How to Handle Awkward Situations in Dancing…

//How to Handle Awkward Situations in Dancing…

We’ve all been there – the awkward, creepy, or uncomfortable social dance.  You’ve just met this person and within the first two-counts they’ve shoved their pelvis towards you or clamped themselves around your leg.  Okay. Okay. So many of the dances we enjoy – like Blues, Swing, Salsa, Bachata and West Coast Swing – involve slinky closed positions with occasional flirtatious styling.    And of course we know from personal experience that it takes some time to become adept at social dance etiquette, so we are lenient with newcomers.  Usually, the creepy guy (or gal) is simply misunderstood and/or lacking in social skills to know that they’re being too touchy or making you uncomfortable.

So what do you now?  There are real creeps out there.  How do we address the real problems without discouraging the uninitiated?

I suggest your reaction be proportional to the infraction.  But above all, TAKE ACTION.  Whether you simply create space for yourself for the rest of the dance, need to have a chat with the person off the dance floor or must end the dance immediately, it’s a chance for all parties to learn and grow as social dancers.  Most of us are dancing to have fun, express ourselves, exercise.  Nobody should have to feel uncomfortable.

3 Ways Protect Yourself from Uncomfortable Dances

1. Create your own space

Yes I did pull out some Dirty Dancing.  Baby has a point though, “This is my dance space.  That’s yours.”  The first thing to do when someone holds you uncomfortably close during a social dance is to assert your dance space.  For follows, take your body away using your steps and your core (to avoid the even more awkward hips piked away from partner).  Then, connect your left hand to the the top or front of your leaders arm/shoulder as much as possible.  This clearly designates your dance space and allows you to resist your partners attempts to pull you tightly into closed positions.  If you’re a leader being smothered, try transitioning into open position variations and spins.   Most beginners will pick up on these cues, but if they continue to make you or others feel uncomfortable, then they probably need some gentle enlightenment.


2.  Polite intervention

Perhaps it is a cultural misunderstanding or inexperience which blinds this person to their unpleasantness.  Before it gets to the point of social blacklisting a habitual offender, now would be a good time to have a friendly chat with this person.  I want to be clear here…BE POLITE PLEASE…you can easily scare off a confused beginner before they’ve had a chance to correct their mistake.  If you’re up to the task, pull them aside, explain to them how they made you feel uneasy and offer some tips.   For example, you might explain that even though Bachata is a “sexy” close body contact dance, when you dance with someone for the first time, it is customary to keep things PG13 until you know one another better.

*If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with this person directly, speak with their teacher or close friends, who might better understand how to improve the situation.


3.  The Last Resort

If this person deflected any cues of awkwardness during the dance and resisted any polite attempts to correct their etiquette, then they are most likely not a healthy addition to our dance communities.  And more importantly, no patron, should be subjected to continual harassment.  If someone, new or familiar to you, was highly inappropriate with their language or body, you have every right to address this issue right then and there.  Stop the dance.  Then inform the organizer of the dance.  Instructors, Studios and Organizers want patrons to feel safe and comfortable – even if it means expelling certain individuals.

Sexual harassment and sexual violence is real, even among our friends with seemingly ‘benign’ intentions.  Protect yourself, educate those around you and utilize your community resources for assistance.

By |2011-08-30T13:04:55+00:00August 30th, 2011|Dance Guide|7 Comments

About the Author:

Shani Brown discovered swing dancing in the late 90s as she eased out of gymnastics into a new physical activity. When she moved to Orange County in 2000, she discovered a whole new world of Balboa and Lindyhop - and she's been obsessed ever since! When she's not hitchhiking to dance events across the country, she's probably got her nose in a book...And when she's not dancing, she's probably talking about dancing or watching dancing and being a typical dance-geek.


  1. Lucy August 30, 2011 at 8:55 am - Reply

    This is great advice! Should also include the situation when someone tries to monopolize all your time on the dance floor. Then, when you try to dance with someone else, they confront you and tell you that you are rude and don’t know dance ettiquite. I had someone try to do this. He wasn’t physically controlling, just verbally.

    • Shani Brown August 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm - Reply

      The best response I can think of for a person like this is first, excuse yourself to sit down. This will give you a chance to break away from them. If they persist in being verbally controlling…you take back control. Give them a friendly reminder that this is a social dance situation and there are many other people who’d like a change of partner. This often happens with dance partners or a friend you haven’t seen in a while. An though it’s nice to practice a little or have a few conversations, you are not an object to be monopolized.

  2. Danielle August 30, 2011 at 9:26 am - Reply

    Great article, Shani, thanks! This is super helpful.

  3. lacey August 30, 2011 at 11:51 am - Reply

    Thanks for writing and sharing this. It’s a gradual process discovering who you are comfortable with and who you are uncomfortable with. Thanks for sharing the tips on how to handle the broad situations.

  4. Anonymous August 30, 2011 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you for writing this, its an issue that everybody has at least once in their dance life but with diligence and a polite comment or two we can hopefully keep it to a minimum.

    Dancing is about carefree fun for everybody and it’s always unfortunate when someone creates or experiences an inappropriate dance. It definitely can color the rest of your evening and potentially expel someone who might have been an excellent addition to the community except for the lack of a well placed and friendly chat or two.

  5. Jay Soltani September 27, 2011 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    Hahaha, I’m so sorry but I cannot resist posting this.

    • Shani Brown September 27, 2011 at 4:34 pm - Reply

      LOL. Thanks Jay! Only Lonely Island would offer up such poignant examples of “the creep”…it(the video) actually creeps me out a little.

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