Each week, Hugo Miguez and Stacy Kay post Tuesday Tips, advice from the pros to the larger Westie community about everything from dance etiquette to great ways to learn in workshops. We at Wandering Westie are looking to expand upon these with stories from our own Westies each week – proof of these tips in action!
You’re standing in a crowded room of dancers, and your eye stops as you notice your favorite lead or follow across the room. “This is the perfect song to dance with them,” you think. But they seem engaged in conversation. Now what? Will they be delighted by your request, or interrupted? Reading these social cues is a critical part of social dance etiquette. Let’s look at various scenarios where the body language of the person you’d like to dance with may or may not invite you in.
Scenario 1: Asking someone to dance mid-conversation.
People chat on the perimeter of the dance floor, and you never know what they’re talking about, especially over the loud music. So, the best question to ask here is: “How serious does the conversation look?”
If their body language is totally square – as in, not open or facing outward toward the dance floor, completely square to their conversation partner – then it might not be a great time to ask them to be a dance partner. If either party looks emotional or deeply engaged in a personal matter, wait for another song. If you know they’re romantically involved and they seem to be having a moment, wait for another song.
If they’re laughing, semi-engaged with the dance floor, moving to the music, and sipping their drink, there might be an opening for you to request a dance. They’ll be able to receive your request and excuse themselves politely from the conversation.
Do NOT just grab them, forcing them to get out a few conclusive sentences and complete the conversation hurriedly. This is impatient and rude. And even if you know someone well, I recommend you make a verbal request.
Scenario 2: They’re snacking or ordering a drink.
The tip here is simple – just wait until they seem less engaged with their hunger or thirst. Dancing burns calories, people come to a weekday dance from a long workday, and potlucks are fun – let them refuel, instead of interrupting. You probably need to give it like 30 seconds – but that could make a real difference. You can say something like: “Hey, I don’t want to interrupt your snack, but do you want to dance this song?” and that will be polite enough.
(If they’re mid-meal, with utensils and all – just chill out. This ain’t your moment.)
Scenario 3: They’re dancing by themselves.
Again, don’t just grab the person. Physical requests in general come across more like demands – use your words.
Note that just because someone is dancing solo does not mean they automatically want to dance with a partner, or that they want to dance with YOU. They might prefer to keep enjoying the song alone – not all partner dancers all want to be snatched up right away. They might actually want to have a private party – or they might be signaling that they want someone to dance with.
How do you find out? You can say something like: “Hey, looks like you love this song!” and then see what they say. They might even ask YOU to dance right then! If they don’t, you can take it as a signal to ask for a different song, or try saying something like “I’d love a dance when you’re ready.” Then they can freely say yes or no, or ask for the next song.
Scenario 4: They’re taking a break or looking tired.
Some of the popular dancers in the room don’t get many opportunities to sit. You never know what someone is dealing with physically, or how tired they really are. If they look like they are taking a break, acknowledge it. (Hint: Don’t say “you look tired,” because that usually doesn’t feel nice to hear.)
Say “Hey, are you taking a break?” and let them reply. Inquiring about how someone is doing in that moment is less intrusive than saying “Hey, want to dance?” or “Hey let’s dance!”
It’s responsible, and it’s you being aware that there is a human being on the other end of your request. Either make a move and inquire about their preference, or just wait until they seem like they would be more receptive to a dance.
Scenario 5: The importance of receiving “No thank you.”
This might seem a little controversial, but I’m a big fan of not expecting a “yes” or a “no + insert reason” from a request or invitation to dance.
I think leads and follows should both be able to say “no thanks,” without further explanation. The fact that many dancers, especially women, feel the need to say “no thank you, I’m sitting out this song,” even if that’s a lie – and yes people lie to try and be polite in the current social dance culture – is quite odd when you think about it.
People even try to maintain their (sometimes fake) reasons for turning down a dance by making sure to also turn down the next person who asks – even if it’s a partner they would have preferred for that song. That’s all a bit silly to me. It’s 2016, we’re all adults, we can let people do what they want, and no one is entitled to a dance. My big tip is this: Don’t take “no” personally. (Receiving “no” gracefully deserves its own post, so be on the lookout for that.)
Whatever you do – Request and invite people to dance freely, while being aware of your social setting and the body language of other people. It will make a difference in your ability to choose the appropriate timing and tone when asking for a dance.
Hugo Miguez and Stacy Kay are renowned for their precision, variety, and teaching methods within West Coast Swing. Since 2011, they have taken the circuit by storm with their Classic routines and are re-defining the learning process of the dance world. They will lead you through energetic dances while sharing their advice on all things dance. Hugo and Stacy reside in sunny Clearwater, Florida and travel as competitors, judges, and choreographers for numerous events in different dance styles. Both continue to share their passion for dance and enjoy working with all levels of experiences. They work with top professionals in many different dance styles distinctly furthering their education and experience. Their philosophy is to introduce and foster fresh, comprehensive dance knowledge for their students by giving more of themselves within every experience. They can be reached at www.hugoandstacy.dance.