This document was created to give dancers a better sense of common dance etiquette. It is our hope that it will serve as a useful list of suggestions from many veteran swing dancers. This document contains advice, not rules.
Encouraging Words for Beginners
Because there is a wide range of people in the swing scene, skills and experience levels vary greatly. However, everybody starts out as a beginner. If you are a new to dancing, notice that most of the better dancers have been working at it for quite some time. Try not to get discouraged. It may take a few months for you to feel completely comfortable swing dancing. Even then, nobody ever learns everything. In fact, the teachers spend as much time as anybody improving their dancing. Avoid dwelling on what you know or don't know. More importantly, please remember that lacking prior experience does not preclude anybody from enjoying the dance. This is supposed to fun, above all else.
Who to Dance With
It is beneficial to dance with people of all experience levels. In the context of enhancing your skills, dancing with more experienced dancers often helps you to improve. Similarly, dancing with less experienced dancers is a prime opportunity for you to work on your lead/follow skills. Ideally, you should be able to lead/follow with anyone. In the context of having fun, you can have fun dancing with anybody and everybody. In short, ask everybody you can to dance, there is no point in limiting yourself.
- Try to follow the Golden Rule: treat others as you wish to be treated.
- Make eye contact, however do not stare down your partner. If this is difficult for you, one trick some people use is looking at their partner's shoulder or their earlobe. This confirms that you are paying attention, yet you are not staring.
- Focus on your partner. Your job is to make the person you are dancing with look good. For leads this means being conscientious of your partner's skill and adjusting your lead to the situation. For follows this means avoiding back-leading or other actions that make the lead feel "unimportant." For both leads and follows, if you stay aware and adaptive of your partner's feelings, you will be a popular dancer.
- Thank your partner after each dance.
- It is polite to clap for live performers when they finish a song and for DJs when they finish their set. If you are not dancing, it is also considered polite to clap after a lengthy solo, however this is not expected of active dancers.
- It is not necessary to apologize to your partner if a particular move is not executed perfectly. The point is not to have a perfect dance, but to have fun. However, if your mistake may have physically hurt your partner, please apologize and make sure they are okay.
- Swing dancing is a social dance, therefore talking while dancing is okay and not considered bad etiquette. Moreover, not talking while dancing is not considered bad etiquette either. Do what makes you feel comfortable.
- Don't be stinky! You will be dancing in close quarters with a lot of new people. You may want to chew gum or bring breath mints (Altoids are popular...and bring enough to share!). Some dancers avoid eating certain foods (garlic or onions, for example) on dance days. You may also wish to wear deodorant or cologne.
- Dancing is good exercise so be prepared to sweat! Many people bring extra shirts to change over the course of an evening. Other tips include bringing a towel or handkerchief to the dances or using baby powder.
Regarding Cliques and "Snobbery"
- Sometimes a perception exists that good dancers only hang out with other good dancers. This is a by-product of the fact that many dancers have been dancing together for a long time and know each other better. For the most part, few people within the scene are intentionally reinforcing this perception. Feel free to break the ice if they don't.
Asking For a Dance
- Notice what the person is doing before you ask them to dance. Be wary of interrupting conversations.
- Ask politely, "Would you like to dance?" Avoid grabbing a partner and pulling them onto the dance floor.
- One dance at a time is the norm within our dance community (in contrast, there are other dance communities where two consecutive songs per partner is the norm). Should you want a consecutive dance with your partner, ask them first. Consider asking them if they want to dance at a later time.
- It is very acceptable for ladies to ask gentlemen to dance. Most gentlemen are flattered by the offer.
- When there is a group of leads or follows, asking one specific person to dance is less awkward than asking the entire group (i.e. "would one of you like to dance").
How To Say "No"
Ideally, we would all say "yes" to everyone that asked. In cases where you wish to decline a dance, be polite: smile and say "No, thank you." If there is a reason why you can't dance that song, give them a reason. While opinions differ, the authors of this document generally believe that it is not a good idea to just make up a reason not to dance. In other words, try to deal with people honestly and directly. If you would like to dance with the person some other time, offer to dance with them later and make a point to follow up. If you have no desire to dance with this person, simply say "No thank you," with a pleasant, sincere smile. Also, please keep in mind that some people consider it rude to refuse to dance with one person and then dance with another person during the same song. Along this line, there may be valid reasons why somebody will dance with somebody else after turning somebody down (i.e. the song tempo changed, the other person was too forceful, etc...). If this happens to you, realize that it may not necessarily be a personal rejection.
What to Do If They Say "No"
You can always ask again, but give him or her time and space and ask again later. It is usually a good idea to let several songs pass. Also, do not get discouraged if you are turned down. All dancers get turned down from time to time. There are other people who would very much like to dance with you.
Special Advice for Leads
- When starting a dance, especially with someone you don't know, take it slow. Everyone dances differently, so take your time and get to know the other person by starting off with less complex moves.
