Cyra’s Handy “FAQs About Social Partner Dancing” Sheet
* Injury can occur during any activity, including dancing. For medical advice, please contact a doctor.
What is social partner dancing?
- Social partner dancing includes non-competitive Waltz, East Coast Swing, Salsa, Cha, Mambo, Samba, Rumba, Lindy, Foxtrot, Merengue, Tango, Contra, Square, Balboa, Nightclub Two Step, Balero, Country Two Step, Bachata, Cajun Two Step, Kizomba, West Coast Swing, Zouk, Polka, Quickstep, and many other dances and variations.
What's the deal with gender?
- In the mainstream contemporary United States, depictions of partner dancing usually show a man leading and a woman following and don’t depict nonbinary folks at all. However, many dancers participate in open-role, same-gender, and role-reverse dancing. The way gender functions in dancing changes over time and place. When I started leading in the early 2000s, I would often be the only woman on the floor doing so, but currently that is rarely the case.
- Some dancers, regardless of gender, only lead or only follow. When I go dancing, some songs I lead, some songs I follow, and sometimes I start a song leading and then give the lead to my dance partner, or start the song following and my dance partner gives me the lead mid-way through.
- If you are discouraged from open-role dancing at any venue, please let me know. It happens infrequently, but when it does, I try to help remedy the situation if I can. I love dancing, and don't want (cis/mono/hetero)sexism to take the fun out of it for anyone.
What if I can’t learn the steps or move in the way others are?
- I believe social partner dancing is for everyone who is respectful of other dancers and wants to join in, whatever one’s experience, coordination, or unique attributes. Not everyone agrees with me and sometimes I run into snobby dancers or dance scenes, but I believe that is not in the spirit of social dancing. I’m not alone in saying that I would much rather dance with someone focusing on learning the basic step in a way that works for their body and mine, than someone doing fancy moves in a disrespectful or unsafe way.
Who will I dance with?
- Over the course of an event, I dance with many different people, regardless of their demographics (including gender, sexuality, and experience).
- If you only want to dance with one person all night, if you stay physically connected between dances (holding hands, for instance), it will help suggest to other dancers that you already have a partner for the next dance, so you don’t have to keep declining dance invitations.
- Leaders often do the asking, but not always, so the best way to find a dance partner, no matter what role you are dancing, is to ask someone to dance! You could say something like, “Would you like to dance?” or “Are you interested in leading this dance?”
- Don't ask the same person to dance too many times (unless you're good friends). Give everyone a chance to dance with many partners.
- No one is ever required to dance with another person or to explain themselves for declining a social dance. That being said, it can be a lot of fun to dance with a new person (including folks who are far more or less experienced) and it’s a great way to learn more about the language of social dance! And if it’s not fun, the song will be over shortly. Very rarely, I have stopped dancing mid-song, so that option is always available, as well. Dancing should be fun and safe, so if someone who makes you feel unsafe asks you to dance, decline their invitation (and if you still feel unsafe, please alert the organizers of the event).
- Sometimes I would like to accept an invitation to dance, but there are extenuating circumstances, so I try to communicate that. Some examples might be: "I need a breather, how about the next song?" "I don't know this dance, would you like to teach me or catch the next one instead?" "I'm dancing the lead part for this song, but thank you for asking!" "Since we just danced that last song, let's catch another one later." Then I ask that person to dance later, since they may feel shy asking again.
How will I learn the steps?
- Many social dance events include a short beginner lesson. This is a great way to learn some basic steps, as well as meet other dancers.
- Some people find that they can learn many social dances right on the dance floor, especially if they have other dance experience.
- Many dance studios offer drop-in, progressive, and private lessons in many different dance styles. Not all studios are the same, there are various styles, attitudes, techniques, focuses, and pricing. Most instructors at studios are formally trained ballroom dancers.
- I’ll teach you! I'm happy to help you with the basics if we meet on the social dance floor. I also teach beginner social partner dance lessons (group and private) upon request. I believe social dancing should be accessible to everyone, build community and communication skills, and be fun. My approach is based on those concepts, over 20 years of experience and a love of social partner dancing, and formal training in various other dance and movement styles. Or, if you are looking for someone formally trained in ballroom dancing, I'm happy to recommend someone.
What should I wear?
- I wear clothing and shoes that allow me to move without getting in the way of others. I spin around a few times at home to make sure my shoes aren't too sticky or too slick and that my accessories won't be catching on clothing, flying all over the dance floor, or in my partner's face.
- Many venues ask that dancers bring clean shoes, this is especially important in wet weather. I usually change into my dance boots, flats, or heels once I arrive.
- Avoid using products with strong fragrances. Fragrances can trigger a variety of health problems in fellow dancers, from minor to severe. By using fragrance-free products, you help make the dance floor more accessible!
- Unless specified, I assume I will see both formal and casual attire on the dance floor.
- If I want to wear a certain pair of shoes, but the soles won’t work on a particular dance floor, I check what’s available at: www.soles2dance.com.
How much does it cost?
- Some social dance events are free, while others are quite pricey. Most of the social dance events I attend are in the $0 - $10 range.
- Treat live musicians, bartenders, instructors, etc, politely and tip when appropriate.
What etiquette should I be aware of on the dance floor?
- If you are leading, you are inviting your partner to do different moves, not demanding! The follow may decline any move for any reason, so do not verbally or physically try to force your dance partner to do anything. That isn’t fun and people can get hurt. No one owes you anything and you are not the boss of anyone but yourself. If the follow doesn’t physically respond in the way you expected, improvise!
- Lifts can be unsafe for other dancers sharing the floor, so they are frowned upon at social dance events. Unless the dance floor is very spacious and your partner gives verbal consent, most dips are inappropriate, as well. Better to save lifts and dips for classes, performances, and competitions.
- When entering a new dance space, take note of the customs of the regulars. If there are people dancing in the line of dance (moving around the floor in a big circle), either join the line of dance, or dance in the middle of the floor. If the floor is small, watch to see if everyone dances in a very compact way or if people take turns using the little space available.
- If you are following and want to lead instead, do not steal the lead! This can cause injury. Instead, verbalize to your partner that you would like to lead and wait for them to give you the lead.
- If you've had too much to drink, stay off the dance floor.
- Have fun!