Dance Etiquette

A social dancer is going to meet many people at events, parties and dance classes. We often act in ways that come naturally to us which may be fine with close friends and family but not necessarily appropriate in social situations. Sometimes and act in ways that might be frowned upon and we don’t even know it. We often do well intentioned things like offer unsolicited advice (bad idea by the way) but it can actually result in negative responses. Hence these guidelines that may bring to light some things you or others are doing and should be addressed.

Grooming and Dress

  • Question: If there are two people standing at the edge of a dance floor, making themselves available for a dance, and one was neatly dressed and groomed with a pleasant smile but never danced before. The other with wrinkled clothes and a dour expression but is a first class dancer. Who do you think will get more partners?


  • Just being a good dancer will not necessarily get you many partners if you dress poorly, have garlic breath, or smell sweaty from a workout. If you don’t present yourself well, you may not even get a chance to share your dance skills.

Did your Partner Enjoy the Dance?
People join social events, clubs and the like to be well social! So be gracious, smile, and always thank your partner for the dance even if you didn’t enjoy it. Ensuring your partner enjoys the dance is the priority. If you are in a bad mood, leave it at the door or stay home. Had a tough tiring day? The dance will help you unwind but only if you let it.

A dour mood is easily recognized and felt by others and word will get out about you then you will not get many partners.
Keep your ego in check. It can really get in the way of a good time.

Remember, if your partner is not as experienced as you, dance at his or her level.

Dance at an equal skill level
This one is for you accomplished dancers. If you dance at a higher skill level than your partner then dance at his/her level. Don’t try and execute movements the person doesn’t know as it only results in confusion and frustration. Dance education is for classes and practice time not social events.

What dancers should wear
Each dance has its own culture so it is always a good idea to dress according to the customs of each dance. If you are not sure, try wearing slacks and a nice shirt or a simple dress. Jeans and t-shirts are an option after you get to know the crowd you are joining. Once you get to know the scene dress appropriately.

It is also good to consider comfort and safety when choosing your garment. You don’t want loose items that can move out of control or too tight garments that make you hot and sticky in no time. Good rule of thumb: keep it simple whenever you can.

Avoid wearing:

  • Loose fitting clothing that can get in the way when you are trying to reach around each other.
  • Easily wrinkled fabrics that make you look like you slept in them after just a few songs.
  • Strapless dresses that can fall down.


  • Short sleeved and shoulder less garments that expose too much skin. Nobody likes to feel damp sweaty skin.
  • Running shoes, Birkenstocks, work boots, vinyl soled dress shoes. Anything with rubber soles or marking soles are not ideal but, not to worry, if these are what you have try and use the lightes and most flexible pair in your collection. When you get addicted to dancing investing in a pair of proper dance shoes will make your dancing much more enjoyable.
  • Loose jewelry can get in the way.
  • Leads – If you need to keep your keys in pocket, use the left one so you do not hit your partner with them.

Do a body check before coming to a dance or class. Did you… 

  • Eat a meal with garlic and the like? Mints are a no-brainer here but chewing gum when dancing with a partner can be distracting to say the least so avoid chewing gum.


  • Sweaty from work or the gym? Lift your arm and take a whiff if you dare! Keep a fresh shirt and deodorant on hand if you can’t get to a shower between work and dancing. You will get many more dance partners by thinking ahead.


  • Got long hair? Tie it back so it does not whip your partner in the face.

***Remember to check yourself again during a dance as well.

Groom your attitude
A social event has people from all walks of life, ages and skill levels. A great variety of music and you may not like all the songs. The halls are often old and look rundown. But the point of the event is to have fun and, no matter how much effort is put into the ambiance of the party, only you can determine if you will have a good time.

Be gracious and friendly. Good eye contact and a pleasant smile will contribute to a great time.

Asking someone to dance
An invitation to a dance is not just the domain of men anymore. More and more women are asking men to dance and rightly so. Use the following tried and true pointers:

  • When approaching someone for a dance invitation, walk straight to the person with a smile and direct eye contact. This person may be with a group so you want to make sure that everyone knows who you are asking.


  • Be cognizant of who the person is sitting with. It could be his/her significant other and they may be enjoying a private moment. Make sure the person is available to dance before approaching.


  • When asking for a dance, it is easiest to stay with traditional phrases:


  • “May I have this dance?”
  • “May I have this Waltz/Rumba/Foxtrot/etc.”
  • “Would you like to dance?”
  • “Care to dance?”
  • “Shall we dance?”

Do not monopolize a partner. Ask many people do dance it is a social event after all.

Turning Down a Dance Invitation
Ideally, you should accept as many offers as possible. It is the only way to know who are most compatible with your dance style and level. You just don’t know until you try and you will be surprised. Look around at the next dance and see how many young people are dancing with older folks. You will find many and it may not only be because the elder can dance well but understands the value of good etiquette and everyone knows it!

When turning down the invitation be gracious and thankful and tell the person you are sitting this song out AND do sit it out. It is a true insult to turn one person down only to get up and dance the same song with someone else.

When your invitation is declined
Don’t take it personally! It may be a shock to your ego but you don’t really know why someone turned you down so don’t assume the worst. Just smile and say something like “Another time perhaps” then stand tall and move on.

Having said this, if you get repeated declines, you may have to look to yourself and see if there is anything like grooming, attitude, dance style that you may need to work on. Do a reality check.

On the Dance Floor
With traveling dances, move in line of dance along the perimeter of the dance floor or stay closer to the middle when doing figures.

Generally dance floors are busy so you must really be aware of those around you. Make collision avoidance a priority and ensure you have some steps in your repertoire that allow you to move quickly to get out of the way of those who are not watching where they are going.

Make sure there is ample room to make expressive movements otherwise keep things closed.

Move with the pace of the other dancers. Go with the flow without disrupting it.

If the floor is too busy simply stay off the floor every couple songs to let others dance. This way, everyone has elbow room.

While the above may sound complicated to the novice dancer, it gradually becomes second nature.

No-Fault Dancing
Never blame a partner for missed execution of figures. Once in a social dance I accidentally overheard a novice couple, where the lady said: “I can do this step with everyone but you!” The fact that she was wrong (I had seen her other attempts) is irrelevant. The point is that she was unkind and out of line. Even if the gentleman were at fault, saying something like that helps no one and is ungracious.

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 is especially a nice touch for the gentleman. But at the same time, do not apologize profusely. There is no time for it, and it makes your partner uncomfortable.

Consider this: a misstep is an error. Errors can be very good if people choose to learn from them. If you always blame instead of being constructive or polite, your partner will definitely learn that she does not like dancing with you.

Unsolicited Advice (A really really bad idea!!)
A student (let’s call her Lisa) complained to me one day that she was at a dance and three different partners started telling her what they believed she was doing wrong. One even said that she was a terrible follow. (How’s this for bad etiquette?)

Lisa has been dancing for six months and has little experience with dancing at social events. She went to the event to get practice in but was devastated by insensitive leads. We have been working at rebuilding her confidence ever since.

Dancing is about communicating with your body. If your partner is doing something wrong try to lead/follow with your body, not your mouth. It will only serve to improve your skill. It is just 3 minutes that will go by much more easily if you follow the common sense guidelines.

Giving unsolicited advice can only serve to confuse especially if it conflicts with what they are being taught or, what if they are getting unsolicited advice from other partners that conflict with what you just said. You are trying to help but the best way to do that is to be encouraging and smile. Let a professional teacher give the constructive criticism.