An Idiot’s Guide to Dance Etiquette (Part Two)

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Howdy folks. I started this guide to dance etiquette (all that stuff that you never actually get thought about dance but have to learn the hard way) last month in Part One. If you haven’t already, check it out here. I’ll continue the guide here, with Part Two to give you a more complete understanding of the intricacies of the “non-dance” part of dance 😉  .

Don’t pester people for dances
One of the great things about social dancing is the chance to dance with many other people.

However, even if you’ve really enjoyed a dance with someone, that doesn’t give you an excuse to repeatedly ask them out over the course of the night. Give them and yourself the chance to enjoy dancing with different people. They may even come and ask you for a dance later, saving you from doing it. If not, wait for a while after your last dance and then ask again.

Also, on the rare chance that someone says “no” the first time (or any time) you ask them, just leave it at that and don’t ask them again that night. It’s their loss.

Don’t clog up the dance floor
If the dance floor looks full, just “F#$K @FF” (I don’t normally swear at all but this point really gets to me).

I’m feeling particularly livid about this point as I write this post right now as someone did it to me last night (which was otherwise a spectacular night of dancing). There is nothing worse than, while your enjoying a dance with your partner, some inconsiderate idiot decides to “squeeze in” next to you and suddenly all that lovely space you had to dance (along with that of everyone else’s around you), disappears.

I’m a fairly easy going guy but when this happens I feel like rolling up my sleeves and unleashing pure, unadulterated fury on the idiot who just did the salsa equivalent of “cutting me off”.  Not only does it mean that both pairs (probably more) have less room to perform certain moves but it also increases the risk of collisions. This is more relevant in LA or New York style salsa as they both require a relatively long “slot” and room at the sides for complex hand movements and turns. In Latin America, people are used to dancing much more closely so the style of salsa (i.e. lack of intricacy or “smaller” moves) accommodates this.

So, do everyone a favor and either, find an area with more room to move or sit it out, wait for the next song and grab a space on the dance floor early. Otherwise you’ll have an angry Irishman to deal with.

If you’re not dancing, stay off the dance floor
Don’t be that rude, clumsy idiot who forces his way through a dance floor full of quick spinning couples, bumping into every one of them along the way and basically pissing everyone off.

I will admit, that depending on the salsa club itself sometimes traversing the floor to get to the bar, the restroom or even the exit , is unavoidable but you should always try to move around the outskirts of the dance floor avoiding the dancers as much as possible.

The same has to be said for people hanging out on the fringes of the dance floor; make yourself as small as possible, avoid the dancers and don’t get annoyed if some of them bump into you. Remember, you’re in their territory.

Acknowledging and Apologizing for a collision
Salsa is a free-moving, high-speed activity carried out by multiple pairs in a confined space. Collisions will happen.

The best way to deal with this is to acknowledge it, apologize and keep on dancing. Usually both pairs are, at least partially, to blame so both usually apologize to each other. When I say apologize I don’t mean that you need a long winded verbal apology either. When a collision happens simply catch the eye of the other pair, give them an apologetic look or nod and mouth the word “sorry”, end the interaction with a smile and keep on dancing. An apology should not require you to stop dancing (unless someone is sprawled out convulsing on the floor, which is quite rare… usually).

The rudest thing you could do is not to acknowledge the fact that you’ve bumped into someone. This is not the case in Latin American culture where in general the dance floors are much more tightly packed and light collisions are much more common. People just let it slide.

Amongst a dancing couple, incidents (stepping on someones toes, the odd elbow to the head etc.) happen too. In this case, providing you haven’t incapacitated your partner, just apologize, smile and keep dancing. Stopping would just draw too much attenuation to the incident. Also, you only need to apologize once, as constant apologies during a dance can be really annoying and take away from the fun.

It is always the man’s fault
The lead is the one responsible for guiding the dance and the lead is virtually always a man, thus logic states that if something goes wrong, it’s the man’s fault.

