Being the rebellious type that I am, I’m typically not one to follow most rules or trends simply because
someone says that I should. I’m usually the first one to question such things, and every now and then start my own trend or movement. So when I first heard about proper etiquette for social dances, I may have initially thought to challenge it until I realized how much of it actually made sense! Although the etiquette standards vary with each dance, and from place to place, there are a few rules that apply in general across the board.
If you’re new to social dancing (or even just new to a particular style), this guide can be helpful on knowing what to expect. Even though some of these tips may seem like common sense, not everyone is aware of them. For the beginner in particular, it can feel like entering a whole new world where everyone is speaking a foreign language. While some are dead set rules, others are simply strong recommendations at certain establishments that have become part of the culture and are frowned upon when dancers don’t oblige. Nonetheless, they will help you navigate your way around the floor and allow you to have a more successful, enjoyable experience. Dance is one of those activities that require social skills, and with those, you’ll need to learn the proper rules of etiquette.
Here are some Dos and Don’ts of the ballroom:
1. Look presentable and comfortable
Although most ballroom socials tend to be on the dressy side, it is always a good idea to double check with the studio before hand, as the dress code can change for a special theme or event. If everyone is wearing elegant formal wear and you have on jeans and a T-shirt, that could get the night off to a less comfortable start. Wearing comfortable shoes that are appropriate for the dance is a must for optimal movement and support. There’s nothing worse than dragging around on swollen, achy feet all night! You’re more likely to have a good time if you’re not in pain!
2. Smell fresh and clean
Part of looking good is feeling good, which we all do after showering and putting on nice clean clothes. As tempting as it may be to bathe yourself in that cologne you got for Christmas, take heed not to overdo it, as strong perfumes can trigger allergic reactions for other dancers. A little deodorant after showering is usually sufficient. Likewise, those who smoke should try to avoid smoking just before dancing, as the odor remains on skin, hair and clothing long after the cigarette has been put out, and can be off-putting for others. Brushing your teeth prior, or having a few breath-mints (which ATOMIC kindly provides), throughout the night is a good idea, particularly following a smoke or a snack.
3. Leave the dance floor clear for those actually dancing
It is alright to sit or stand near the dance floor to watch or get ready to dance the next song or two, just be sure not to get in the way of those who are actually dancing. As couples come around the floor, some use the far edges to pass other couples or do certain movements, so you’ll want to maintain a safe distance.
4. If you want to dance, then ask someone for goodness sakes!
When you are new or perhaps very shy, you could possibly find yourself seated the entire night if you don’t take the initiative to ask someone to dance. It is perfectly acceptable for women to ask men, newbies to ask veteran dancers and so on. The best approach is simply to make eye contact and reach for the person’s hand while you’re asking, they are more likely to accept if you are friendly and polite. If you came with a date, you should be aware that most dancers (including other couples) enjoy a variety of partners on the dance floor, and increase their capacity for learning this way. So if it is awkward for you, perhaps you can make an agreement with your date about how frequently you’ll dance with others.
5. How to handle no’s
In some places it is considered bad dance etiquette to decline an invitation to dance. A song only lasts for a a few minutes, so unless the person asking you is upsetting or painful to dance with, many argue that you should accept-or simply avoid them before they approach you so that you do not have to hurt any feelings. Declining invitations from beginners simply because they don’t know much is ironic considering everyone has to start somewhere, and even the most accomplished dancers in the world once stepped on others toes! On the other hand, some argue that you shouldn’t feel obligated to dance with someone that you don’t wish to dance with. So if you do decline an offer to dance, it is customary to wait until that song finishes before dancing with another person. If you ask someone to dance, and he or she declines, smile and say, “Maybe later.” However, if you ask a few times in one evening and are continually rejected, graciously take the hint and don’t ask that person again.
6. Building a solid dance community
We all enjoy going places where there are friendly, fun people to dance with. So it only makes sense to widen the circle to include new people who allow our community to grow and flourish. I’ve witnessed people leave early or not enjoying themselves because their favorite dance partners aren’t there. Wouldn’t it be great to have a larger pool of dancers to choose from, instead of having to wait for a select few to become available? Well one way to achieve this is by helping each other out by giving one another a chance. We all had to start somewhere. So if we were inclusive to others outside of our inner circles, it would grow stronger, larger and more united, and allow dancers to learn and progress together.
7. Teaching is a no no!
No one likes to be nagged, especially on the dance floor. If your partner (let’s say happens to be new and nervous) and asks you for help, be constructive about it, but don’t stop in the middle of the floor (during dances that travel around in a circle) to teach your partner.
This could cause collisions, injury, or cause other dancers to get upset with you. If your partner is not at your level, don’t be rude or do a lot of steps that he or she can’t keep up with. This won’t be fun for anyone, and won’t make you look good as a leader. A leaders job is to safely and effectively lead his partner through the steps, and some would say to make the follower look good (which in turn makes you look good as a leader)!
8. Look both ways before crossing the street… and stepping onto the dance floor!
Before you step on the floor, observe the direction of traffic moving counter clockwise, also called the line of dance. Faster, more advanced
dancers are on the outer rim of the circle while slower moving couples stay near the center.
9. No road rage in the ballroom!
Being courteous to others goes a long way in the ballroom. If the dance floor is crowded, it helps to take smaller steps to avoid colliding with other dancers. If a collision should occur, you should stop to make sure no one is hurt, then politely excuse yourself. Everyone makes mistakes and accidents happen. So it’s good to be aware of other dancers and the space around you.
10. Thank your partner following the dance
Why? Because it is the right thing to do! It also helps to shape the culture of the ballroom and create a more inviting environment where everyone treats each other with kindness and respect, and as such allows for the best possible experience!
Ballroom Dance Playlist
For a new ballroom dancer just trying to learn the many different ballroom styles can be enough of a challenge, so considering that the music selection is so vast and sometimes difficult to decipher for novice dancers, here are a few songs to get you started!
My Heart Will Go On Bolero
Wake Me Up Before You Go Go East Coast Swing
Fever Fox Trot
Disco Inferno The Hustle
Mambo Italiano Mambo
Hasta La Vista Mergengue
Lady In Red Nightclub 2-Step
Cheek To Cheek Quickstep
Bésame Mucho Rumba
Samba Pa Ti Samba
Blue Tango Tango
You Light Up My Life Waltz
Mustang Sally West Coast Swing