is one of the most difficult of all skills to master.  What may feel good to you may not be good for your partner.

2.  Always thank your partner, escort them back to their seat and clap for your partner.  Either you had a good time or you're glad its over.  Either way, remember to be kind to each other and never criticize your partner.  Make eye contact with your partner and smile like you're enjoying the dance.  Your partner will appreciate your effort to connect with them while dancing.

3.  Never try to teach at a social function.  We're all there just to dance and enjoy our partners and the music.  Many amateur dancers take it upon themselves to "help" out other dancers by teaching them a few basics.  You may do more harm than good.  Leave the teaching to the professionals.

4.  If you're dealing with an injury of any sort let your partner know and don't be afraid to speak up or feel that you are obligated in any way to dance a dance that may jeopardize or further antagonize an existing injury.  However, if someone reeks of alcohol or is rude, it is never impolite to decline the offer.

5.  Keep your competitive moves and show dance moves for when you're doing an exhibition.  Kicks, drops and tricks do not belong on the social dance floor nor does fancy arm styling or showing off.  Please be considerate of other dancers.  They may think it is rude or selfish to "parade around" like you own the dance floor.  See your dance teacher if you would like to "showcase" your dancing.

6.  If there is a "run-in" on the dance floor, please stop to make sure the other person is OK and for heaven's sake, apologize.  Keep your feet under your body not your partners to avoid injuring yourself or others.  Do not hang or grip your partner.  Learn to be nimble and light on your feet.

7.  Line dancers should move to the center of the dance floor as to not impede on other dancers that wish to dance at the same time.  The outside of the dance floor is for all moving dances such as Foxtrot, Waltz & Tango while dances like Salsa and Rumba are mainly spot dances and applying Line of Dance rules don't exist.

8.  If someone declines a dance, it is rude to turn around and accept an offer from another person for the same song or dance.  Have a good reason.  Maybe you're sweaty or just got stepped on or have to take a break.  Tell the person to please consider asking on another dance or song and then follow thru.  If you decline too many offers to dance, you may find yourself sitting on the sidelines instead of dancing.

9.  Lastly, try to avoid negative terms and the blame game on the dance floor.  If you were unable to follow, maybe you could ask your instructor how to better connect.  If your partner did not follow a lead, instead of blaming them for back leading, ask yourself how you may be able to convey the message to your partner in a more clear and concise way. 

Please feel free to add your comments and experiences.  I'm sure there are many more rules that can serve the rest of the ballroom community at every social event.