Usually if something goes wrong (an ill-timed move, a collision with another couple etc.) it is due to a lack of foresight or planning on part of the guy so gentlemen, just accept it and don’t get into an argument over it. This is why it’s usually the men who apologize to each other when something happens.

I will admit that there are occasions where the follow is clearly to blame for an “incident” but my policy is just to accept the blame and keep on dancing (anything for a quiet life). Suck it up guys; you’ll be taking the fall a lot.

Men, as leads you are in charge of guiding these potentially dangerous weapons. That also means that if they cause any damage... it's your fault.

Men, as leads you are in charge of guiding these potentially dangerous weapons. That also means that if they cause any damage… it’s your fault.

Tie up your loose ends
This is one for the ladies (mostly). Although I think that hair spinning freely during a dance looks beautiful it can be a serious safety hazard. Do your partner a favour and tie it up or otherwise keep it under control. Getting a face-full of hair moving at full spinning speed during a dance really stings (and a plaited ponytail in the face feels somewhat similar to getting hit with padded nunchuks). This can really mess up a leads concentration not to mention the risk of hair getting caught in someone’s fingers or watchstrap during a spin. Keep it under control ladies.

While on the point of wildly spinning hazards I should mention this;
DO NOT DANCE WITH A HANDBAG.
They are not only a hell of a lot harder than the most unruly ponytails but their long straps mean they pose a risk to surrounding couples too. Either leave it with a friend or, as salsa scenes in Europe, Asia and the U.S. are quite safe and friendly places, leave it at your table, maybe under a coat and go and enjoy your dance without the deadly weapon. Really, handbags have no place on the dance floor.

 

Help your fellow man
If someone ever asks you for your advice or guidance on salsa matters, consider it a compliment that they admire your abilities or style of dancing and do what you can to help them out.

I know that when I started out, I was full of questions (I still am) and I am very grateful to all the people who have helped me to improve my salsa over the years. The same is probably true for you so do the right thing; be friendly and help out the next generation of salseros.

Don’t start teaching on the dance floor
I’ve witnessed this scene many a time; a couple are dancing together, usually for the first time, when suddenly one of the partners notices the other is not behaving the way they would like them too and decides to stop the dance to “teach” them how to do it correctly. They have just ruined a perfectly good dance.

I know one particular guy, a spectacular dancer and highly regarded amongst other dancers in the scene, who does this constantly. So much so that the image of him stopping a dance to “teach” his “inexperienced” partner, is burned into my mind. I’ve spoken with some of these girls after the fact and all of them have said the exact same thing “It’s nice to learn something new but it’s so annoying when he stops the dance”.

I’m not innocent of doing this myself, but only when I’m asked to explain it by my partner and usually the most “teaching” I’ll do during a dance is to say “try relaxing you shoulders a little”.

A dance is supposed to be enjoyed and it’s hard to do that when your partner keeps stopping the dance to point out how badly you’re dancing. There is a time and a place for it but it most certainly is not during a social dance.

Smile
Salsa is meant to be fun so show your partner that you’re enjoying yourself with the easiest method possible; smiling.

For a lot of people, however, it’s not as easy as it sounds. When I first started dancing I used to concentrate so much on getting the moves right that I constantly needed to be reminded by my partners to smile (I still forget to do it sometimes).

It may not seem like much but showing your partner that you’re enjoying the dance makes them feel more secure that they’re dancing well.

Off the dance floor, smiling also makes you a lot more approachable and increases the chance that someone will ask you to dance. I remember one regular on the scene in Dublin who I have never asked to dance because she never smiled (and because she scared me a little).

Don’t dance TOO close
Pair dancing, by it’s very nature, means that 2 people need to move together in close physical proximity while holding on to each other. This is not an excuse to take advantage. When dancing with someone for the first time you should always be more conservative and maybe later, if your partner gives you an indication that it’s ok to do so, gradually move a little bit closer.

I learned to dance salsa and bachata in a small city in Japan where close physical contact is not the norm. So, you can imagine my surprise when I first saw people dancing bachata, almost erotically, in a club in the metropolis that is Hong Kong. Then I got to experience it first hand with a local woman who insisted on dancing closely. Thank God the dimmed lights in the club hid how much I was blushing.

