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Dancefloor Etiquette - The Do's and Don't's of Ballroom Dancing

Updated on April 17, 2012

Ballroom dancing can be a "dog eat dog" world. Everyone involved expects a certain level of behaviour from all participants, but no-one will ever tell you the unspoken rules! Unspoken that is until you get it wrong, then of course people will speak about it all the time... only not to you! So here are some of the rules that make up generally accepted dancefloor etiquette, and some of my observations besides!

Social Dancing

Men - Asking someone to dance

The correct way to ask a lady to dance is "May I have the pleasure of this dance?" whilst offering your hand as an invitation to the dancefloor. Not:

"Would you like the pleasure of this dance?" whilst walking off onto the dancefloor and gesturing with your head that you intend for her to follow you. A subtle difference but important nonetheless. Get it right!

Women - Asking someone to dance

Traditionally not acceptable behaviour, and usually not necessary. Just standing by the dancefloor should be enough for a man to ask you to dance. However if you do ask a man to dance, it would be considered incredibly rude of him to say no, so the world is your oyster so to speak!

Professional dancers

If you decide to go to a social dance, then don't think that legging it around the dancefloor whilst executing complicated moves like you would in a competition or show will impress anyone. It won't! People aren't leaving the dancefloor to watch you, it's because you just elbowed someone in the face and they have all gone off to complain about you in their little groups. They will say things like "Who do they think they are?", "They really love themselves those two..", and "They reckon they own the dancefloor".

Of course when they speak to you directly they will all be as nice as pie and tell you how good you are, so if you don't care what people think then carry on as you were. If you do care, then remember... smaller steps, a basic routine, nothing too fancy! 

Walking or standing on the dancefloor

It is generally accepted that anyone on the dancefloor not dancing i.e. walking across it or standing talking or looking for someone, is actually "asking for it!"

Expect to get mown down, knocked into or over, elbowed, kicked and tripped. The dancers see it as their God given right to do this and enjoy it as part of their sport. Take my advice, walk around the edge!

Dancing the wrong way round the floor

You are supposed to go anti - clockwise! Going the wrong way is frowned upon by everyone and is likely to cause injury... to you!

Lesson Time

Moonlighting

If you have already sold your soul to a dance school i.e. signed up for lessons and been faithfully going and paying for them each week, then it is not generally acceptable for you to go and get some lessons in the same kind of dancing with another school. Especially if you then go back to your dance teacher and say that someone else has shown you how to do something better. Remember what I said about it being a "dog eat dog world"? Well it's no different for the teachers. They like nothing more than to gossip amongst themselves (even when they claim to hate each-other.. which they often do!) and to steal each-others students. It's also a very small world, and you will get found out if you do it in secret!

Of course you won't get thrown out of your dance school, but the one-up-man-ship can be unbearable. So pick a school and stick with it.

You can go and learn different styles of dancing however, so if you do ballroom and latin, feel free to go and learn salsa, lindy hop or any other dance you like...

Showing off

Whilst showing off your dancing skills at a wedding or in a pub might be great fun, in a lesson it's likely to get you shouted down and humiliated in front of the class. Never forget... teacher knows best, and when you signed up for lessons you actually signed over your soul and s/he owns you! Remain humble and never think you know best!

Who's Leading?

Men! In ballroom dancing, you are in charge! That's right, it's all up to you. You get to decide on the steps and figures you are going to dance and the direction you are going to go. This may be a novelty for some of you, especially where your partner is your wife, but don't let it go to your head! You need to be a gentleman about it, a strong lead is not an aggressive one! Remember, you are the frame, and she is the picture, you need to present her beautifully! There is great responsibility in this role, for if it all goes wrong, she will blame you! If you let her take charge however, you will lose the respect of everyone who bothers to watch you as it will be obvious. It's a fine line...

Women - your man is in charge! This may be a novelty for you too, but it is important to follow him no matter what and try not to take over. You will both look and feel much better on the dancefloor when this relationship is established, and people won't laugh at him for being weak willed and letting you lead. This only applies to dancing, how you conduct yourselves off the dancefloor is entirely up to you!

