This document was created to give dancers a better sense of common dance
etiquette. It is our hope that it will serve as a useful list of suggestions
from many veteran swing dancers. This document contains advice, not rules.
Encouraging Words for Beginners
Because there is a wide range of people in the swing scene, skills and
experience levels vary greatly. However, everybody starts out as a
beginner. If you are a new to dancing, notice that most of the better
dancers have been working at it for quite some time. Try not to get
discouraged. It may take a few months for you to feel completely comfortable
swing dancing. Even then, nobody ever learns everything. In fact, the teachers
spend as much time as anybody improving their dancing. Avoid dwelling on what
you know or don't know. More importantly, please remember that lacking prior
experience does not preclude anybody from enjoying the dance. This is
supposed to fun, above all else.
Who to Dance With
It is beneficial to dance with people of all experience levels. In the
context of enhancing your skills, dancing with more experienced dancers
often helps you to improve. Similarly, dancing with less experienced
dancers is a prime opportunity for you to work on your lead/follow skills.
Ideally, you should be able to lead/follow with anyone. In the context of
having fun, you can have fun dancing with anybody and everybody. In short,
ask everybody you can to dance, there is no point in limiting yourself.
Try to follow the Golden Rule: treat others as you wish to be
Make eye contact, however do not stare down your partner. If this
is difficult for you, one trick some people use is looking at their
partner's shoulder or their earlobe. This confirms that you are
paying attention, yet you are not staring.
Focus on your partner. Your job is to make the person you are dancing
with look good. For leads this means being conscientious of your partner's
skill and adjusting your lead to the situation. For follows this means
avoiding back-leading or other actions that make the lead feel
"unimportant." For both leads and follows, if you stay aware
and adaptive of your partner's feelings, you will be a popular dancer.
Thank your partner after each dance.
It is polite to clap for live performers when they finish a song
and for DJs when they finish their set. If you are not dancing, it
is also considered polite to clap after a lengthy solo, however this
is not expected of active dancers.
It is not necessary to apologize to your partner if a particular move
is not executed perfectly. The point is not to have a perfect dance, but
to have fun. However, if your mistake may have physically hurt your
partner, please apologize and make sure they are okay.
Swing dancing is a social dance, therefore talking while dancing is
okay and not considered bad etiquette. Moreover, not talking while
dancing is not considered bad etiquette either. Do what makes you
Don't be stinky! You will be dancing in close quarters with a lot of
new people. You may want to chew gum or bring breath mints (Altoids are
popular...and bring enough to share!). Some dancers avoid eating certain
foods (garlic or onions, for example) on dance days. You may also wish
to wear deodorant or cologne.
Dancing is good exercise so be prepared to sweat! Many people bring
extra shirts to change over the course of an evening. Other tips include
bringing a towel or handkerchief to the dances or using baby powder.
Regarding Cliques and "Snobbery"
Sometimes a perception exists that good dancers only hang out with
other good dancers. This is a by-product of the fact that many dancers
have been dancing together for a long time and know each other better.
For the most part, few people within the scene are intentionally
reinforcing this perception. Feel free to break the ice if they don't.
Asking For a Dance
Notice what the person is doing before you ask them to dance. Be wary
of interrupting conversations.
Ask politely, "Would you like to dance?" Avoid grabbing a
partner and pulling them onto the dance floor.
One dance at a time is the norm within our dance community (in contrast,
there are other dance communities where two consecutive songs per partner
is the norm). Should you want a consecutive dance with your partner, ask
them first. Consider asking them if they want to dance at a later time.
It is very acceptable for ladies to ask gentlemen to dance. Most
gentlemen are flattered by the offer.
When there is a group of leads or follows, asking one specific person
to dance is less awkward than asking the entire group (i.e. "would
one of you like to dance").
How To Say "No"
Ideally, we would all say "yes" to everyone that asked. In cases
where you wish to decline a dance, be polite: smile and say "No, thank
you." If there is a reason why you can't dance that song, give them a
reason. While opinions differ, the authors of this document generally believe
that it is not a good idea to just make up a reason not to dance. In other
words, try to deal with people honestly and directly. If you would like to
dance with the person some other time, offer to dance with them later and
make a point to follow up. If you have no desire to dance with this person,
simply say "No thank you," with a pleasant, sincere smile. Also,
please keep in mind that some people consider it rude to refuse to dance
with one person and then dance with another person during the same song.
Along this line, there may be valid reasons why somebody will dance with
somebody else after turning somebody down (i.e. the song tempo changed,
the other person was too forceful, etc...). If this happens to you, realize
that it may not necessarily be a personal rejection.
What to Do If They Say "No"
You can always ask again, but give him or her time and space and ask again
later. It is usually a good idea to let several songs pass. Also, do not
get discouraged if you are turned down. All dancers get turned down from
time to time. There are other people who would very much like to dance with
Special Advice for Leads
When starting a dance, especially with someone you don't know, take
it slow. Everyone dances differently, so take your time and get to know
the other person by starting off with less complex moves.
