Etiquette is a part of the culture of social dancing that is often taken for granted. We all assume that since we feel like we are doing fine, that others will perceive us the same. Everyone assumes the advice applies to everyone but themselves. You may have heard some of these tips before, but some are rare gems that no one speaks aloud but are implicit in the Westie scene. Use this as a checklist to make sure you are covering all your bases.
- Respect your partner’s personal space: avoid breathing on them in close proximity, keep your hands away from their “no-zones” and their hands away from yours.
- Escort your partner both on and off the floor, or until they find their next partner. Take caution in guiding them through the other couples already dancing.
- Leaders keep aware of the couples around you and get the other leaders’ attention before committing to your chosen slot.
- Protect your partner from impending collision. If a collision should occur, apologize to the other party, regardless of fault. Check your partner for injury. If an injury occurs, escort your partner off the floor, and tend to their needs.
- Almost everyone has a past or current injury they are trying to protect. Go easy in the beginning and test them out first, or even better, get verbal agreement before trying things like dips and drops. Never assume that your partner has the flexibility, balance, or confidence to perform all your fancy tricks.
- Inebriation: Social dancing is a party activity, so some drinking can be expected, but know your limit. You need to be at least sober enough to maintain balance and not hurt your partner.
- “Dance to your partner’s level” is common advice, but not perfect. It is not expected that you need to dance as well as your higher-level partner. If you are a higher level dancer than your partner, you should take your partner’s skill set into consideration, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to keep it basic, or “dumb down” your dance. Always seek to gently elevate your partner, and never let them see you bored or annoyed.
Invitations to dance
- It is considered polite but not essential to reciprocate an invitation: If someone asks you to dance, return the favour by extending the invitation to them next time. Avoid asking the same person to dance more than twice in a night – give them a chance to ask you, or move around the room, asking new people.
- If you really enjoyed a dance, you might ask your partner for a second song, but there should be no expectation of them to accept.
- If absolutely necessary to decline a dance, do so by gently saying “thank you, but I need a water/rest/pitstop”, then try your best to find them later for a dance.
- Take caution before interrupting someone in conversation to invite them to dance.
- Never refuse a dance with ‘NO’ and leave it at that. After declining one invitation, never turn around and accept another invitation for the same song.
- Never demand a dance, or pull a partners hand without making eye contact or a verbal request.
- Don’t refuse an invitation just because you think you’re not good enough to dance with them, or because you think the partner inviting you is not good enough to dance with you.
- Don’t ask someone to dance when they are en route to the toilet.
- Don’t ask someone to dance while they are in the middle of eating.
- Don’t ask two people to dance at the same time – avoid awkwardness by asking one then the other.
Interaction during the dance
- Look at your partner while dancing, as much as possible while constantly monitoring your floor space. If you are shy, look at their chin instead of their eyes.
- SMILE, especially in recognition of your partner’s styling contributions.
- Keep conversation to a minimum on the floor and concentrate on the task at hand: dancing.
- Do apologize for accidental hand slips or bumps.
- If you realize you are off-time, pause and groove to find the beat – don’t keep dancing off time.
- Ladies, don’t assume the guys are looking at your chest – they are likely just looking at your feet. Guys, try not to let your eyes rest on her chest.
- Don’t apologize for being a beginner!
- Never abandon a partner on the floor mid-song, unless you have a health/safety emergency.
Feedback and Mistakes
- Improvisation means that no dance will ever be the same. Variety is refreshing, and mistakes should be welcomed as opportunities to create something new.
- Refer a greener partner to a teacher for advice rather than giving it yourself.
- If you and your partner want to have a conversation about how to improve a particular move, take it off the social floor.
- Mistake happen, but they are of little consequence. It is unnecessary and annoying to attempt a “failed” move repeatedly in an effort to “get it right”.
- Never assume a mistake is your partner’s fault. Check yourself first.
- No one “owes” you anything on the dance floor. It is unrealistic to expect every partner to offer you the type of connection you feel is ideal.
- Never take it upon yourself to correct your partner’s dancing on the floor.
- Never grab, yank, or forcefully ask for connection at anytime during a social dance
- Never use any version of the phrase, “You’re not supposed to do it that way”.
- No one has the right to correct their partners unless it is a teacher in the context of a lesson. It is considered unacceptable to offer unsolicited criticism on the social dance floor, no matter how much you think you are trying to help. Encouraging words only, please.
- The role of leader is simply one half of an equal partnership. The word “leader” does not mean “advisor”, does not hold “seniority” over the follower, and does not give you license to teach, tutor, or coach your partners.
- Teachers in the room do not provide teaching services during a social party – they are relaxing. Tread cautiously when chatting over a meal or drinks – they might prefer to avoid shop talk when they are off the clock.
- Do not ask teachers for advice or feedback after a dance, unless you have a prior arrangement.The washroom is off-limits: do not try to set up a private lesson or other business while you both are “doing your business”.
In the room
- Introduce yourself to any new faces in the room. Move around the room and dance with different partners.
- Dance with partners of all levels: those higher level than you will give you the opportunity to try harder skills, but those lower level than you will authentically test your basic skills and give you a calm opportunity to work on your precision and adaptability. Everyone has value and can teach you something whether they know it or not.
- While spectating, it is common to applaud an exceptionally good social dance you observe.
- Partner stealing is a fun game friends play occasionally, but it is not polite to steal someone while they are enjoying a rare dance with a Pro.
- Wait to be invited/included in group activities such as rounds of drinks or hotel room parties. Ask permission first and avoid party crashing or “mooching” others food/alcohol.
- Don’t isolate yourself in one corner and dance with the same friends all night.
- Don’t discriminate based on age, gender, aesthetics, or body shape. You will often be wrong in your assumptions and miss out on some amazing dances.
- Don’t stalk the higher level dancers and pros. Invite them to dance, have a dance, then move on. Don’t form a queue – they have the right to chose who they dance with and when.
- Don’t infringe on Pro’s “down time” – stay out of the staff room and avoid crowding the DJ.
- Never video others’ social dancing without their explicit permission.
- Never get aggressive with the DJ – if they refuse to play your request, there is usually a very good reason.
- Dancing is an intimate activity, as well as a sport.
- Consider gum or mints required equipment
- Remember that dancing is an exercise activity: wear lots of deodorant, not just antiperspirant – these are two different products – check to make sure you are applying the combination.
- You will be perspiring a lot: bring an extra shirt, and maybe a towel & fan. Never forget to change shirts between a long day of workshops and the evening dance party.
- Never leave the washroom or return from smoking without washing your hands.
- No hand lotion or heavy perfumes.
For other tips on how to manage your social success in the dance community, please check out the popular article, “Are You Winning Yet?”
Can you think of more tips that belong here? I am happy to add to the list!