All Ways Dance!

…monthly musings of a convert to the ministry of dance

My friend Debbie must have been in 4th grade when she strolled up to me on the playground and announced proudly that she was going to “cotillion” next week.  I had no idea what this cotillion thing was, but her excitement at the prospect of attending made me wait anxiously for her report the following week.  She told me they learned how to make introductions and practiced shaking hands; she said they talked about “etiquette”!  I had no earthly idea what etiquette was but Debbie seemed pretty impressed by the entire experience.

As a shy kid, I had always been intrigued by watching adults around me interact with ease in different social settings.  The notion that people somehow understood how to blend in and to make those around them feel comfortable and at ease, and to seem that way themselves, seemed like a skill I would really like to acquire!  So off to cotillion with Debbie I went.  As it turns out, those lessons served me very well in life, especially once I discovered dance.   Dance etiquette is not usually a topic of study in a dancer’s journey, but perhaps it should be!  Why you ask?  Understanding how to move comfortably in dance circles can enhance your enjoyment of the experience.  Understanding social norms will help you feel comfortable in your interactions and enhance your opportunity to create meaningful connections with others.

The elements of polite behavior in a dance setting may seem obvious, but sometimes stating the obvious is just what we need!  As we begin our journey through the alphabet of dance etiquette let’s look at some general guidelines that help us navigate the social dimensions of partner dancing.

The A to Z of Dance Etiquette

Ask someone to dance
Asking someone to dance can be a daunting task! With the help of a few simple guidelines, hopefully we can feel more comfortable and relaxed about the process.

First of all, asking someone to dance should not be viewed as a proposal of marriage, neither is being turned down by someone an indictment of worthlessness!!  In other words, don’t take it personally!! There could be many issues at play that we will never know, so take the emotion out of the equation!!

So how shall we choose who to ask?  It could be someone that is the same gender or opposite; it could be someone we know well or someone we’ve never met.  Isn’t that one of the wonderful things about dancing, all the interesting people we meet along the way?  And how much fun is it to dance with someone you’ve not met before to a song you’ve not heard before and make something special happen!

And that leads us to discuss another aspect of social dancing to be considered when choosing who to dance with.  The social dynamics of dancing will suffer if each person chooses only one or two people to dance with.  Dance etiquette encourages us to dance with many different partners if you are attending a social and your attendance is indication of your willingness to participate.  If you chose to dance only with one person, you might want to chose a different venue or a different time to attend.  Another option is to have the first and last dance with that person and dance with others the rest of the evening.  Another determent to the social dance scene can be dancing with only one level of dancer.  It’s typical that we want to dance with others that are at our level, but dance etiquette frowns on those who chose to dance with only the best dancers or the youngest dancers.  The best dancers find fun in dancing with people of all levels.

These days, dance etiquette makes it perfectly acceptable for a lady to ask a gentleman to dance.  No longer are ladies relegated to sitting on the sidelines, waiting for an invitation, but there are a couple of issues to consider when asking for a dance, ladies.  First, be prepared that the gentlemen might ask if we want to lead or follow, make sure there’s an answer worked out to that one!  He might even suggest switching roles during the dance!  Also consider that when we ask someone to lead us, we are actually asking them to “entertain” us since leading is more work than play (more on that next month when we talk about leader and follower etiquette) so we want to make sure we are the best partner we can be.  And most importantly ladies, learning to lead is a sure fire way to getting as many dances as you would like.  You won’t believe how much it will improve your following and you’ll get to see just how hard leading is!!

Most people feel that if you are at a dance venue you are available for a dance, but when approaching someone to ask for a dance, always be sensitive to interrupting a conversation.  Dancing is a very social activity which means that some “catching up” will undoubtedly happen when friends see each other. If the person you want to dance with looks involved in a conversation, wait until the conversation is concluded to ask.  If the person is sitting with a large group and not engaged in a private conversation, you can always join the group and then ask for a dance.  Another option is to stand close enough to make eye contact then extend your hand and say something like “Is this a bad time? Or “May we?” Other options include, “May I have this dance (or name the dance)?” “Would you like to dance?” “Care to dance?” “Shall we (extended hand or nodding toward the floor)?”  If they are agreeable, thank the other people present and offer to return them right away. If your request isn’t accepted for whatever reason stated or not, give your apologies for interrupting and walk away, then try again another time. If you are being asked for a dance during a conversation and wish to decline the offer, please be polite in your decline.  You aren’t required to give a reason, but it can go a long way to keeping someone from feeling slighted. You can always offer a dance at a later time.  Body language is also a useful tool in indicating your preference to dance or not.