Do your best to avoid leading moves that might hurt your partner. Do
not push or pull your partner too hard. If she is not following something,
try leading other moves. Make sure you pay attention to where your partner
is and where she is going. The social dance floor is like the ocean and
can be choppy and rough by no fault of your own - make sure she is safe
on the sea.
Blues dancing and other close dances have recently become popular.
The Syndicate does not wish to discourage close dancing, however, as a
lead, be aware of whether or not your partner wants to dance close. If
she pulls away or appears uncomfortable, give her more space. Just because
the blues dancing workshops teach a snug closed dance position does not
mean that every follow wants to dance that way. Additionally, not every
lady has taken a blues workshop. As a rule of thumb, when dancing blues
style with a new partner, ask her she minds dancing close.
Dips are acceptable, but only when you are confident that you can
execute them without causing your partner discomfort, fear, or pain.
Contrary to what you see on the dance floor, it is not a requirement
that you close out every song with a dip. Only lead a dip if you feel
that you can execute it successfully. This is true for even the most
basic dips. If you are going to lead more complex dips, please ask her
first. This is especially true if is somebody that you do not dance
with regularly. Some follows do not like dips of any sort, either for
personal preference reasons or for health reasons (back issues, etc...).
If a follow resists at the start of a dip, take that as a sign that
she does not like to be dipped.
Aerials and drops (Trick Moves) are generally not acceptable on the
social dance floor. In fact, many venues ban them outright. They are
rarely done at Austin Swing Syndicate dances, with the only exceptions
being controlled circumstances such as a jam circles or performances
or among partners who have worked on aerials or drops prior. Remember
that injuries can happen with even the most basic aerial/drop moves.
For those who may unfamiliar with the terms, aerials are moves where
the partner's feet leave the floor; drops are moves that cause your
partner's head to be below your waist. If you are in the position to
lead an aerial or drop, we strongly encourage you to ask for your
partner's permission first.
If you bump another couple, try to immediately look back and apologize.
If another couple bumps you, apologize even if it is their fault. The
experienced dancer knows that toes will be stepped on and people will
bump into one another. Don't let the occasional accident get you down.
If you happen to be dancing near an erratic lead, relocate to another
part of the floor.
There is a split opinion regarding the practice of walking your partner
off the floor. Some people believe that it is a very respectful thing
to do. Others feel that is unnecessary and too formal. A good compromise
is to understand that the best course of action will vary from situation
Teaching On The Dance Floor:
The following section is the most controversial portion of this document.
Some people avoid the practice of "teaching on the dance floor"
at all costs; others religiously seek out the chance to share their knowledge
with new dancers. We would like to present a balanced view on the subject.
Asking for Instruction
Be careful about asking others for quick lessons on the dance floor. Many
people are reluctant to criticize people that they are dancing with, since
it could be taken negatively. Additionally, there are teachers who do not
like to be asked to teach while they are social dancing. This is not true
for all teachers, but it is true for a certain percentage of them.
An often followed rule is to only give advice if the other person explicitly
asks for it. Sometimes unsolicited advice puts your partner on the defensive.
However, if a lead is hurting you, please speak up. In contrast, if the lead
is only leading steps ineffectively, without any real harm to you, be more
cautious with your commentary. Remember, that leads have a lot to concentrate
on when dancing.
Giving Feedback and Constructive Advice
Before commenting on your partner's dancing; it is a good idea to think
about what you can do to improve your dancing. Obviously if someone is doing
something dangerous to themselves or to others you should say something, but
otherwise it may be more harmonious to withhold comment. Just because you can
criticize, does not mean that you should. If you feel compelled to say
something, attempt to phrase your comments politely so as not to make the
other person uncomfortable. It is nice to offer a compliment prior to offering
constructive criticism. It is usually a good idea to assume that half the
problem is on your end (your lead skills/your follow skills) and remember
that if you are offering advice, be prepare to receive it. One effective
phrase used by dancers is, "I don't think the move worked out right,
what do you think we can do to make it work better." Use statements
that allow for honest feedback on both sides. Don't let the other person
think it is entirely their fault.
Handling Unsolicited Advice on the Social Dance Floor
If your partner offers you advice, you can handle the situation in a variety
of ways depending on the situation. First, you can accept the feedback and be
open to instruction. By doing so you express that you want to hear their
advice and wish to have a dialogue about what is and is not working in regard
to the dance. If you do not desire advice or feedback at the time, you can
politely say "thanks, but I don't feel like discussing technique right
now, I just want to dance." If you don't want the advice, you can say
very little and let it go. Whatever you do, avoid blaming each other, which
may lead to an uncomfortable and antagonistic situation. Remember, in the
social dance world, having fun is more important than being right.
Dealing With Difficult People
If somebody at a Syndicate event makes you feel uncomfortable, please speak
with a Board member. If you don't know a Board member, tell the DJ and he or
she will get you in touch with a Board member. We will be glad to deal with
them in a respectful, non-confrontational manner.
It is wise to be lighthearted enough to just enjoy the dance regardless of
whether or not everyone is at their best etiquette.