When I lived in Cali, dancing close is the norm and it was there that I learned to dance close salsa (Salsa de la alcoba i.e. bedroom salsa) and now I love dancing it with my close friends. But at first, dancing close did make me a little uncomfortable so don’t dance too close to someone that either you don’t know or that is not used to it. Don’t be like the woman who I once danced with at a salsa congress in Ireland who during a dance, suddenly thrust my body towards hers, practically forcing our crotches together and insisted that that was the “real” way to dance bachata.  I finished the dance and quickly shuffled off the dance floor feeling a little dirty and with a face that told anyone who saw it “I have just been violated”. I was so innocent before that dance.

On Flirting
Salsa can be a very sensual dance. I said CAN, not SHOULD.

Unfortunately there are some people who misunderstand the close proximity of dancing as an excuse to “try it on” with every girl who agrees to dance with them. If you’re one of those people, stop being a creep give up dancing and give speed dating (or something like that) a try.

I’ll happily admit that a little bit of flirting can really add to the fun of a dance but I’ll only do it with someone who I know well and who I know is comfortable with it. The truth of the matter is, the vast majority of the people who go dancing are there to dance and not to pick someone up that night.

Adjust your level to your partners
You can never really be sure about someone’s level until you dance with them for the first time, especially if you haven’t even seen them dance before.

You should always start out slowly and with the basics, get a feel for how your partner is reacting and then, gradually and slowly start incorporating more complex moves. If you get the feeling that your partner isn’t handling those complex moves well it’s time to ease off the accelerator and continue the dance with slightly more basic moves. If you don’t control the level you not only risk hurting someone’s pride but you also risk physically hurting them if they don’t know how to react to a certain move.

When dancing with someone with a lower level you should do all you can to ensure that they enjoy the dance so that doesn’t mean you should try as many intricate combinations as possible. This will only end up with them feeling incompetent and disheartened. Lead them through moves they can follow and they’ll finish the dance feeling great and feeling that they’re improving.

Say Thank You
It’s common courtesy. When the song ends and you stop dancing, smile, look your partner in the eye and say a sincere “thank you”. Then take them by the hand or the shoulder and lead them off the dance floor.
Congratulations, you’ve just completed a successful dance… +100 EXP Points.

After reading through these points it should be pretty clear from its frequency of use that “smiling” (and similarly eye contact) are some of the most important things you can do while dancing so get those pearly whites and those pretty peepers working.

What do you think of this list? Is there anything you feel I’ve left out? Let me know in the comments.

Keep Dancing Folks and Happy Holidays.

12 Comments

  • Fred says:

    Teaching during the dance! I think that’s one of the big ones. It’s not a wise thing to do, often even when one is invited to do so!!
    Unless it’s people who clearly have some prior experience and can pick up the skill, move or shine etc, I think its a good idea to avoid it!
    If one already knows, say, salsa, then I think they might pick up the given skill right there during the dance. Otherwise, if it’s a newer dancer or learner, they likely don’t really realize the difficulty of mastering the given skill.
    Moves usually look easy when done by people who know them, but when one gets to try it, then they realize it’s not as simple as it appears. Trying to teach it in such a situation may only lead to further confusion, frustration etc.
    Unless people realize what they’re getting into, teaching during the social will be a bad idea! A more experienced dancer, doesn’t have to be too good, will pick things up easier in such a situation, AND one can be more sure that the dancer is actually serious about learning the given skill.
    A newer dancer, once they realize how complex the skill actually is, will likely get de-motivated! So, for their sake, too, it’s just better to do the teaching in a more helpful environment.
    The other side of that, I think, is that there can be a really thin line between teaching and criticizing, especially during a social dance with somebody one barely knows! People will likely see it as criticism of their style or way of doing the given skill, especially when one is not invited to teach or provides unsolicited “advice!”
    None of us want to criticize our dance partners’ skills, or have others talk bad about our own skills! So, it’s just wise to not go there at all!
    Lastly, I think it goes back to your first point in part 2: we usually have just about 5 minutes before we dance with other partners. 5 minutes is not enough time to begin explaining the beauty and intricacies of a cross body lead, or how to do a copa!!
    If one is going to be explaining to their dance partners at the social all evening how to do copas or other moves, then one might not find time to do their own dancing!
    So, the party or social is simply the wrong place to teach, especially for newer dancers. More experienced dancers might pick something, perhaps, but, it’s really wise to just let things go, and appreciate one’s partners as they are.
    I know a girl in another dance form, who used to hang onto her partners’ shoulders too much. So, guys would feel really pained sometimes when dancing with her. What happened is guys avoided her often, and she couldn’t understand why. Well, no body would critique her skill! That’s how important it was for guys not to criticize her. I think that went a bit too far, on reflection. It’s been a few years, but if I saw her again, I think I would help her correct her technique. But, it illustrates how important it is sometimes to not critique people, least they misunderstand it, especially when it’s just for fun.

