A couple is embracing on the dance floor. The follow’s hips are swaying side to side as the lead signals just how to move. The music is deep and strong, pulsing through the dancers’ interpretations of rhythm, lyrics, and melody. The partners are in their own world; oblivious to the many other dancers around them in the dimly-lit and steamy room.


Is their dance Sensual, Sexual, or Sexy? What the answer is may have a large relationship to the respondent’s dance background, culture, and comfort level on the floor. For example, a Kizomba dancer will have a very different interpretation of these concepts than a Lindy Hopper. Latin dancers are frequently surprised at how sensitive West Coast Swing dancers are when it comes to expression on the dance floor.

Overall, however, “Sexy”, “Sensual” and “Sexual” are usually defined as the following:

  • Sexy: How someone moves their body and interprets the music while appearing desirous or attractive to the opposite (or same) gender.
  • Sensual: A generally desirable state of deep connection and trust between partners that is flirtatious, romantic, and ‘proper’ according to the dance’s etiquette.
  • Sexual: A generally undesirable state of expressing sexuality on the dance floor. Frequently equated with poor social dance etiquette, touching in inappropriate areas, a sexual gaze, or over-the-top sensual/sexual movements.

As a summary: Sensual is usually good, Sexual is usually bad, and Sexy is something a dancer is and inhabits on their own.

Recognizing Your Perceptions of Sensuality and Sexuality

It is important for dancers to recognize their unique vantage point when it comes to sensuality and sexuality.This can be influenced by many factors:

  • Their home dance style’s dance culture
  • Their own comfort level with sexiness
  • Their cultural environment
  • Their perceived understanding of the other dance

For example, Zouk and Kizomba often get branded as ‘sexual’ from some outside dance styles in North America. The closeness and body waves in the body core area frighten some people. Particularly for dances coming from an open-style embrace, these dances seem too ‘sexual’ for tastes. North American culture has a different attitude towards the core and midsection of the body than some other areas in the world. This is just a hypothesis, but it appears in North America that leg-emphasized dances (i.e. Tango) enjoy more of a ‘Sensual’ label than core-emphasized dances (i.e. Kiz/Zouk)

Dancers may also be projecting their own insecurities on another dance style. I felt deeply uncomfortable with the idea of being ‘Sexy’ for a long time, and found myself much quicker to judge ‘Sexy’ dances as ‘Sexual’ rather than ‘Sensual’ until I reached a greater feeling of comfort with my own body and movements.

Lastly, it is easy to pass an opinion on a dance without actually understanding the mechanics. Waltz is not exactly considered sexy, but has much more body contact in the hip region than many other dances that are considered much more sexual. A better bet is to take a class in the style, or experience a social dance with a higher-level dancer, to understand the base mechanics of what is going on in the dance.

Applying the Appropriate ‘Dance Etiquette” to Sensuality and Sexuality

One of the biggest confusions happens when dancers cross over, or newer dancers attempt to emulate something they have seen another couple do. For example, I am personally not considered a particularly sensual or sexy Zouk dancer, but the instant I cross into West Coast Swing I’m often told that I move very “sexily”. Further, many Lindy Hop dancers looking in on Kizomba may be turned off by its “sexuality”, whereas the Kizomba dancer may simply see what is happening as “sensual”.

It is possible to make any dance fit any ‘comfort level’ in terms of sensuality. A general rule of thumb: it is usually a safer bet to go with the lower comfort level.  It is also useful to remember that a bad experience is not necessarily representative of the larger dance community.

How to Avoid Being “Sexual”

  • Don’t hold someone closer than they feel comfortable with… if they’re tense, loosen up
  • Avoid positions that allow a partner to feel your ‘junk’, or that would put you in a position to feel theirs
  • Try not to hold too tightly
  • For the love of all that’s good, do not breathe heavily into, lick or otherwise assault their ear, face or neck.
  • Avoid roaming hands syndrome.
  • Avoid a piercing, heated stare that remains constant throughout the whole dance
  • Smile occasionally!

How to Embrace Your Inner “Sexy”

  • Use movements that feel good to you – what someone else does may not necessarily look right on your body
  • Be OK with messing up
  • Smile!
  • Listen to the music

How to Embrace Dance “Sensuality”

  • Listen to the music
  • Slow it down; let your partner catch and keep up with you
  • Smile
  • Focus most on your partner, and connecting your movements together
  • Be willing to experiment and make mistakes

Final Thoughts:

Never let a dance get away from you because it looks too ‘Sexual!’ Give it a chance, explore the culture of the dance, and recognize that you can adjust the level of sensuality in any dance to reflect what you are comfortable with 🙂