Summery

If you follow these simple rules of dancefloor etiquette, then your life as a social dancer can be happy, stress free and you can be the ones frowning at those who don't know the etiquette along with everyone else.

If you have a rebellious streak, now you know the rules you can break that will have the greatest impact on everyone else and get you noticed! It's generally accepted that rules can be broken, as long as you know you are breaking them and grin wildly at everyone whilst doing so! Enjoy!

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    • abrodech profile image

      Anya Brodech 2 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      I should add, that the norm of men v. women asking each other to dance varies geographically. Since I've moved to the Bay Area last spring, I've noticed that most places the women are expected to ask the guys to dance and that it's a bit more egalitarian here. I'll admit that I'm not crazy about it because in Chicago, where I'm from, the guys always ask the girls to dance, but here it's the other way around!

    • abrodech profile image

      Anya Brodech 4 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      Haha, I love the phrase "coaching," I understand what you mean and think it's really great that they do that so they can get an additional/new perspectives and insights on their dancing. I'll be sure to use that if I'm going to have multiple teachers at different studios

    • Jennifer Stone profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Stone 4 years ago from the Riverbank, England

      Hi abrodech, thank you for your comments! I agree that you should be able to go for lessons anywhere, in my area it's very hard not to get found out about going to rival studios! :) I have some friends that compete internationally, and they go for "coaching" with lots of different people because they are the ones judging the competitions! Apparently it's the done thing... lol

      I love what you say about men leading, I think blaming the lead for any or all mistakes is absolutely essential and all part of the fun! ;)

      Thanks for your visit, all the best!

    • abrodech profile image

      Anya Brodech 4 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

      I agree with this article, especially when it comes to dancing in a studio environment. There are a few points that I disagree with you on though. First, you can take lessons/classes at other studios as long as you're not going to a franchise like Arthur Murray or Fred Astaire where you sign a contract with them. But the general rule is keep quiet about it, especially if you are going to their rival's studio!

      I used to think that women shouldn't ask men to dance, but over the years my attitude has changed on this, especially since I've been going to a lot of new places for social dancing outside of a studio setting, where I don't always know many (if any) people. In those cases, I try to find a guy who looks like a good dancer and ask him to dance so then this way other people will see me on the dancer floor and that I know what I'm doing, which in turn will open the channels for other guys to ask me to dance. Usually people are reluctant to ask newcomers to dance, especially skilled dancers, because they don't want to deal with a newbie. So in this case, it's about making your presence known.

      Also, I should add that men are the leaders when it comes to dancing, but that means that they are responsible for taking care of their partner and making sure she doesn't bump into or get hit by anyone on the dance floor. It's also his responsibility to effectively lead his partner in a coherent manner so that she is able to follow him and understand what he is doing. If the follow messes up or does something incorrectly, then it's not her fault, it's the lead's for confusing her ;)

    • Jennifer Stone profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Stone 4 years ago from the Riverbank, England

      Hi Marisa, yes I agree, it would be easier if ballroom teachers were a little more open minded... Ours is fine when we go off to learn other dances, but when we have gone to other ballroom teachers we soon learnt to keep it secret or not to go at all! Competition politics are just as silly.... I've never done belly dancing but it does look like fun... :-)

      Thanks for the comments and the visit, all the best, Jen

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 4 years ago from Sydney

      I love that bit about professional dancers thinking everyone is leaving the dancefloor to admire them, when in fact they're just running for cover! There's one dancer at a social we attend - we call him "The Tank" - who has a similar effect. He's not a professional, just a (he thinks) very good amateur . . . with absolutely no sense of floorcraft.

      I also agree with you about not attending different schools - but I do find it sad that should be the case. These days I do belly dancing too, and belly dance teachers are totally different: they all cooperate, run shows and social nights together, and don't mind if you try out other classes. The result is that students are able to move freely, but in fact they're more likely to stay. And many students attend two or even three schools at the same time, so no one loses out.

      It's a pity ballroom dance teachers can't be similarly grown-up about it.