Dance Etiquette: 20 Tips for Social Dancing

Updated on February 27, 2018
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Anya is a professional dance teacher in Oakland. She works with singles and couples, and regularly goes out social dancing in nightclubs.

Keep it classy when you're out dancing by following the correct social dance eitquette.
Keep it classy when you're out dancing by following the correct social dance eitquette.

Why Is Dance Etiquette Important?

Social dance etiquette is important because:

  • It helps you fit in with the social dance crowd and makes social interactions easier
  • It helps you keep the peace and avoid getting into conflicts with other dancers
  • It helps you avoid offending or upsetting your partner and other dancers
  • It helps you avoid looking like a jerk
  • It shows that you care about and respect other people there
  • It makes you a more desirable dance partner
  • It helps ensure your evening/event goes more smoothly
  • It helps you build a good reputation for yourself, both as a person and as a dancer

Keep it classy when you're out dancing by following the correct social dance eitquette tips listed here.

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Don't teach, critique or correct your partner if he or she makes a mistake in a social dance situation.
Don't teach, critique or correct your partner if he or she makes a mistake in a social dance situation.

Tip #1: Don't Teach, Correct or Critique Your Partner's Dancing

The time you should teach, correct or critique your partner's dancing is during a dance lesson. Unless someone hired you to be his/her dance teacher, you should not be telling them what to do on the dance floor.

I'm a professional dance teacher, but I don't go around teaching people or telling them what to do when I'm in a salsa club or other social dance situation. And of all people, I'm the most qualified to be going around telling people what to do (because it's literally my job and what I get paid to do on a daily basis), but I don't do it when I'm out social dancing. This means that you reading this (whoever you are), should definitely not be going around teaching people.

In general, if you're in a social dance situation, meaning that you're at a night club, dance studio practice party, dance festival, etc. the purpose of going is to relax and have fun. You should not get worked up or upset that your partner isn't as good as you'd like them to be. Just be polite, take it down a notch, dance out the rest of the song, thank them for the dance, then go home and scream into a pillow if needed.

Realistically speaking, the music is too loud and it's too crowded for your patner to figure out what you're trying to tell him/her to do. In addition, you can't explain much in a 3-5 minute song, so all you'll accomplish is frustrating your partner and leaving them insulted.

Don't Expect Your Partner To Teach Your How to Dance
Don't Expect Your Partner To Teach Your How to Dance

Tip #2: Don't Expect Your Partner to Teach You How to Dance

The purpose of social dancing is to go out and have fun. Just like how it's rude and not nice to teach or correct your partner while social dancing, you should also not show up expecting strangers and random people to teach you how to dance.

If you want to learn how to dance, go to a lesson/class, that's what it's there for. Nightclubs and parties are for you to practice what you've learned, they're not classes. Yes, they might have a group class or two at the beginning of the night, but not all night.

Don't expect random people to offer you free dance lessons in the middle of the dance floor. It's borderline rude and presumptious to expect a random stranger to be your personal dance teacher.

People who go to dance are there to dance and have fun, they're not there to work or teach classes. You might be able to have them show you the basic step just so you can get through one song together, but don't expect any more than that.

I occasionally get beginners or new dancers asking me to dance or help them when they hear that I'm a dance teacher. If they are genuinely interested in learning how to dance, but might be feeling very shy and self-conscious about it, I might show them the basic and do some backleading so we could dance one song together. If they tell that they're interested in learning more, I'll give them my website, business card or phone number so they can contact me and come in for lessons during normal business hours.

In general, if you really want to learn how to dance, either go to the group class at the beginning of the night or sign up for dance lessons at your local studio

Don't Hit on a Woman by Asking Her to Teach You How to Dance
Don't Hit on a Woman by Asking Her to Teach You How to Dance

Tip #3: Don't Hit on a Woman by Asking Her to Teach You How to Dance

If you're a guy, don't try to hit on a girl/woman by asking her to teach you how to dance. Instead, take some group classes or private lessons, learn how to dance properly, then come back and show her what you know; that's much more impressive. If you don't know how to dance, but are romantically interested in a woman who is really good dancer, I suggest that you stick with showcasing your charming and fun personality by offering to buy her a drink and engaging her in conversation instead.

In addition, most women don't know how to explain the guy's part because it's the man's responsibility to lead the woman and spin and twirl her around and it can be hard for her to figure what you need to do in order to get her through different moves.

Don't squeeze the life out of your partner!
Don't squeeze the life out of your partner!

