Let’s set the scene. You’ve noticed another dancer or patron of the establishment tapping their toe, doing some killer moves, or just generally looking like a pleasant human being. For whatever reason, you’ve taken note and you’d like to ask them to dance. And so you approach them, smiling as warmly and friendly as you can muster despite your nervousness, and you say...
“Would you like to dance?”
Hopefully, this will become one of the most common utterances you hear and say at a social dance, in class, or when you’re out dancing in some of the many great venues this city has to offer. Sure they’re mostly harmless words all by themselves, but when you line them up like that, no combination of words can bring as much anxiety, confusion, and exhilaration to a dancer of any level. Read on – this will be part real talk and part pep talk.
Nuts and Bolts
Like many aspects of dancing, let’s talk about the mechanics first. There are many ways to ask for a dance and remain polite and respectful of your (perhaps) future dance partner. I’ll outline the most important keys for you below.
Everyone enjoys getting a genuine smile. Smiling shows your partner that you’re a friendly person and you're asking them to dance from a place of warmth and comfort. And sometimes it can be hard to smile in the moment. You can feel stressed about asking a dancer that you admire, or maybe you’re in a hurry because dances with this individual are in high demand. Whatever you may be feeling about speaking with this person, making an effort to smile is a good place to begin.
Use Your Words
You’ll find this statement in our etiquette guide and safe spaces policies because it’s an important one. Many different dance cultures approach verbally stating requests to dance in different ways. In swing dance, it’s polite and respectful to verbally ask for a dance before partnering. But wait, there’s more! After asking you should wait until you hear a response before taking any action. Don't take an affirmative answer for granted. After all, you may hear a “No” instead of a “Yes”. More on that later.
Ne Touche Pas
That’s French for “Do not touch”. Google taught me that. Before you verbally ask for a dance and receive that coveted “Yes”, do not grab a hand, touch a shoulder, or place your hand on the back or arm to lead or follow. This may vary with the familiarity you have with that individual on a personal level, but especially for a stranger or new friend it is best to wait until they’re prepared to dance with you to assume physical contact is allowed.
Action and Reaction
Easy, you say. That seems simple enough. But here’s the truth – the reason asking for a dance can be nerve wracking is because you have a chance of being rejected. You could follow all of the “steps” above, politely ask for a dance, and be told a very concise and definitive “No” for all your efforts. C'est la vie (I didn't have to Google that one). Let’s sort some of this out now.
They Say Yes
Good work and congratulations! You got the answer you were hoping for and everything is right in the universe. But consent to dance is not permanently granted. The “Yes” you received is not owed to you for the remainder of the night – or even the remainder of the song. As Bill Nye told me often - consider the following:
- Remember that the “Yes” you received is an agreement to dance and nothing more than that.
- Consent to dance can be revoked at any time and must be accepted with grace.
- An agreement to dance does not make you besties any more than saying no to dance begins a blood feud.
- Of course – treat your dance partner with respect if you’d like to receive more dances in the future.
They Say No
I guarantee that during your illustrious dance career, no matter who you are, someone will say no to you when you ask them to dance. They might even end a dance with you early. They might explain themselves and they might not. Rather than be caught unawares, here are some suggestions on how to gracefully receive a “No”.
- Continue to smile and thank them anyway. Don’t forget your manners.
- Do not press for details or an explanation on why they said no. There are many reasons to say no, and no one owes an explanation.
- Be respectful of distance and their time. If they have a dance lined up or are looking for a break, they may want to sit with other friends or even be alone for a moment. Leave room for them to enjoy themselves as they were before you approached them.
- Continue to enjoy yourself. A no is not a condemnation of your dancing or of you as a person.
Being asked to dance is a flattering experience regardless of your experience level. It means someone has noticed you, appreciated you, or otherwise wants to spend 2-4 minutes of their time with you. What a wonderful gift to give! But you must use it responsibly. To get you excited about asking someone to dance, keep these things in mind:
- Try and get comfortable with the idea of asking those with more experience to dance. This can be daunting. But they danced with more experienced individuals themselves before – how do you think they got so dang good?
- Don’t feel limited or trapped by your dance role. Leads have no obligation to ask for every dance and follows are encouraged to ask for the dances they would like to have.
- Feel empowered to say yes or no to a dance freely. Limit the pressure you put on yourself to say yes to every dance and don’t feel like you owe anyone a dance for any reason.
So there you go. It turns out the journey of a thousand (dance) steps doesn’t start with a step at all, but a smile and a polite request. If you have any thoughts or opinions on asking for dances or tips on how to beat those anxious butterflies you get when you approach a great dancer you’ve never spoken to before, we’d like to hear them! In the meantime – Would you like to dance?
See you out there,