So, you’re ready to start social dancing! Maybe you’ve taken a few classes, or perhaps you have a friend who is dragging you out one night this week. Whatever the reason, I hope you have an awesome time.
Before you go social dancing, let me help you understand what you should think about before you hit the dance floor.
If it’s your 1st time Dancing
If you have never danced before, try to find a venue that has a free class beforehand. It makes it significantly easier to meet other people and to navigate the dance floor.
Or, go with a friend who can help you at the beginning of the social. Even if they’re not an official teacher, they may be able to help you get your feet wet. But, remember that they may not have the expertise to teach as effectively as an established teacher.
You might be feeling a bit nervous about having to dance with other people – especially if it’s a stranger. That’s fine, and normal. Experienced dancers get nervous, too. The more you dance, the less nerves you will have.
I always think the bravest people at the social are beginners, since they very often don’t know many people and are trying to get this whole dancing thing under control.
If you have a friend, ask them for a warm-up dance. If you’re flying solo, look for people who aren’t dancing much. Many of them may also be nervous. Sometimes, there’s also a free lesson before. These can be a great place to meet other beginners. These are very good people to ask to dance.
Depending on the style of dance you do, there may be certain ‘rules’ about asking or being asked to dance. For example, most Tango scenes expect the leader to do the asking by making eye contact. A follower accepts the invitation by nodding their head once, while making eye contact. That means you don’t even verbally ask for the dance.
Most other scenes are open to either the leader or the follower verbally asking for a dance, but there are some scenes where it’s still more common for the leader to ask. Keep in mind that in some scenes, especially swing or blues dancing, just sticking your hand out and not verbally asking is rude.
If you’re in doubt, follow the example you see from more experienced dancers.
Leading or Following?
In most places, most women predominantly follow and most men predominantly lead. That doesn’t mean you have to. You’re allowed to dance whatever role you would like to.
Keep in mind that if you’re dancing in a non-traditional role, you will have to be more proactive about asking to dance. Most experienced dancers will assume that you dance in the ‘traditional’ role until they see otherwise. There may also be some dancers who refuse to dance with you if you are not dancing in the ‘traditional’ role.
Saying ‘No’ to a Dance
Other dancers are allowed to say ‘no‘ when you ask them to dance. You are also allowed to say ‘no’ if you don’t want to dance. It doesn’t matter what the reason is; you are always allowed to do this.
Some scenes may have a ‘never say no’ policy. What they are trying to do is make the scene welcoming by creating a supportive culture. Sometimes this backfires, and makes people accept dances they don’t want or that they don’t feel comfortable with. I prefer to think of these policies as a well-intentioned guideline rather than a rule.
Even if your scene has a ‘never say no’ policy, you should still keep your right to decline. But, try to be kind about it. Faux-pas include saying ‘no’, and immediately dancing with someone else. Technically you’re allowed to, but it can make the person you said ‘no’ to feel very bad.
Saying ‘No’ to a Move
If you are following, you have the right to not do things in the dance that make you feel uncomfortable. This includes specific moves, close hold, dips, drops, fingers holding your hands too tight, and anything else. If a leader doesn’t realize they’re making you uncomfortable, use your voice to ask nicely. If they refuse to listen, leave the dance. Give the same consideration to your lead as well.
If you are leading, you usually have more control over the direction of the dance. You are also allowed to say ‘no’ if something makes you uncomfortable, but you have to be extra sensitive to the fact that the follower usually has less choice. If a follower doesn’t do something, do not force the movement. It doesn’t matter why they didn’t follow.
How Many Songs?
Each scene will have a general ‘average’ number of songs to dance with a partner. Generally speaking, dancing fewer songs than the average means you weren’t well connected with your partner. Dancing more than the average means you had a really nice time. While there are some ‘standards,’ local scenes frequently have variations.
In many Swing, Bachata, and Salsa scenes, the standard number of dances is usually 1-2 songs. Usually, if partners really like each other, they’ll ask for more at the end – or ask again later in the evening.
In Brazilian Zouk, the most standard number I’ve seen is 1-2 songs. But, it’s generally acceptable to dance more than that. I’ve had really good dances last close to an hour.
In Tango, the standard is a ‘Tanda,’ or set of 3-4 songs separated by a musical break. If you don’t dance the full Tanda, it’s rude. So, if you’re not sure if you want to dance a while, ask during the 2nd or 3rd song.
In Kizomba, it’s generally a minimum of 2, or until you get sick of each other. Generally speaking, leaving a dance after only one song means that you weren’t a fan of your partner’s dancing.
Keep in mind that most instructors will stick to 1 song, or the average. This is usually because they’re trying to dance with as many people as possible during an evening. There are also some regions where dancing a lot of songs with one person indicates that you are closer than just dance partners (for example, Salsa or Bachata in many South American countries).
Dealing with Bad Actors
Although most of the people you will meet at a social are good-hearted, you may encounter a ‘bad actor’ from time to time. Bad actors are people who behave inappropriately with other dancers.
This isn’t a synonym for awkward. Awkward people can be bad actors – but so can charismatic or strong dancers. Sometimes they may also be referred to as ‘creeps’.
Bad actors can be male or female, and they may use a lot of different behaviors. Some are just irritating, and others should be avoided as much as possible. Most experienced dancers know which people are bad actors, and tend to stay away from them. But, when you’re new, it can be hard to tell who – or what behavior – is unacceptable.
If anyone tries to make you take drugs or alcohol, touches you inappropriately or uncomfortably, follows you to a room or car, or makes sexual comments that you don’t want, immediately say something. If they won’t stop the behavior, tell one of the organizers. This is not what you should be experiencing during social dances.
It is wrong. Your newness to the scene doesn’t excuse this behavior. I’m not saying this to scare you, but so that you’re aware that it is certainly not ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ in the context of social dance. Anyone who tells you otherwise is sadly misguided.
Hygiene and Clothing
Make sure you are a pleasant dance partner. Be clean, and wear deodorant. Avoid heavy perfumes. Bring breath mints or gum. If you sweat a lot, bring extra clothes to change into. Always.
You should also consider the type of dance you’re doing. Some dances are OK in tight skirts or dresses. Others don’t work so well. If you are dancing a cardio dance (Lindy, Salsa, etc), you would be advised to wear lighter clothing that won’t cause you to overheat. If you wear skirts or dresses, get booty shorts. It will save you worlds of embarrassment down the line. For women, test to make sure that your top will ‘stay put’ when you start moving.
Some venues have different dress codes, too. For example, a Salsa nightclub vs. an in-studio social may have very different standards of dress.
If you wear jewelry, be careful. Rings tend to hurt your partner’s hands. Depending on the dance, earrings can get yanked or caught in hair. Long necklaces can whip you in the face.
It may be hard to believe, but almost no one is actually watching you at the social. So, have fun! Ask people to dance, don’t dwell on the ‘no’s, and be prepared to enter an awesome community.