Dancing etiquette (long version)

Why Social Dance Etiquette?  Dancing is one of the few social activities that can put you “in close contact” with a complete stranger.  Dance etiquette is a set of informal guidelines that help make social dance interaction enjoyable for everyone.  Dance etiquette is nothing more than polite consideration for others around you, as well as a concern for the safety of everyone involved and helps in the effort to avoid inadvertently offending or harming other dancers or people around you.

If in doubt about a specific point of etiquette, it is often enough to invoke the following rule:  be kind and considerate of others.

Etiquette on the Social Dance Floor – the Main Points

o Take Care of Your Personal Hygiene.  For your partner’s sake, avoid eating garlic, onions, or spicy foods before you go dancing.  Ensure you shower and brush your teeth before you go dancing.  Swing dancers have a tendency to sweat, so also take care of your personal hygiene during the dance, i.e. use baby powder and deodorant as required.  Leaders especially: bring extra shirts (both outer shirts and T-Shirts), change sweaty clothing, etc.

o No unsolicited teaching (on both the social dance floor and at workshops).

oo It is extremely rude to presume you know more than an event attendee or your partner does (even if you do).  Trying to “help” someone by offering unsolicited teaching advice can hurt feelings and turn off new dancers.  Men seem to violate this rule much more than ladies.  I’ve heard several stories from very experienced followers about how a beginning dancer offered them “advice” or wondered aloud why they could not pick up a particular “flashy” move they were performing (it was normally because it was badly led!).

oo If you are an “instructor”, you also should not “teach” at another event venue.  Once again, unsolicited teaching is bad form.

oo Aerials, drops, and slides are best left for jam sessions, competitions, and performances.  These type patterns are not appropriate for the social dance floor.

o Ask others to dance.  Hey, it’s a social dance!  A note for “experienced” dancers.  Asking others to dance is very important in perpetuating the local swing dance scene.  If the more experienced dancers spend all their time and energy focusing on their own enjoyment but overlook the aspects of promoting the scene to others, then that threatens the fabric that holds the “swing” community together over the long term.

o Applaud the band.  If it’s a live music venue, give the band a hand at the end of a song (assuming it was a song worthy of applause!) – the band just don’t play for money!  The more you applaud, the better they will feel and play.

o Dance in the space that you have.  Be careful not to “block the space” that dancers have established.  The “space” for swing dancers is normally a space about the length of outreached arms on both sides of the leader.  Lindy Hop dancers especially should be careful not to “short” the other dancers when they have established a space.  Respect their space and don’t cut it in half by dancing on either side of it.  This not only leads to accidents as the dancers try to go into the space they had been using but it also negatively affects their ability to dance.

o Line of Dance.  This doesn’t apply too much for Lindy Hop and Balboa swing dancers, but here is the general concept FYI.  Ballroom dances like the waltz or foxtrot are traveling dances.  These traveling dances move on the dance floor in a counter clock-wise direction.  This is called the line of dance.  Sometimes, for the same song, some couples will dance a traveling dance, i.e. like a foxtrot. In this case, the traveling dancers should travel along the periphery or outside of the dance floor.

o The dance floor is for dancing.  If you’re having a conversation, move of the dance floor.  At most dance venues, dance floor space is at a premium.

Other Guidelines

* Don’t play bad cop or try to be the dance “police”.  If you see something unsafe (e.g., broken glass, water on the dance floor, etc.) or someone doing something really unsafe, it’s best to alert the club manager, the event sponsor, etc. and let them handle the situation.

* Getting on to the dance floor.  The gentleman should escort the lady on to the dance floor.  It is the responsibility of the couple getting onto the dance floor to make sure that they stay out of the way of the couples already dancing.  If possible, walk around the edge of the dance floor, rather than trying to thread your way through the dancers.

* Leaving the dance floor.  When a song comes to an end, leave the dance floor as quickly as it is safely possible.  Traditionally, the gentleman escorts the lady back to her seat at the end of the dance.  While this is a nice touch, it may be impractical on a crowded dance floor or in certain swing dance venues.

* At the end of the dance, thank your partner.  When thanked, it is best to reply “Thank You” and not “Your welcome”, because the reply is not due to a favor, but to politeness.

* If you enjoyed the dance, let your partner know.  Compliment your partner on her/his dancing.  Be generous and kind, even if he/she is not the greatest of dancers.

* If the dance floor is very crowded, don’t take up excessive space or travel from area to area.  You may want to avoid Charleston patterns and kicking steps.  On any dance floor, but particularly a crowded one, it is certainly a good idea to look behind and around you so you don’t step on or kick others.  In addition, don’t try to dance every dance when the floor is crowded.  Take a break, socialize, visit friends, etc.

* If you must drink, do so as far from the dance floor as possible.  Never dance with a drink in your hand.

