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Asking for a Dance

When asking for a dance, it is easiest to stay with traditional phrases:
• ``May I have this dance?''
• ``May I have this Waltz/Rumba/Foxtrot/etc.''
• ``Would you like to dance?''
• ``Care to dance?''
• ``Shall we dance?''

In the past it has been the tradition that men asked women to dance. But this custom has gradually changed. Today, women should feel equally comfortable asking a partner for a dance, even in a formal setting.

If your desired partner is with a group, be unambiguous and make eye contact when asking for a dance. If you vaguely approach a group, two individuals may think you are asking for a dance. You can imagine that the one not getting the dance is going to be miffed. Let's avoid such awkward moments by a decisive approach and solid eye contact.

What if you want to ask someone to dance, who is enganged at the moment in a conversation? Is it acceptable to interrupt a conversation to ask someone to dance? Some would say that one's presence in a dancing establishment indicates a desire for dancing and everyone is fair game. Others say that interrupting a conversation is rude.

Perhaps one way to handle this is to walk gently to the edge of your intended partner's "personal space", which is about 3-4 feet (one meter). It will give you an opportunity to ask them to dance. If your presence is not acknowledged, then it may be a good idea to find someone else for that dance.

Exercising common sense and social skills is always a good idea. If someone is sitting closely with their significant other, whispering sweet nothings to each other, then it is probably not a good time to ask either of them for a dance. Now a different scenario: your intended partner is cornered by a bore and being lectured on weather patterns in lower Namibia. You can advance and stand close. Once your intended partner makes eye contact with you, smile and say: ``Dance?'' Usually, that is enough to do the job.

Whom to Ask

Better dancers are especially advised to ask beginners to dance. Not only does this help the social dynamics of a dance, it also helps the better dancer (although it is outside the scope of this discussion to explain why or how).
Unfortunately, there are some social dancers who consider themselves too good to dance with beginners, who cannot ``keep up'' with their level of dancing. It is often the case that these dancers are not as good as they think. They need good partners because only good partners can compensate for their mistakes, bad technique, or other inadequacies. The truly good dancers often seek the challenge of dancing with those at lower levels, and enjoy it. Good dancers make their partners look good.

Declining a Dance
Being declined is always unpleasant. For beginners and shy individuals it is even harder to take, and may discourage them from social dancing. Dance etiquette requires that one should avoid declining a dance under most circumstances. For example, there is no correct way of refusing an invitation on the basis of preferring to dance with someone else. According to tradition, the only graceful way of declining a dance is either (a) you do not know the dance, (b) you need to take a rest, or (c) you have promised the dance to someone else.
The last excuse should be used only sparingly. When declining a dance, it is good form to offer another dance instead: ``No, thank you, I'm taking a break. Would you like to do another dance later?'' Also, declining a dance means sitting out the whole song. It is inconsiderate and outright rude to dance a song with anyone after you have declined to dance it with someone else. If you are asked to dance a song before you can ask (or get asked by) your desired partner, that's the luck of the draw. The choices are to dance it with whomever asked first, or to sit out the dance.

Being Declined

The first thing to do when one is turned down for a dance is to take the excuse at face value. Typical social dance sessions can be as long as three to four hours, and there are few dancers who have the stamina of dancing non-stop. Everyone has to take a break once in a while, and that means possibly turning down one or two people each time one takes a break. The advice to shy dancers and especially beginners is not to get discouraged if they are turned down once or twice.
However, since social dancers are generally nice and polite, being repeatedly declined can be a signal. In that case, it is a good idea to examine one's dancing and social interactions to see if anything is wrong.

Getting on the floor:

Some caution should be exercised when getting on the dance floor, especially if the song has already started and couples are dancing on the floor. It is the responsibility of incoming couples to make sure that they stay out of the way of the couples already dancing. Specifically, before getting into dance position, one should always look opposite the line of dance to avoid blocking someone's way, or even worse, causing a collision.

At the end of the dance:

After the dance is finished and before parting, thank your partner. This reminds me of a social partner who, upon being thanked at the end of the dance, would answer: ``You're welcome!'' This always gave me a funny feeling. The proper answer to ``Thank you!'' on the dance floor is: ``Thank you!'' The point is that the thanks is not due to a favor, but to politeness.
If you enjoyed the dance, let your partner know. Compliment your partner on her/his dancing. Be generous, even if he/she is not the greatest of dancers. Be specific about it if you can: ``I really enjoyed that double reverse spin. You led/followed that beautifully!'' If you enjoyed it so much that you would like to have another dance with him/her again, this is a good time to mention it: ``This Waltz went really great! I'd like to try a Cha-Cha with you later.'' Although remember that dancing too many dances with the same partner and booking many dances ahead are both violations of social dance rules.

Leaving the floor:
When a song comes to an end, leave the floor as quickly as it is gracefully possible. Tradition requires that the gentleman give his arm to the lady and take her back to her seat at the end of the dance. While this custom is linked to the outdated tradition requiring the gentlemen to ask ladies for dances, it is still a nice touch, although it may be impractical on the more crowded dance floors. In any case, remember that your partner may want to get the next dance. Don't keep them talking after the dance is over, if they seem ready to break away to look for their next partner.

No-Fault Dancing

Never blame a partner for missed execution of figures. Once in a social dance I accidentally overheard a novice couple, where the lady said: ``I can do this step with everyone but you!'' The fact that she was wrong (I had seen her other attempts) is irrelevant. The point is that she was unkind and out of line. Even if the gentleman were at fault, she was not to say something like that (more about this in the section: ``dancing to the level of partner.'')

Soliciting teaching on the floor:

This is not necessarily a flagrant violation. For many, it is flattering to be consulted about a point of dancing. However, a little care and caution is always a good idea. Consider this hypothetical scenario: A polite dancer is excited when his favorite song comes on, and he asks the closest stranger for the dance. He really wants to dance this song, but she replies: ``I have never done this dance before. Can you please teach me?''
It is debatable how much one can learn, from scratch, in the 2-3 minutes a typical song plays, but that is beside the point. This is a song he really wants to dance to. For this or any other reason, he may not wish to spend time at that moment teaching someone, but she has left him no polite way of getting out. In this situation: (a) She doesn't know him (so cannot justify the imposition based on friendship), (b) she solicits teaching at the time he is asking her to dance, which puts him at a disadvantage, and (c) she does not know anything about the dance, so he cannot say: ``let's just do basic steps.''
Of course it's not always that bad. Dancers can learn quite a bit from each other in social dancing; observing a few simple points will make things enjoyable for all:
• Don't say "teach me" the moment someone asks you to dance. If they are shy, they will feel trapped, will spend the next few minutes with you, and then for the rest of the night will avoid you like the plague. If they are not so shy, they will not teach you, and for the rest of the night will avoid you like the plague.
• A good approach is the following: when asked to dance, one can say ``I would like to, but I don't know the dance.'' This shows that help would be appreciated, but without any pressure.
• The asker in this situation can either offer to take the partner on the floor and do some basic steps, or if s/he is not so inclined, take it as a decline of dance: ``Oh, it would have been fun, perhaps we can do a different dance later?''
• It is better to request help from friends, or at least someone you have had a dance or two with already, rather than someone you just met. If anythings, this is a great motivation to make friends in the dance community.
• If you want to get pointers from someone, wait until s/he sits out a dance. Then go talk to her/him. This way they are not missing out on a dance by helping you