Tip #4: Don't Squeeze Your Partner's Hand

Squeezing your partner is an issue for both men and women. Don't make your partner feel like you're holding him/her hostage because you're worried that they'll run off on you, not to mention the fact that it's uncomfortable and impractical for dancing.

Ladies, you don't need to hold onto your partner for dear life, he's not going anywhere. Just relax and trust him to do the right thing. When you hold onto him too tight, it hurts his hand, strains his shoulder, and makes it a lot harder to do his job.

Gentlemen, same thing, you're only creating more work for yourself and hurting your partner when you squeeze her hand or hold her really tight. I understand that sometimes you need to grab onto your partner in order to avoid a collision with another person/couple on the dance floor, but that's a dance emergency/safety issue. The rest of the time, you should be able to hold onto your partner without making her feel like you're trying to break her hand or prove how strong you are.

You don't need to prove what a big strong man you are by throwing your partner around and being super rough dancing with her
You don't need to prove what a big strong man you are by throwing your partner around and being super rough dancing with her

Tip #5: Don't Be Rough With Your Partner

Leaders, don't feel that you need to whip your partner around in order to dance with them.

Yes, I understand that some women are "heavy" or otherwise difficult follows and hard to move around either because they're too tight or too loose with their frame and don't respond to your leads

However, there are other women who are perfectly fine with their frame/responsiveness, so don't go swinging around every woman who dances with you without first gauging her ability to follow.

A lot of times men are too rough because they have bad timing and start their moves too late so the woman doesn't have enough time to respond and the man's incorrect solution is to force her through it instead. Another big reason for men dancing too rough is because they don't realize that they can use a much smaller, but more concentrated and better directed pressure in order to get the same result.

Dancing doesn't have to be this borderline violent show of your physical prowress and virility; you're trying to dance with your partner, not wrestle her!

However, if still you feel like you can't dance with a woman without throwing her around, I suggest you take some private dance lessons with a professional dance teacher and ask him/her to asses your leading skills and give you some advice on how to better dance with your partner in a more gentle but effective way.

You have a right to tell your partner when he/she is hurting you
You have a right to tell your partner when he/she is hurting you

Tip #6: Tell Your Partner If They're Hurting You

Generally, you don't want to be telling your partner what to do. The only exception to this is matters of personal comfort and safety: if your partner is squeezing your hand too tight or being too rough dancing with you, then you can politely ask them to stop doing that so you're comfortable.

Usually people are responsive to these kinds of requests and will adjust their dancing accordingly. However, there are some people who will get really offended, so if it's a matter of personal safety/risk of injury (because the guy is whipping you around and hurting you), then you have a right to politely excuse yourself from the rest of the dance in order to avoid getting hurt or injured.

Don't grope your partner!
Don't grope your partner!

Tip #7:Don't Grope Your Partner

It's in bad taste to use dancing as excuse to feel up or grope a woman on the dance floor "accidentally" and then getting all offended when she gets mad. I mean it's like come on, really?

You should never touch a woman's breasts, butt, crotch or any other private place. If you're interested in a woman romantically, be a gentleman about it and don't take any liberties with her body or act like you've already slept together.

Being touchy-feely and making your partner uncomfortable is a sure way to turn off your partner, make her not to want to dance with you, and show to other women who might be watching that you can't be trusted to keep your hands to yourself.

Tip #8: Don't Backlead

Raise your hand if you absolutely love having a backseat driver in the car anytime you drive somewhere, especially when you know where you're going and how to drive! Backleading is exactly the same thing when it comes to dancing.

If you're a lady/follower, don't backlead! I've had lots of men complain to me about women who backlead because it makes it incredibly difficult to dance with them, since they are the ones deciding on the moves and yanking the guy around to do them. In addition, it interferes with the guys attempts to lead you through something that he knows, because you might end up doing something else than what he wanted when you go around guessing what's coming up next.

A lot of dance moves are similar but have diffierent variations, endings, or ways that you can pair them together. Never assume that just because you did x,y,z in that order in your group class or private lesson, that every guy you dance with is going to do x,y,z too. He might be go x, d, h; or whatver else. So wait for the guy to lead you and not try to guess or decide ahead of time what he's going to do next.

In addition, he may know some moves that you don't, which is perfectly fine and actually normal. No one can know all of the moves and just because he does something different than what you're used to doing, or haven't done before, doesn't mean that it's wrong. Dancing should be treated as discovery process, learning and seeing new things along the way.

Finally, it's very disheartening for the guy when the woman backleads because it shows that she doesn't think that he knows what he's doing, or that she doesn't trust him to do it correctly, or that he can't keep her entertained with his choice of moves; so she does it for him since he's not capable of doing it himself.