* Sharing the dance floor.  Avoid getting too close to other couples, especially less experienced ones.  Be prepared to change the directions of your patterns to avoid congested areas.  This requires thinking ahead and matching your patterns to the free areas on the floor (floor craft).  While this may sound complicated to the beginning dancer, it gradually becomes second nature.

Asking for a dance

* When asking for a dance, any of the traditional phrases such as “Would you like to dance?” or “Care to dance?” are fine.  To point at or make some other type of non-verbal communication when “asking” for a dance is bad form.

* At swing dances, it is considered perfectly acceptable for a lady to ask a gentleman for a dance.

* When asking someone to dance, step up to him/her and make eye contact when asking for a dance.  Do not ask from a distance as it can make for an awkward moment if a number of people think they have been asked to dance, and you have to tell them that they were not.

* If someone appears to be in a normal conversation with another, you can approach, standing close and interested.  When your intended partner makes eye contact, you may smile and ask “Dance?”

Declining a dance

* It’s always acceptable to decline a dance (male or female) – and no explanation is required.  This is normally reserved for dancers (once again, male or female) who consistently violate the rules of conduct, behave inappropriately on the dance floor, are rough and/or dangerous on the floor, have bad body odor, are sweating excessively, or are otherwise a serious problem.  This option should be used with restraint, and mostly in the case of repeat offenders.

Assuming the above situation does not apply, you should generally avoid declining a dance, except for the following reasons:

** You have promised the dance to someone else.

** You need to take a rest.

* When turned down for a dance, one should at first take it at face value.  When a dance can last for hours, there are not many people who can keep dancing non-stop and therefore will need to take a break from time to time.  Especially for beginners and shy individuals, asking for a dance and then being declined can be difficult and may discourage them from social dancing.  If one is turned down for a dance on an occasional basis, one should not read anything into such instances.  However, since swing dancers are generally nice people, being repeatedly declined can be a sign to examine one’s dancing and social interactions to see if anything is wrong with oneself.

Whom to ask

* A note for “experienced” dancers.  Asking others to dance is certainly important in perpetuating the local swing dance scene.  If the more experienced dancers spend all their time and energy focusing on their own enjoyment but overlook the aspects of promoting the scene to others, then that threatens the fabric that holds the “swing” community together over the long term.

* Generally, it is considered good social form to dance with other people as well one’s regular partner.  Indeed, one of the main points of going to a social dance event is to dance with others.

* Remember the “beginning” dancer of today could some day be an “intermediate” dancer.  Conversely, don’t be afraid to ask a more “experienced” dancer for a dance.  This applies to leaders and followers. Dance with everyone – don’t limit yourself.

No fault dancing

* Never blame a partner for a move that did not execute properly.  Regardless of who is at fault when a dancing mishap occurs, both parties are supposed to smile and go on.  This applies to the better dancer in particular, who bears a greater responsibility.

* Accepting the blame for a dancing mishap is an especially nice touch for the gentleman.  But at the same time, do not apologize profusely.

* Be considerate of other couples on the floor.  If you step on someone’s toes, say “Excuse me” even when it may not be your fault.

What to wear

For dances.  It’s “dressy” casual for most people at swing dance events, although some like to get dressed up, and that’s fine!  People also tend to get more dressed up for swing dance events with Live Music, such as the Hepcats/UK School of Music Big Band Swing Dances, the evening dances at All Balboa Weekend, Lindy Focus, etc.  Keep comfort in mind, and note that swing dancing keeps you movin’!  Be sure to wear comfortable shoes.  (To protect the dance floor, boots, “spiked” high heels or similar type shoes should not be worn.)

For classes.  Wear loose comfortable clothing and flat-soled shoes.  We don’t recommend blue jeans because they’re too restrictive.  We also don’t recommend high heels or open, strapped shoes or sandals or flip flops.

Vintage Style.  Some people prefer to dress vintage at swing dances; while this is never required, it is fun and adds to the overall atmosphere of the dance.  Where do you get vintage style clothes?  Generally speaking, here, there and everywhere.  Click here for more info on vintage clothing.

Dancing to the level of the partner

* It often happens that the two partners dancing are not at the same level.  It is important that the more experienced partner dances at the level of the less experienced partner.  When dancing with a new partner, start with the simple, and gradually work your way up to the more “complicated”.  Doing extra syncopations, footwork, free spins, turns, etc. can be distracting and even intimidating for a less experienced follower.  (Note the principles above apply to both leaders and followers, although leaders are often the biggest violators).


* Be personable and smile.  Try to project a warm and positive image on the dance floor, even if that is not your personal style.  Once one asks or accepts a dance, it is important to be outwardly positive, even if not feeling exactly enthusiastic.

* Maintain eye contact – you are dancing with this person, therefore it is respectful to pay attention to them.  Do not let your gaze wander to things or people around you.