Ballroom Dance Etiquette by John Puskar
Line of Dance – Traveling dances such as the waltz and fox trot move counterclockwise around the dance floor. If you choose to do a slot dance such as swing or salsa when most of the couples are traveling around the dance floor, you should move to the center of the floor so that you don’t interfere with the line of dance.
Asking/Refusing a dance – For the most part, you should always accept when someone asks you to dance, unless you are sitting out the dance or don’t know the dance. If you refuse, it is common to provide an excuse (“I don’t know this dance” or “I am taking a break and sitting this one out.”) However, if you do refuse a dance because you are taking a break, it is extremely rude to then dance that same dance with someone else. Another acceptable reason (although one you should probably not voice) would be previous experience with a dancer who hurt or injured you in the past – politeness should not overweigh your safety. A smile and a kind word is helpful when asking someone to dance or when refusing to dance with someone. When asking for a dance, extend your hand to the person you want to dance with so that it is clear whom you are asking to dance. A simple “May I have this dance” or “do you Tango?” is a good way to extend an invitation. If the person is there with a partner, it is not necessary, and may even be considered rude, to ask the person’s partner if it is ok to dance with the other person – each person decides for themselves if they want to dance or not. If you ask someone to dance and that person says no, don’t take it personally. Although ballroom dancing is a great way to meet other people, someone may not know how to dance a particular dance. Some dancers will only dance with their dance partners. If you find that you are continually being turned down by other dancers, you may want to check your personal grooming or perhaps you need some help with your steps or leading technique.
Monopolizing dance partners – unless you’ve come with someone and agreed not to dance with anyone else, it is considered rude to monopolize dance partners, especially if the other person is dancing at a higher level than you. Typically, you should rotate partners and try to dance once with everyone at the dance.
Navigating the dance floor – It is the leader’s responsibility to watch the dancers nearby and steer your partner to avoid collisions. The follower can also keep an eye open and alert the leader of potential mishaps. If you bump into someone, smile and apologize. If the dance floor is really crowded, use common sense and be careful not to hog the dance floor or extend arms and legs too much. Aerials (in which one dancer’s feet completely leave the floor) are a no-no at most venues. Save those moves for dance competitions.
Practicing on the dance floor – when a dance is being held, the dance floor is not the place to be practicing dance steps and can create a safety hazard for dancers who are moving around the floor.
Entering and exiting the dance floor – the leader should always escort the follower onto and off the dance floor. When you enter the dance floor, merge into the other dancers with caution. Allow the dancers already on the floor to pass without interruption. Lead your partner facing front onto the dance floor: do not move backwards onto the floor. Always thank your partner for the dance after the dance is over.
Stopping on the dance floor – if you misstep, keep moving. Stopping on the dance floor can cause a collision with the other dancers. If you need to start over again, either move to the center of the floor or move off the floor and then re-enter.
Cutting across the dance floor or stopping to talk with someone – both of these behaviors are considered extremely rude and inconsiderate of other dancers. If you need to cross to the other side of the dance floor, walk around the outside of the dance area.
What to wear – check with the venue to see if they have a dress code. Some places require men to wear jackets and ties. Others prohibit jeans. Clothing should be comfortable and allow you to easily move your arms and legs. Be careful with scarfs, boas, beaded fringe etc that can get in the way when spinning or hurt other people. Ladies – leave your large-jeweled rings and necklaces at home as they can hurt your partners. Dance shoes are a must for wooden floors – athletic shoes or rubber-bottomed shoes will not allow your feet to move smoothly across the floor and can leave marks. Do not wear your dance shoes outside. When changing into your shoes, do it discretely and never put your street shoes on table tops.
Personal grooming – take care of your personal grooming before getting on the dance floor. Mouthwash, deodorant, and nicely styled hair all help to make a good impression. Remember to wash your hands after using the restroom. Go easy on the perfume and aftershave as some people are allergic to strong scents.
Be positive out on the dance floor – Introduce yourself to your partner. Smile and enjoy the dance. Now is not the time to “teach” the other person how to dance or criticize the person’s dancing ability. Don’t apologize for every mistake you make on the dance floor and don’t criticize your partner if he/she makes a mistake. If you enjoyed dancing with the person, be sure to thank the other dancer and say something like “please ask me to dance again.” If someone asks you to dance and you don’t know the steps, it’s generally not a good idea to ask that person to show you how to dance. Just politely say that you don’t know the dance but would like to dance another dance that you do know with that person.
No videotaping or cell phone usage in ballroom – Videotaping of dancers or taking their photos is extremely rude and not permitted in the ballroom. We also request that cell phones be used only in the front or back hallways. We are here to dance and socialize not look at our phones.