Tip #9: Don't Dance Above Your Partner's Skill Level

This one is especially true for guys. If you are dancing with a woman who is a beginner or not as advanced as you, then adjust your dancing accordingly. It's bad dance manners to try and lead your partner through a bunch of moves that she doesn't know, has difficulty following, and leaves her feeling confused.

You should start out with easier steps at the beginning if you are dancing with someone for the first time, then gradually increase the difficulty level until you feel that you've matched your partner's skill level.

Gauge your partner's skill level by looking at how comfortable she feels. Signs of a woman in over her head include: facial expressions and looks of terror and confusion as you lead her through different moves, frowning, lots of mistakes, difficulty with timing, tripping, missed transitions, and other obvious signs that she's got no idea what you're doing.

So don't be a jerk about it and continue dragging through it when she's clearly not able to keep up. The best leaders are the one who are able to dance with women of a variety of skill levels and show them all a good time, not matter how inexperienced or advanced they are.

So take it down a notch (or twelve) and remember that you're there to have fun, not prove to your partner that you are the best dancer who ever lived, and that she should be grateful to have had an opportunity to experience your amazing talents!

Smile at your partner and try to look happy
Smile at your partner and try to look happy

Tip #10: Smile and Look Happy

Try and smile and look happy while dancing with your partner.

No, this doesn't mean have the most gigantic serial killer smile you can think of and stare down your partner like some kind of maniac.

What I mean, is have a pleasant expression on your face and don't go around frowning. If your partner does something fun that you really like, you can give them a nice big smile.

In general, you just want to look happy-ish, but within reason, like a normal person. You're supposed to be having fun, remember? So please, try and look like it.

You want to make some eye contact with your partner
You want to make some eye contact with your partner

Tip #11: Make Eye Contact

It's important to make regular eye contact with your partner.

No, this doesn't mean stare them down.

Once again, we're trying to keep it within reason here.

A good tip is just to look at your partner's face, and then meet their eyes every once in a while. Just think of eye contact as a way of checking in with your partner while you're dancing. It's a really good way to communicate how you're feeling, without having to say anything. Yay, non-verbal communication!

You don't want to blantly ignore your partner or avoid looking at them because that's kind of rude, not to mention it makes it more difficult to dance because you can miss out on a lot of visual cues/leads on what to do next.

As a man, it's extra important to look at your partner for safety reasons, so you can always tell what's going on with her and be a more effective leader.

You want to look at your partner and pay attention to what they're doing when you're dancing with them
You want to look at your partner and pay attention to what they're doing when you're dancing with them

Tip #12: Pay Attention to Your Partner

Pay attention to your partner and what they're doing. Dancing is a pretty involved activity, you can't just be zoning out while you're dancing with someone and expect everything to go perfectly. This is important for both men and women.

Paying attention to your partner serves two purposes:

1) It shows that you're present/involved/care about them and respect them

2) It makes it really clear what to do next and helps you avoid making unnecessary mistakes since you're not zoned out

Just think of it as a conversation, it flows much better when both parties are paying attention instead of going "uh-huh" at each other. And just like a conversation, it's really rude and annoying when the other person is zoned out and not paying attention at all to what's going on.

Don't treat the dance floor as your own personal stage and expect everyone else to get out of the way.
Don't treat the dance floor as your own personal stage and expect everyone else to get out of the way.

Tip #13: Don't Take up Too Much Room

If you're out dancing, you should mind your space and avoid taking up too much room. It's very rude and dangerous to go around doing huge moves, traveling excessively, and bumping into other people as a result of that. Yes, accidents and collisions do happen on the dance floor, especially when it's crowded. However, you should not treat the place as your own personal stage and expect that everyone get out of the way and clear the room for you.

If the place is crowded, try to do moves that are more compact or in place so you don't travel quite as much and aren't as likely to bump into other people.

If you're a lady, avoid doing any arm styling that can get in the way of other people and don't assume that it's the guy's responsibility to make sure everything goes smoothly. Don't hurl yourself around the dance and expect the guy to do damange control for you.

Always apologize whenever you bump into or step on someone.
Always apologize whenever you bump into or step on someone.

Tip #14: Apologize If You Bump Into or Step on Someone

You should always try and apologize if you bump into or step on someone while social dancing. This can be your partner or another person or another couple.

It's extra important to do this if you full-on collide with someone else or if hear someone say "OWW!"

Don't be a jerk about it.

If you're bumping into other people a lot, take it down a notch with your dancing and try to make it more compact.

