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Eye Contact While Partner Dancing: Advice On Where to Look and How

Updated on July 22, 2017
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Anya Brodech is a professional salsa, latin, swing, and ballroom dance teacher in Oakland, CA.

The Importance of Eye Contact While Dancing

It’s really important to regularly look at your partner, especially when you’re turning her or doing anything beyond the basic. Regular eye contact will help you make fewer mistakes when you’re dancing because you’ll be able to see exactly what’s happening and be paying more attention to your partner.

Also, it looks really rude if you’re out social dancing at nightclub or studio practice party and you're constantly looking out for other people that you’d rather be dancing with. You don’t have to stare at your partner nonstop because that’s pretty intense, but you have to at least pay attention and look at what you’re doing. If you look like you don’t care, then you’re probably not going to be asked to dance again with that person.

Difference in Eye Contact Between Types of Dance

In general, the Latin and Rhythm dances such as salsa, cha-cha, bachata, mambo, swing, and hustle have a lot of eye contact since you are usually facing your partner when dancing with them. This article will be focused more on these types of dances, as well as for casual social dancing at a salsa club or wedding reception.

However, for more "ballroom" dances, such as foxtrot, waltz, Viennese waltz and tango in Smooth and Standard, you will find that there is much less eye contact because of the particular dance hold you are in. In fact, followers should keep their heads turned towards the left; while leaders should be looking straight ahead and to the left.

If you are social dancing just for fun, don't worry about tilting your head this way or that way just yet and instead make sure that you are paying close attention to your partner so you don't bump into people by mistake.

How Much Should Men Be Looking at Their Partner While Dancing?

As a leader, you want to be looking at your partner as much as possible. You don't need to make direct eye contact with her, but you should be looking in her general direction and checking to see where she is at. You should also be paying attention to your surroundings to make sure that there is no other couples dancing in your way or someone crossing the floor that you or your partner can accidentally bump into.

This is extra important for when you want to lead your lady/follower into a spin or a turn, especially if you are doing a fast dance like salsa where things change quickly from one move into another. Always, always, always look at your follower whenever you are leading her through a turn so you don't spin her into another person!!!

All in all, I would say that you should be looking at your partner about half of the time, and at your surroundings to make sure the area is clear the rest of the time.

As a leader, you always want to be checking in on your follower whenever possible to make sure that she is ok and no one is bumping into her
As a leader, you always want to be checking in on your follower whenever possible to make sure that she is ok and no one is bumping into her

When Should a Leader/Man Not Look at His Partner While Dancing?

I will admit that eye contact is great, in general. However, for certain moves, you actually want to be looking straight ahead or slightly away from your partner in order to keep your shoulders and torso in the correct alignment for that particular move. Some examples of this include cross-body leads or cross-over breaks in salsa, cha-cha, or rumba.

However, for certain moves, you actually want to be looking straight ahead or slightly away from your partner in order to keep your shoulders and torso in the correct alignment for that particular move. Some examples of this include cross-body leads or cross-over breaks in salsa, cha-cha, or rumba.

Also, if you are leading yourself through your own turn, you should look at the direction that you want to go while you are completing the turn, and then look at your partner when you are done, if you are supposed to end in a facing position. However, some turns for leaders end with you facing away from your partner, which is ok because it's only temporary.

In addition, if you are doing some choreography or more stylized moments that are a little bit more dramatic or have some story-telling element in which you are not supposed to look at your partner, that is ok too because you're doing it that for a special effect.

Sometimes you need to look away from your partner in order to dance a certain move
Sometimes you need to look away from your partner in order to dance a certain move

How Much Should Women Look At Their Partners While Dancing?

Ladies and followers, your job while dancing is to pay attention to the leader and do what he asks you. It is hard to know what the leader wants you to do if you are busy ignoring him and scoping out other potential partners that you'd rather be dancing with instead.

You don't need to make direct eye contact with him all of the time, but you should be looking at his general direction as much as possible. You should try to make eye contact with him whenever he tries to make eye contact with you, and give him a friendly smile to show him that you're having a good time and everything is ok.

Where Should Women Look if They Don't Want to Make Direct Eye Contact with Their Partner?