- Do your best to avoid leading moves that might hurt your partner. Do not push or pull your partner too hard. If she is not following something, try leading other moves. Make sure you pay attention to where your partner is and where she is going. The social dance floor is like the ocean and can be choppy and rough by no fault of your own - make sure she is safe on the sea.
- Blues dancing and other close dances have recently become popular. DSDS does not wish to discourage close dancing, however, as a lead, be aware of whether or not your partner wants to dance close. If she pulls away or appears uncomfortable, give her more space. Just because the blues dancing workshops teach a snug closed dance position does not mean that every follow wants to dance that way. Additionally, not every lady has taken a blues workshop. As a rule of thumb, when dancing blues style with a new partner, ask her she minds dancing close.
- Dips are acceptable, but only when you are confident that you can execute them without causing your partner discomfort, fear, or pain. Contrary to what you see on the dance floor, it is not a requirement that you close out every song with a dip. Only lead a dip if you feel that you can execute it successfully. This is true for even the most basic dips. If you are going to lead more complex dips, please ask her first. This is especially true if is somebody that you do not dance with regularly. Some follows do not like dips of any sort, either for personal preference reasons or for health reasons (back issues, etc...). If a follow resists at the start of a dip, take that as a sign that she does not like to be dipped.
- Aerials and drops (Trick Moves) are generally not acceptable on the social dance floor. In fact, many venues ban them outright. They are rarely done at DSDS dances, with the only exceptions being controlled circumstances such as a jam circles or performances or among partners who have worked on aerials or drops prior. Remember that injuries can happen with even the most basic aerial/drop moves. For those who may unfamiliar with the terms, aerials are moves where the partner's feet leave the floor; drops are moves that cause your partner's head to be below your waist. If you are in the position to lead an aerial or drop, we strongly encourage you to ask for your partner's permission first.
- If you bump another couple, try to immediately look back and apologize. If another couple bumps you, apologize even if it is their fault. The experienced dancer knows that toes will be stepped on and people will bump into one another. Don't let the occasional accident get you down. If you happen to be dancing near an erratic lead, relocate to another part of the floor.
- There is a split opinion regarding the practice of walking your partner off the floor. Some people believe that it is a very respectful thing to do. Others feel that is unnecessary and too formal. A good compromise is to understand that the best course of action will vary from situation to situation.
Teaching On The Dance Floor:
The following section is the most controversial portion of this document. Some people avoid the practice of "teaching on the dance floor" at all costs; others religiously seek out the chance to share their knowledge with new dancers. We would like to present a balanced view on the subject.
Asking for Instruction
Be careful about asking others for quick lessons on the dance floor. Many people are reluctant to criticize people that they are dancing with, since it could be taken negatively. Additionally, there are teachers who do not like to be asked to teach while they are social dancing. This is not true for all teachers, but it is true for a certain percentage of them.
An often followed rule is to only give advice if the other person explicitly asks for it. Sometimes unsolicited advice puts your partner on the defensive. However, if a lead is hurting you, please speak up. In contrast, if the lead is only leading steps ineffectively, without any real harm to you, be more cautious with your commentary. Remember, that leads have a lot to concentrate on when dancing.
Giving Feedback and Constructive Advice
Before commenting on your partner's dancing; it is a good idea to think about what you can do to improve your dancing. Obviously if someone is doing something dangerous to themselves or to others you should say something, but otherwise it may be more harmonious to withhold comment. Just because you can criticize, does not mean that you should. If you feel compelled to say something, attempt to phrase your comments politely so as not to make the other person uncomfortable. It is nice to offer a compliment prior to offering constructive criticism. It is usually a good idea to assume that half the problem is on your end (your lead skills/your follow skills) and remember that if you are offering advice, be prepare to receive it. One effective phrase used by dancers is, "I don't think the move worked out right, what do you think we can do to make it work better." Use statements that allow for honest feedback on both sides. Don't let the other person think it is entirely their fault.
Handling Unsolicited Advice on the Social Dance Floor
If your partner offers you advice, you can handle the situation in a variety of ways depending on the situation. First, you can accept the feedback and be open to instruction. By doing so you express that you want to hear their advice and wish to have a dialogue about what is and is not working in regard to the dance. If you do not desire advice or feedback at the time, you can politely say "thanks, but I don't feel like discussing technique right now, I just want to dance." If you don't want the advice, you can say very little and let it go. Whatever you do, avoid blaming each other, which may lead to an uncomfortable and antagonistic situation. Remember, in the social dance world, having fun is more important than being right.
Dealing With Difficult People
If somebody at a DSDS event makes you feel uncomfortable, please speak with a Board member. If you don't know a Board member, tell the DJ and he or she will get you in touch with a Board member. We will be glad to deal with them in a respectful, non-confrontational manner.
It is wise to be lighthearted enough to just enjoy the dance regardless of whether or not everyone is at their best etiquette.