If you are seeking a dance with a popular dancer, “Are you dancing or resting?” might be another option to ask for a dance.  Giving a popular dance partner time to rest will always be appreciated, even if it means that others might not be as considerate and jump ahead. You will always be remembered as being gracious.

Another issue to consider should you identify someone attending for the first time or returning from a long absence, is to be sure to make an extra effort to see they get at least a few good dances and are made to feel welcome. Introduce them to other dancers that are approximately the same level or share some other interest.  It can be intimidating to walk into a new dance venue, remember?  And today’s beginner might become tomorrow’s favorite dance partner so make sure to encourage the newbies, your dance community will to grow because of it!

Be gracious, use good manners on and off the dance floor
A gracious person attempts to not hurt others’ feelings with clumsy words or thoughtless deeds and actions. Remember, people are always watching, even when you don’t think they are. They will take note of your interactions and reward you for it!  And if you aren’t sure, you can always use the acid test of appropriate behavior, “What would your mother say?”

Choose meals before dancing carefully
That three bean salad with whole garlic cloves and onions looks delish, but it might have some unintended consequences later on in the evening, so beware!  Keep breath mints handy and perhaps a disposable toothbrush, say no to beans and other potentially offending vegetables and we’ll feel more confident all night!

        Don’t squeeze your partner’s hand
Slight pressure toward or away from your partner is the trick, how much pressure you say?  Well, just imagine you are shaking hands; you meet with an equal and opposite amount of pressure.  Use the Goldilocks Rule, not to hard, not to soft, just right!

Even your closest friends…
May hesitate to discuss hygiene issues.  Considering that dancing can be a very strenuous activity accomplished in close proximity to others, showering and using deodorant can help us feel more confident in our personal hygiene.   Brushing your teeth before you head out and using breath mints throughout the evening can also prove beneficial.

Fragrances should be used sparingly
It may smell lovely to you, but smell offensive to others so use sparingly.  In addition, some people are allergic to strong odors like perfume.  A light, “clean” smell is best

Gossip, Beware!!
Gossip can fracture a dance community and cause lasting damage.  One active gossiper can poison an otherwise tranquil dance scene.    If you are on the receiving end of gossip, do yourself a favor and don’t believe it.  Live by the motto, “believe half of what you see and none of what you hear” and you will be well served!  Whether you listen politely to the gossiper or not depends on the specific situation, but standing up for your friends is always cool!  Another option is to change the subject quickly, “Oh, but did you hear the last song the DJ played, wasn’t it great!”  Hopefully this will alert the gossiper to the fact that you aren’t interested in continuing the conversation.

If you are on the giving end of the gossip, well, just don’t!  The information you have may be wrong, or misinterpreted by someone that then passes it on to you.  Now you are passing on false information.  Remember, even if you see it; don’t believe it but half the time!  If you have a complaint, bring it to the attention of the appropriate person instead of making derogatory comments.

Gossip also leads to cliques, another killer of a vibrant dance community.  It usually starts with identifying others as being different in some way.   Dance attracts participants from every walk of life, every ability level and every age, making everyone feel welcome will go a long way towards providing an enjoyable experience for all.  Everyone has something to contribute and nothing is served by disparaging others.  If you don’t have something nice to say, maybe you should keep you opinions private!

Hands need to be clean
What is yuckier than taking a partner’s hand and realizing it still has the remnants of the hamburger they had for dinner, no thanks! And hands can get sweaty when you dance so wash them often throughout the evening.  A hand towel can also be helpful to wipe your hands off between dances and antiperspirant on your palms can be helpful for excessive sweating.

And yes, hands “feel” clean or dirty, so don’t neglect the soap and water!

That’s it for this installment; tune in next time where the remaining alphabet will reveal itself.  Coming installments will also cover specific issues concerning Gentlemen/Ladies, Leaders/Followers and Pro/NonPro dancers.  As always, comments, suggestions and topics are welcome.

Dance is nothing more than changing weight from foot to foot in time to the music and the person that has the most balance and control in that weight change is always going to be the best dancer  ~  Dance Zen

In 1990, Sherry Reynolds stumbled quite accidentally into the vortex of partner dance where she has happily resided ever since.  Her passion is introducing our younger generations to this magnificent obsession, forming LoneStar Country Dance Scholarship Fund, a non profit organization, in 2016, to help finance competition expenses for college kids.  This scholarship fund has distributed over $21,000 since its inception and Sherry is so very appreciative of all the generous donations that have so greatly benefited her kids.