8 Rules of Social Dance Etiquette

1. Asking for/ Declining Dances

There is no rule that you MUST ask everyone for a dance at a social dance (though that is generally the point), however there is somewhat of an unspoken rule that you do NOT turn down a dance if asked. Simply say “Would you like to dance?” or “May I have this dance?” It may have taken a lot of nerve for someone to ask you. It is not polite to turn down a dance without a good reason. Acceptable reasons to turn down a dance are:  if you feel the partner is too rough and may hurt you, or if you are unable at the time because you are headed to the restroom, or are leaving the dance floor area. Putting up with a dance with someone whose dance style or personality you don’t care for won’t kill you. Lie if you must, but if you do so too many times, people will know and you’ll be viewed as rude or snobbish. A bonus (but not requirement) is that if you do turn someone down for a dance, make a point to go back and get them later and ask them. Trust me, they will remember this for a LONG time. Accepting dances (with a smile) from as many people as possible will help build you a good reputation within your dance community.

2. Appropriate Attire

Always analyze your clothing for partner-dance appropriateness before wearing. Leaders (and at times ladies), should not wear sleeveless shirts and other tops that would force a dance partner to rest their forearm on a sweaty, slippery arm. If you become excessively sweaty while social dancing, bring changes of shirts (ladies too).  I’ve even seen men bring small hand towels to towel off in between dances.

Do not wear rings that may scratch your partner’s hands when turning or leading. Also avoid large hoops earrings that could accidentally be snagged or yanked. Ladies with long hair should be sure that their hair style is such that when she turns or spins, the hair or ponytail does not smack the lead in the face.

Be sensitive to your environment. It is generally not appropriate to wear shorts or a bathing suit into a fancy ballroom. You’re ruining the glamorous experience other attendees are trying to create. Dress your best and look like you care. You will be more likely to get asked to dance this way, too.

3. Body odor/hygiene

This is a tough one to talk about in-person, so send your smelly friends to this article. Do not go partner dancing if you are smelly or have a strong body odor!  This makes a very unpleasant and uncomfortable situation for your dance partner, and may result in you ultimately being turned down for many dances.  Make sure you wear deodorant and bring extra if you need to. Wear cologne or body spray…but not so much that an allergic partner may feel unpleasant dancing with you. Also, bring mouth wash or gum to freshen up after eating. Chewing gum while dancing can be dangerous, and is bothersome to some dancers and instructors I have met.

4. Line of dance

Always be aware of the line of dance for the particular dance you are attending. Most traveling dances such as waltz move counter-clockwise around the floor. Spot dances may be simultaneously done in the very center of the floor at this time (for example, those wanting to swing while others are two-stepping). In west coast swing, dancers generally run the “slottedness” of their dance with the long wall for safety reasons as well as to ensure more people can fit on the floor.

Please note that you must subjugate yourself to the majority dance being executed on the floor. By this I mean, if you are at a swing dance and every dancer in the room is dancing swing (a spot dance) and the floor is full (or even if it’s not), you cannot expect the entire room to push toward the center and leave you an outside track to fox trot around the edge. Since the majority of people are there to dance swing, and not foxtrot, it is not necessary that the outer track be available space for you to dance. If a couple dancers want to fox trot while the other 90% are dancing swing, they must give up the floor for swing. Do not grab a partner and insist on dancing a traveling dance and “navigating” around the spot dancers…unless you are a pro. Yours truly has been bumped into many people this way.

5. Dance with less experienced dancers

As you become more experienced, it is important to continue dancing with and asking less experienced dancers to dance. Everyone was a beginner once. Since most people “ask up” when out dancing socially, once in a while it is considerate and special to ask a beginner. This will make their night, and they are more likely to come back. You want people to enjoy themselves so they come back, and you want people to come back so you have more people to dance with, right? Always think about if what you are doing is beneficial for your scene or community.

6. No corrections or teaching on the dance floor

It is generally frowned upon (and sometimes extreme offense is taken) to corrections or technique advice given on the dance floor. Save suggestions for your peers for class time. It is best for instructors to make the corrections, or make corrections if asked. It would be okay to give suggestions to others during class time if asked, then again, if you are in a group class, you should be silent and listening to the instructor only. It is best to smile and thank your partner while in the rotation and say nothing about their dancing.

7. Dance to your partner’s level

Don’t be a show off! Make sure to always dance to your partner’s level. This is extremely important for leads. Do not lead moves that are far beyond the ability of your partner. You could potentially hurt them, but more often than not you will just annoy them. Keep spins and turns to a minimum (my personal preference is three in a row max) unless they are a very experienced dancer who you know wants to work on their spins. If you are unsure if the lady can follow a certain movement, build up to that level of movement starting with basic moves, then lead that movement gently. While it is a constant challenge to find the right level of connection and frame in partner dancing, I think it is better to err to being too light than too heavy or pushy. Some people are afraid to get hurt or simply do not want to the expend the energy for a heavier connection in a long night of social dancing. Do not drag your partner through energetic moves or tricks if you do not sense they have the energy level or stamina for that move. Always be sensitive to the body language your partner is giving you.

8. Smiles and Thank-You’s

Be friendly! Keep as much eye contact with your partner as you can during a dance so they don’t feel like they are being ignored. This increases your connection and dance-ability with that partner as well. Smile during the dance (unless it’s a song that calls for another emotion) and at the end of the dance, do make sure to smile and thank your partner! Even if you didn’t enjoy the dance, ALWAYS say thank you.

If you have comments or other etiquette tips, please share below!

Pamela Stergios

About The Author: Pamela Stergios

Creator of DanceHappens.com. I currently reside in Clearwater, Florida, and am passionate about promoting all forms of dance.
  • Promethius9594

    Awesome Article!  I would only add under appropriate attire should include some tips for girls as well:
    1)  Under a dress, spankies.  Nothing is more awkward than having to deal with a follow who cringes and tries to hold her skirt/dress down whenever she spins or dips.

    2) Strapless tops/dresses: bad idea unless you want to put on a show for the world… and, again, it’s awkward as a lead to have a follow who has to pull her top up every time you spin or dip her.

    3) In the same vein as strapless tops: spaghetti straps don’t hold together well in swing either.  If you have ANY doubts about them, skip ‘em.  If you MUST wear them, try to make it a dress that won’t fall down if one of them breaks.  Generally, though, I tell new follows to just avoid spaghetti straps altogether.

    • Promethius9594

      Bah, grammar fail on my part… that’ll teach me not to edit before posting :(

  • KenGrauer

    Nice little article that I am saving for when the occasion next comes up! Lots of wisdom in your common sense approach. THANK YOU for writing!