Looking at your partner directly in the eyes can be a little bit intense so it's not something that you need to do all of the time. However, you can't completely look away from him because that can come off as rude, and also you can miss out on some moves that he is trying to do.

You can look straight ahead but keep him in your peripheral vision, or to the look at the side of his head, kind of by his ear if you don't want to look directly at him.

Another option if you don't feel comfortable looking at him directly, you can look at his hands, arms or shoulders because that is where a lot of the leads or signals come from to start different moves.

Also, by looking at his shoulders or hands, you help keep your gaze lifted and off of the floor. You should avoid looking down unless you are doing a special dramatic effect, but otherwise it is not very practical for regular dancing because you can't see what your partner is doing.

Finally, you can look at your own hands/arms if you are doing some arm styling during your dancing or if you are in an open/hands-free position and want to tease him a little bit by coyly averting his gaze in a playful way.

Why Looking At Your Partner Makes Dancing Easier

Looking at your leader gives you a tremendous amount of information. If you don't look at your partner, you will actually risk missing out on a lot of leads and cues, thus making it very difficult to dance with your partner.In the Latin and rhythm dances such as salsa, bachata, cha-cha, swing, etc. many of the leads are visual. This means that when a leader wants to initiate a turn/spin for you, he usually lifts his hand and moves it to the side. If you are not sure where to go, just look at his hand and follow the direction that he moves it towards (e.g. to the left for an inside turn or to the right for an outside turn, etc.)

In the Latin and rhythm dances such as salsa, bachata, cha-cha, swing, etc. many of the leads are visual. This means that when a leader wants to initiate a turn/spin for you, he usually lifts his hand and moves it to the side. If you are not sure where to go, just look at his hand and follow the direction that he moves it towards (e.g. to the left for an inside turn or to the right for an outside turn, etc.)

Looking at your partner also makes it easy to figure out when he wants to do something for himself, and is especially useful for any sort of hand changes such as drops, flips, tosses, etc. This is extra important for when he is turned away from you doing some move, but he offers you his hand behind his back as a signal for you to take it (e.g. drop hand catch in salsa) so you need to be looking at him for that work. Otherwise, you will miss his cue and he can get frustrated that you weren't paying attention and left him hanging in the middle of a move.

When Should Women Not Look at Their Partner While Dancing?

Ladies, if you are doing a spin or turn, you don't need to look at your partner. In fact, you should look at your own hand if possible and use it as a reference point to spot your turn/spin.

Also, when your partner is facing away from you, you don't need to look at him because that is part of the move. Same thing goes for any choreography or dramatic moments where you are purposely looking away from him.

Where to Look During a Dip

When you are leading a dip, you should look at your partner's face/head to make sure that you don't accidentally bump her into anyone or lower her too much so her head hits the floor. Try not to look at her chest, but rather at her neck if her head if tilted very far back.

If you are being dipped, you should either look at your partner's face and make eye contact with him if you are not being dipped very low. However, if you are being dipped low or bending backwards, you should tilt your head slightly back and look straight ahead from that position. Let your gaze go naturally from whatever position you are in, and avoid doing anything that will strain your neck.

You can also turn your head slightly to the side, looking away from your partner if you are doing a performance/competition piece.

Another option for styling is to close your eyes while being dipped, for dramatic effect, or because you feel nervous. Just make sure you let your eyes close gently, just don't squeeze them shut because that can leave a scared/nervous/unhappy look on your face.

Ask your teacher for advice, or practice with your partner in front of a mirror at different angles or have someone take a picture of you so you can see what you look like.

Final Thoughts

Just like in regular everyday life, eye contact shows that you are present and engaged with the person you are with. When you are on the dance floor, it becomes not only a matter of being rude or polite, but also about safety. Since there are usually other people out on the dance floor with you, it is important to pay attention to your surroundings and see what is going on so you don't accidentally bump into someone or something. In addition, paying attention to your partner serves a practical purpose of making your dance easier since it is much easier to figure what your partner wants to do when you are looking at them.

Obviously, you want to be realistic about the fact that direct eye contact is a little too intense to be doing constantly, so just use it as a way to check in with your partner to see what is going on and to let them know that you are ok.

I hope this article helped and answered any questions you might have had.

Happy dancing!

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