Social Etiquette for Swing Dancers

For newer dancers, the social dance experience, especially asking strangers to dance can be intimidating. While most experienced dancers learn these “on the floor,” we included a few reminders for them. We hope these tips on social etiquette will increase everyone’s enjoyment of dancing!


Social Tips (getting onto the dance floor):

  1. Ask dancers of all levels (dance ability, age, gender) to dance. This applies to both leaders and followers!
  3. If asked to dance, accept with a verbal positive or negative response. If you turn someone down but would like to dance with them, let them know you will catch them later – and then find them before they leave.
  5. If someone turns you down for a dance, don’t take it personally. There are many reasons (e.g., injury, just arrived / leaving, shyness / inhibitions about their dance ability) why a person may say no that have nothing to do with you.
  7. If you know both roles, when inviting someone to dance, you may ask if they have a role preference / like to switch (roles) while dancing (e.g., “Hi, I’m Kelly. Would you like to dance with me as a lead, follow, or switch?”) 

  9. When asking someone to dance, approach them from the front and offer your hand, rather than tapping them from behind or calling their name (people may be sensitive to unwanted touch / hearing impaired).
  11. If you ask someone to dance and you can see from their body / facial language that they are not enthusiastic, you can say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I can see you are looking for someone. We can dance later when you are available.” – and then let them find you. Never expect that someone “owes” you a dance.
  13. Avoid asking people engaged in intense conversation for a dance. Instead, ask those who appear approachable, available, and smile when you make eye contact. 

  15. If you come with someone new, please dance the first and last dance with them. Check in with them periodically throughout the dance to make sure they are having a good time, and introduce them to other dance friends who will treat them well so they have a positive experience and want to come back! 

  17. Before leaving, thank the DJ / band, host / instructor and volunteers for their efforts. 

Floorcraft Tips:

  1. Most dance floors have a natural slot orientation for social dancing, which may differ from a workshop lesson, so look at the floor in advance to check. Note: this slot orientation may change at the edges of the floor, so look at the center of the floor.
  3. Enter and exit the dance floor connected to your partner (e.g., hold hands) and be considerate towards the other dancers already on the floor (they have the “right of way”). 

  5. Respect other dancers’ space and maintain a slot appropriate in width and length relative to the space available. 

  7. Stay alert to shifting slots of other dancers and adapt choreography and footwork to avoid collisions.
  9. Thank your partner at the end of the dance. 

Dancing Tips:

  1. Pay attention to your partner. Provide positive facial expressions and frequent eye contact. 

  3. Compliment your partner on anything they are doing well, either verbally or through facial expressions / body language. 

  5. Adapt for your partner’s mistakes without drawing attention to your compensations. 

  7. Place your partner’s feelings and well-being above musicality and the desire to display your abilities. 

  9. If leading, choose choreography that fits your partner’s abilities, preferences, and body type. Note to Leaders: You may be bored with your material, but followers are not, because they dance with leaders who have different repertoires. Followers are wary of being 
  10. injured, criticized, or over-controlled. Your job is not to entertain them with fancy moves (especially if you haven’t refined them); your job is to keep them safe and be nice to them. Popular leads adjust to their partners, varying the amount of structure and space provided to allow their partners to express their own creativity and musicality.
  12. If following, choose styling and footwork that complement your partner’s lead. Note to Followers: Remember your job is to connect with your leader. If you are a strongly “pro-active” follower (with lots of styling and footwork), make sure that your partner is comfortable reading your communication. Popular followers adjust and listen to their partners, by varying the amount and intensity of communication to their leaders and paying attention to their leader’s skill set so that the dance remains fun for both.

Inappropriate Behavior / Injury / Emergency Tips:

  1. If someone makes inappropriate comments/gestures to you while dancing, you should say, “I feel uncomfortable and need to stop dancing now” – and walk off the floor. Immediately contact someone in charge (instructor, event promoter, security) and stay safe with someone. Please review the WSDC Code of Conduct and Safe Social Dancing for more information.
  3. If you think you are in danger of injury (physically or emotionally) from dancing with someone, stop dancing immediately and excuse yourself from the floor. Simply say, “I’m sorry, I don’t feel well. I need to sit the rest of this dance out.” 

  5. If you have caused injury to another dancer (your partner or another nearby dancer), profusely apologize for causing any injury or collision. If necessary, walk the injured party off the floor to receive medical attention. 

  7. Respond quickly to a dancer in distress; if someone falls next to you, stop dancing and help them get up and safely relocated. 

Teaching (while social dancing):

  1. Teaching while social dancing is not acceptable. Refrain from “helping” partners with instruction. What you may think is constructive feedback may be received as criticism and cause emotional distress. It’s better to cover for your partners’ mistakes than
bring attention to them. 

  3. If a partner corrects your dancing, smile politely and say, “I can see I need more lessons before dancing with you.” If they ask you to dance again, be prepared for another “lesson” or you may respond: “I’d love to dance with you as long as you refrain from commenting on my weaknesses. I don’t dance well when I’m criticized, no matter how well intentioned the feedback.” 

Personal Hygiene Tips:

  1. Wash your hands frequently. 

  3. Wear a mask (if appropriate or required).
  5. Check your hands and nails for anything sharp that might snag / cut another dancer.
  7. Drink lots of water – both for rehydrating and reducing bad breath.
  9. Brush your teeth or use mints.
  11. Use deodorant liberally (perfumes and colognes sparingly). Some venues are fragrance free, so check before attending. 

  12. Bring an extra top(s) and a towel, especially if you sweat a great deal.
  14. Refrain from smoking in common areas or where other dancers must frequently pass. 

Managing Your Property Tips:

  1. Leave bulky jewelry and valuables at home. 

  3. Store belongings under a chair or coat rack area so others don’t trip on them accidentally. 

  5. Double-check your possessions and clean up any used items (cups, trash) before leaving. 

Last, but not least, enjoy yourself! Stay open to all possibilities and pay attention. Every dance is an opportunity to learn and improve. If you are dancing with a beginner, make them feel good about themselves. If you are dancing with a partner who is off-time, work on your own timing. If you are following a leader who likes to just stand there, work on your own footwork; if you are leading a follower that likes to influence where a pattern goes, see if you can learn a new exit for an old pattern. Remember, the people you dance with will most likely be in your life for as long as you continue to dance.

I hope these suggestions help keep your dance relationships healthy and fun!


The WSDC wishes to thank Kelly Casanova for this selection of content from her Social Etiquette for Swing Dancers, updated in 2019.