Social Dance Etiquette

Social dance events do not have the same atmosphere as the high school dances we all remember growing up (if we went to them!). There is an etiquette involved and you are encouraged to familiarize yourself with how to conduct yourself at a social dance.


  1. Try to be dry – if you tend to perspire, consider layering a cotton tee or tank under your main shirt and bring spares of both to change into, bring your deodorant/anti-perspirant, bring a hand towel or cloth (no one minds if you bring a little tote with these things, there are places to stash them)
  2. Take care to do some grooming beforehand – brush your teeth, bring gum/mints, wear clean clothes and be mindful of wearing clothes that might have smoke particles or animal fur clinging to them
  3. Allergy awareness – perfumes, colognes, aftershave, skin creams with fragrance can make physical contact unbearable for allergy sufferers. All our West Coast Swing London events promote a scent-free dance environment, please respect that part of being social is ensuring others get to enjoy the social aspect as well.


Being Social

  1. Ask others to dance, including strangers – whether you are a leader or follower, beginner or intermediate, engage others in the social aspect of “social dancing” by asking others to dance and by accepting a dance request (unless you need to decline, see below). It takes courage to ask strangers or newcomers to dance. Be courageous! It will make you a better dancer! Don’t forget to thank your partner for the dance.  If the person declined, gracefully accept a decline in not taking it personally and seek them out again later on, or at another event.
  2. Gracefully decline if you’re tired/injured/have shoes off/going to the bathroom/eating/just not up to it/don’t like the song or promised to dance to a particular song with another person. Invite the person asking to ask you again, or let them know that you will ask them for a dance as soon as you are both free. It would be poor etiquette to then accept a dance from someone else during the same song. As well, if anyone has a history of invading your personal space, dancing too forcefully, causing you pain, or monopolizing your time, you are not obligated to accept an invitation to dance with him/her. Etiquette strongly supports you in saying no if the person is dangerous, offensive or abusive (physically or verbally).
  3. Dance with lots of partners After each song, thank your partner, then find a new partner for the next song. This means that everyone gets a chance to dance and you get to experience dancing with partners of different skill levels and styles. Sometimes, it may make sense to dance a second song with the same partner – you may have started the first song in the middle, or you may be working on a move together – but try not to stay with one partner too long, since there are likely other partners that have been waiting to dance. Feel free to have another dance with favourite partners later in the dance.


On The Dance Floor

  1. Always dance at your partner’s level. If you are unfamiliar with your partner, start basic and work up. The goals are for both individuals to have fun and to dance together – not outdo anyone or to show off how much you know.
  2. While you are dancing, give your partner your full attention; look at them, smile at them, let them know when you appreciate something cool that they did.
  3. Please don’t criticize your dance partner or correct them on the dance floor. We all learn at different speeds and each of us has our own quirks and weaknesses; we need to remain supportive of one another. Know that your partner is doing the best that they can, and try to make their dance as enjoyable as possible. And don’t forget – it’s possible that the mistake was yours. However, if your partner is physically hurting you, you should let them know – as tactfully as possible. If they continue hurting you, it’s appropriate to stop dancing with them.
  4. NEVER offer instruction, unless your partner explicitly requests that you do so. (Do all instructing on the sidelines, by the way, never on the dance floor.)
  5. “Floor Craft” and space awareness – Floor craft is the term for how you maneuver around the dance floor. In order for a social dance to be enjoyable for all the participants, it’s crucial to be considerate and aware in your floor craft. You should be aware of where the other couples are around you, and do your best to avoid them. Leaders have some extra responsibility when it comes to floor craft. You must always look where you’re going – especially when moving backwards; check first to make sure that the area is clear. You’re also responsible for protecting your partners and always placing or leading them into safe space.
  6. Handling Collisions – When a collision does occur everyone involved should stop and apologize, regardless of whose “fault” the collision was. If someone has been stepped on or hurt, you should make certain that person is okay before you continue dancing. Sometimes people are not okay; in that case it’s very nice to help them off the floor and offer to get them ice or a drink of water.
  7. Dance to fit the conditions – When the floor is crowded, dance to fit the conditions. Show concern for others. Crowded floors require that both leaders and followers use controlled moves and small steps
  8. Please do not put wax or powder or any substances on the dance floor without express permission from the organizer. This includes not waxing or powdering the soles of your own shoes. This creates slippery spots on the dance floor and floors with uneven textures are far more dangerous than very slippery or very sticky floors. Not to mention it can directly affect the relationship with the venue which expects the floor to be left in the same condition as it was before the event.
  9. Dancing with someone LESS skilled than you – Be gracious – stick to stuff she or he can handle, and then, when you are comfortable with each other’s dancing (and only then), slip in something one degree harder (or maybe 2 things). Try coming back to that one or two things later in the dance to help your partner become more comfortable with them; don’t push it if they’re struggling. Never over-dance your partner’s capabilities. Always try to make your partner look and feel like a terrific dancer.
  10. Dancing with someone MORE skilled than you – First, take a deep breath and relax as much as possible; this will make everything easier. Concentrate, smile, and do your best. Suppress the urge to apologize. Don’t worry if you mess up things – even the best dancers make mistakes – just smile and move on. It’ll get easier every time! Remember, every advanced dancer has been exactly where you are now and each of them was helped along by dancers more skilled than themselves.
  11. If your partner is physically hurting you, you should stop dancing for a moment, and say something like “I’m sorry, but you are holding my hand a little tightly. Could we try it again?” Usually your partner will be unaware that they’re hurting you and will be anxious to correct the problem. If you receive an inconsiderate response, or your partner seems unwilling to modify their behavior, it’s appropriate to stop dancing and head for the sidelines — even if it’s the middle of a song. Say something along the lines of, “Gee, my shoulder is really hurting. I’d like to stop now.” if you are timid or, if you are more straightforward, “Excuse me, but you’ve hurt my arm. I’m going to stop now.” And then walk away — it’s not a discussion; it’s not a negotiation; and you do not need permission or approval from the offender to stop dancing with him/her. Social dancing should never be physically painful or dangerous.


**Adapted from Social Dance Etiquette / How To Be A Successful Dance Partner from Vermont Swings.