  • David Sander says:

    Much of this is good advice. I initially pestered women for dances without realizing that it was a negative. Eventually I hit upon the fact that agreement is the best thing and getting rejected was unwise so I try to be sensitive to people and usually don’t approach someone a second time for a dance after they have turned me down. If you can answer questions on the dance floor without stopping, that is better than more obvious teaching. I do have some open minded follows who are actually professional performers or ballerinas dance with me who desire to hear about Salsa and how to do the moves better. I tell them a useful minimum of the primary mistakes often made by performance dancers as encouragement since they know Dance is complex. But you do want any comments to be a positive experience! It IS social dancing! One additional parting cue on leaving the dance floor is to say thanks and then head off in another direction. If I walk off the floor in the same direction, some sensitive females pick this up as attempting a relationship or wanting to talk and this is a common cultural mistake many non-dancers make in assuming a relationship from seeing people dance. Last, do dance with beginners but also make them feel good about dance, hold the number of missed turns to a minimum and some will be so over whelmed that they will need to work only on their steps. Recognizing this is where an experienced lead is really helpful and you can tell them you had your scary first day on the dance floor too. Dance doesn’t survive if old dancers don’t teach and encourage new dancers to have patience and learn how to dance.

  • Fred says:

    If I might add one tip, kind of. There’s an important theory in psychology by Albert Bandura. It deals with, among other things, learning, failure, success, and motivation.
    It suggests that we are motivated to continue learning and exploring when we succeed, and de-motivated when we fail, especially when we fail badly!
    One of the pitfalls of teaching during social dancing, especially to a complete beginner is that when they fail they’ll likely get de-motivated. I see it a lot, people try things that are way above their skill level the first time, fail, and don’t come back.
    That’s one of the main reasons we actually do a disservice to learners when we try to pump them with skills beyond their level. To those of us who have danced a bit, it looks “easy” but it isn’t to learners.
    I see people trying to do CBL-inside turns, before they even know a CBL or inside turn, or even the basic mambo step, for example.
    It’s nice to teach and spread the dance, but if we don’t do it well we actually turn people off the dance. It’s very hard to get back somebody who’s had a devastating failure to try a task again.

  • Ohio Salsa says:

    Idiots guide? Nice title….does that make you Einstein ? or does it imply we are all Idiots except you?

    You Say:

    I’m a fairly easy going guy but when this happens I feel like rolling up my sleeves and unleashing pure, unadulterated fury on the idiot who just did the salsa equivalent of “cutting me off”. REALLY ?….

    For me, especially when I was new… asking a girl to dance was huge, and for her to say yes was so exciting I was more focused on getting her a safe space to dance and staying in rythym….Sorry if no one noticed “Your highness” and didn’t realize who you were…(maybe get a VIP T-shirt) so we all know….smh…..

    You Say”

    Otherwise you’ll have an angry Irishman to deal with. Really…. who the hell are you? God’s gift to the Latin dance community ? …..So now a long with knowing the musicality, trying to stay in step, remembering to make her feel wonderful, I have to think about a some self-absorbed elitist dancer guy getting pissed enough to throw blows?….