If other people are bumping into you, or if it's the same people over and over, try and find another spot on the dance floor away from them.

Don't do crazy moves or tricks when you're out social dancing.
Don't do crazy moves or tricks when you're out social dancing.

Tip #15: Don't Do Crazy Moves

Save your drops, lifts, flips and crazy tricks for dance competitions and performances. Because social dance settings to be pretty crowded with a mix of different skill levels, it's dangerous and impractical to be going around doing crazy stuff.

And never do lifts or other tricks with partners that you've never danced with before in a social setting. If you want to do them, get some studio and practice them there, but don't be pulling that stuff on unsuspecting partners!

Dip responsibly when out dancing socially
Dip responsibly when out dancing socially

Tip #16: Dip Carefully

Be very careful when dipping your partner, especially if you're on a crowded dance floor.

Always try to hold onto your partner with both hands, keep her close, and don't dip her too low.

Don't surprise her with a dip either in the middle of the dance because she might lose her balance and fall down. Always try and come to a stop before dipping your partner.

Most importantly, look before you dip!

One time a guy dipped me on top of another woman that was being dipped by her partner by me.

Another time I saw two woman have their heads crash into each other because two different guys were dipping them low without looking around them.

I've also had a friend be dipped so low that the back of her head hit the floor and she ended up with a concussion.

So in conclusion, dipping your partner doesn't make you look cool if you can't do it safely. When in doubt, don't dip at all.

Don't dance when you're drunk
Don't dance when you're drunk

Tip #17: Don't Dance When You're Drunk

Dancing when you're drunk is dangerous because your coordination is impared, balance is off, and decision making skills are compromised.

It's okay to have one or two drinks, but if you're full-on drunk, blacking out, or wasted, stay away from the dance floor!

This is especially important if you're a guy because you will end up crashing into other people, yanking your partner around, and making a lof mistakes.

For women, you can get dizzy and fall down easily, especially during spins or if you're wearing heels you can twist your ankle.

And for any sober person dancing with you, they're going to have a really hard time, because most people tend to be very obnoxious when they're drunk.

Long story short, be responsible when drinking and dancing and don't go on the dance floor if you can't dance safely.

Don't be making out all over the place
Don't be making out all over the place

Tip #18: Don't Makeout on the Dance Floor

I understand that things happen: you meet someone you really like and look where the night goes! You're a hot date and had a few too many drinks and now you can't keep your hands off each other.

You're in love...lust...he's so hot....she's so sexy....look at those abs....look at those lips!

We get it. We just don't want to see it.

If you want to get hot and heavy, I suggest you take it off of the dance floor and go somewhere else. When you're making out and standing still in the middle of a room full of people spinning around and doing fancy dance moves, you're viewed as an obstacle which makes it difficult for other people who have to dance around you and it also makes it easy for people to bump into you since you're not paying attention to what's going on around you.

This is especially true if you're at a venue with serious dancers, a family/daytime event in a park outside or something, or a dance studio. If you're at a place that's more of a bar/nightclub/drinking sort of place and there's literally 20 people making out and grinding up on each other, fine, that's a different story. Just be mindful of the people around you.

Be a gentleman and escort your lady onto the dance floor.
Be a gentleman and escort your lady onto the dance floor.

Tip #19: Escort Your Partner on & Off the Dance Floor

Gentlemen, please escort your lady onto the dance floor and find a good spot to dance in. Hold her by her hand, or gently guide with your arm around her back if it is crowded, as you escort her. Do not drag her behind or walk off ahead without her.

Once the dance is finished, escort her back off of the dance floor to her seat.

If you found her in the middle of the dance floor, you can escort her to the side of the room or leave her on the dance floor if you see that she's on the lookout for another partner nearby.

Always thank your partner.
Always thank your partner.

Tip #20: Thank Your Partner

Always thank your partner for the dance at the end of the song and be polite about it.

If you are escorting your partner off the dance floor, you can thank them once you've finished walking them back.

If you are leaving your partner on the dance floor, make sure you thank him/her before you walk away.

If you really enjoyed dancing with each other, you can hug your partner or give them a kiss on the cheek if you sense that they also had a really great time.

If you didn't like the dance, try and still be as pleasant as possible and don't be rude about it. You don't have to dance with him/her again if you didn't like it. Don't be a jerk and just walk off at the end of the song, it's very awkward for your partner.

Final Thoughts

This list is an on-going process as new ideas and suggestions are included, so check back regularly to see what else is added to the list.

I hope that these tips help you navigate the social dance world and let you have a good time.

Happy dancing!

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