Please note that the following dance "helps" for Social Dancing Niceties and Etiquette was written pre-covid. However, this information is timeless and will always apply in a social dance setting. Add to it COVID guidelines, mask-wearing, vaccines, etc, but no need to take away from the good information that should be a standard at any social dance function. Here's hoping for more opportunities for social dancing safely in 2022!
Overall "Niceties" for Social Dancing
Try to follow the Golden Rule: treat others as you wish to be treated.
Don’t be a snob! Advanced dancers- you were a beginner once too! And for everyone- don’t judge other dancers by their looks, age, skill level, etc.- everyone has the potential to be a great dance partner- the point is to get out on the dance floor and dance!
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, 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.
Dancing is social, 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 feel comfortable.
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. Deodorant is a FABULOUS idea! Go easy on the cologne/perfume.
Dance Etiquette is a set of guidelines that help us navigate the social dimensions of dancing. (Be sure to click on the links at the bottom to be taken to the extra information on social dancing etiquette. The author does a wonderful job of outlining many aspects.)
As far as whom 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, and accept dances from everyone-there is no point in limiting yourself.
Specific tips for Social Dance Etiquette:
Ballroom Dance Shoes are lightweight shoes with thin suede (chrome leather) or smooth leather soles. The most common is chrome leather (suede). Ballroom shoes are made for both men and women, with heel heights for men ranging between 1″ (smooth/standard) and 1.5″ (latin/rhythm) and 1″-3″ (typically not higher) for women. The biggest difference between “regular” shoes and ballroom shoes are the soles. The soles of a ballroom shoe allow the shoes to glide on the dance floor, with just the right amount of grip. Ballroom shoes are also very flexible, allowing you to “feel” the floor, and provide the movement and flexibility necessary to show off your dance techniques.
The three basic types of Ballroom dance shoes are Latin, Standard (also called “Court” or “Modern”), and Practice shoes. Shoes should be selected not only for appearance, but also for comfort, support, and performance. Especially in competition, women should wear tan or flesh-colored shoes, to extend the line of the leg, and not call too much attention to the feet.
Latin shoes for women are typically open-toed sandals with a heel from 1 to 3 inches high. The standard heel height is 2.5 inches. If you only buy one type of shoe, it is recommended that you start with a Latin sandal. If you can, go for the 2.5″ heel. The height of the heel helps to place your weight properly forward, onto the balls of your feet, but certainly, go lower if you are not comfortable wearing a 2.5″ heel, or have a foot problem that could be worsened by a higher heel. Please note that because of the thinness of the soles, you will have sore feet the first couple of weeks as you adjust to wearing a ballroom shoe. Men’s Latin shoes have what is called a Cuban Heel that is 1.5 inches high. Most men only wear Latin shoes for competition, and you do not see men wearing them often for social dancing outside of the ballroom.
Standard shoes for women are closed-toed pumps. Men’s standard shoes are usually a black oxford-style lace-up, with a heel comparable to regular dress shoes. Men, if you only purchase one type of shoe, it should be the standard.
Practice shoes are optional. Women’s practice shoes resemble a man’s standard shoe with a higher heel. You can also buy dance sneakers that have suede soles.
As far as fit goes, you want to think of your dance shoe like a sock. Typically, you will have about 1/2″ of “wiggle” room or a “lip” on the end of your shoe when wearing street shoes. This should NOT be the case for a dance shoe. For men, and ladies closed-toe, make sure the shoe fits comfortably, you don’t want your toes pinched. For ladies in a latin shoe, you want your toes to come to the end of the shoe sole if possible and comfortable. You need to avoid excess sole extending past your toes on any type of dance shoe. Dance shoes are often made and sold in European sizes, which are generally 1.5 sizes smaller than American sizes. This is not always true, so check size charts carefully if you are ordering online.
To help maintain your dance shoes, there are a few things you need and/or need to do;
For Ladies, wear heel protectors if you will be dancing on a REAL wood floor (laminate doesn't count). Heel protectors perform three important tasks: Most importantly-they protect the floor! Secondary to protecting a wood floor is that they give you a bit more traction and they help protect the heels of your shoes. The little heel tips on your shoes wear out quickly and replacing them will cost $5 or more. When they wear out, they expose the nail that attaches them to the shoe. Plastic heel protectors will prolong the life of your shoes (and your investment).
If you buy satin shoes, using some scotch guard or other fabric protector prior to wearing them the first time, will help keep them clean, and easier to clean if they do get marked. Money saver for satin shoes: If you buy your satin shoes in a flesh or light color, simply take them to a shoe repair shop to have them dyed black when they start looking too shabby or dirty! It’s usually about $10 to extend the life of your shoe!
For Men, if you buy patent leather, using a little Vaseline on the inside of your heels and inside front part of your shoe will help the shoes not to stick when you are brushing as you break them in.
For all, Buy a Shoe Brush! Suede soles lose their nap after a couple of months (more often if you wear them outside of the ballroom). Buy a steel-bristled shoe brush with a handle to refresh the nap in your shoes. These are available at dance shoe vendors. It’s best to brush your shoes at least on a weekly basis if you are dancing regularly.
WHERE TO BUY DANCE SHOES: For dance shoes, dancewear, and more your online options are truly endless- by typing in ballroom dance shoes to your search engine, you will see what we mean! Supadance is a well-known option for shoes that has been around for MANY years. A more local option would be visiting Exquisite Design Ballroom Supply, an all-inclusive Ballroom Supply store owned by local resident and longtime dancer- Sue Leek. Sue has a passion for dancing as well as a desire to help meet the shoes and supplies needs of dancers.