    It is obvious by your RANT that you have lost that “new person” aura the excitement of dancing the fun feeling we get especially if she’s a cutie/handsome person…go back and look at old posts if they are available of yourself as a new person……..look at the kinds of comments you made back then…….then fast forward to this piece of work…

    You are a perfect example of someone I don’t ever want to turn out like….thanks for the example of a dancer turned snob…..

    • Lovely comment. You don’t know me “bro” but feel free to ask someone who does and ask if I’m a snob… then you can write your apology here.
      Thanks luv… hugs and kisses.

      P.S. cool email address… I admire it when trolls are brave enough to admit who they are 😉

  • Bachatababy says:

    Well I do know you sort of. You asked me to dance about 3 months ago at an event we both attended. I thought wow finally a good lead….Sadly I ended up feeling like most girls do with advanced dancers…You barely smiled and never looked at me..(is it because I’m not super model thin?) . When you did look at me it was because I missed your double turn. You seemed pre occupied with who was watching or how you looked, I felt like I could have been anybody , the dance was about the great Richie. I will have to side with the other guy on this one….your behavior and posts alienate new people….

    Ill pass on your dance, maybe you should only dance with pros, or have them read your rules first….huge disappointment. btw I’m the girl with the purse….

    • Yeah I do actually remember you but more so I remember that night. It was one of my last nights out social dancing this year. That was a particularly bad week (out of an exceptionally difficult year) for me personally and I thought going dancing would take my mind off things. It was a huge mistake and I’m sure my mood was passed onto whoever I danced with that night. Still though, it’s no excuse. I’m very sorry for that dance and if it made you feel bad. It had nothing to do with you (and I’m not into stick thin girls… just to be clear).
      I’m sorry and I’m writing this here in the hopes that you’ll read it.

      P.S. Don’t worry about be not making eye contact… it’s something I’ve never been able to do when dancing and something I’m pretty self-conscious about. I’m not a pro, a competitor or an instructor… I just like to dance, like the majority of people who read this blog, just like you. Unfortunately, writing publicly means everyone gets to call me out on every mistake I make.

  • Mick from Australia says:

    Given Ohio Salsa’s vitriol, I might comment on cultural differences which in this article has so enraged.

    Richie is Irish, and in the UK and Australia his choice of words would not be offensive. From experience, in North America such words create immediate offence. We would call it being “thin skinned” and so the cultural wars rage.

    The blog comments on this site are filled with angry responses. Cultural context and differences might be worth considering before a rant.

    P.S. From a tourist’s perspective, I might give the state of Ohio a wide berth.

    P.P.S. That is Australian humour, so apologies in advance.

  • David Sander says:

    My start into dancing in 2005 came with several objectives in mind, I wanted to learn something new, didn’t want to get old too fast, and I wanted to improve my social skills. I found a bunch of highly educated people in dance and of course some are partly into the autism spectrum, including me. Its hard for us to do the common appropriately timed smiles and eye contact, these common non-verbal skills are difficult for us to comprehend easily.
    So the concept is to improve social contact with people as a side issue while learning to dance. We have to learn to dance with our eyes and smiles as well as being good technical dancers and knowing how to ask for a dance in a way that makes others feel good. Many of us care a lot about the people we dance with, its just hard for us to express this in common nonverbal ways. One of my theories is that this difficult communication path is the source of a lot of shyness.
    Others should be willing to understand this and not construe it as rejection. That nonverbal separation is the invisible 500 pound gorilla in the room that keeps those on the autistic spectrum from achieving their full potential. There is further hope for improvement, some recent research suggests that taking high doses of Vitamin D3 improves brain function in this aspect. Since Vitamin D also reduces the number of falls in older adults, maybe it also improves our other movements!

    • I’ve always had a hard time with eye contact myself when dancing. It’s just something I need to work on and I might never get it down. I’ll definitely keep trying though.

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