At a recent outdoor dance event I was approached by a couple wanting to know if this event was open to anyone. I chatted with them briefly and after learning that they didn’t know anything about dance, told them that there would be a lesson in about half an hour. Then they asked if I would teach them something. They didn’t know I was a dance teacher, so this wasn’t a rude request. I taught them a basic step and danced briefly with the woman to show how the basic was all she needed to know in order to follow this simple dance.
Getting stuck with new dancers
A woman who had been watching us immediately jumped in and took my hand in indication that we would dance together. It was obvious after the first step that she didn’t know anything either. She clearly wanted to dance and didn’t know how, saw that I more or less instantly turned another newbie into a competent follower and wanted the same experience.
I’ve mentioned before (see how to tell if you need dance lessons) that a mark of a great leader is the ability to instantly assess the skill level of the follower and lead a dance that she can follow without feeling stupid and that makes her feel like a great dancer. I can do this, but unless it’s a friend I’m fond of, it’s not much fun for me. In this instance I did dance with her, but I did have the thought that if another would-be dancer was waiting for her turn that I would have to come up with a polite excuse to turn her down.
Rules of Dance Etiquette
Generally speaking, if the music tends to be short numbers and the custom is to dance once with each partner as it is in the swing community, it’s ungracious to turn down a dance. However, if the request is from someone who is dangerous, drunk, or inappropriate, it’s definitely OK to do so.
You can say “no” to drunk dancers
Several years ago I was at a dance in a club. A family was having dinner, celebrating a birthday. They were all drunk and the birthday boy asked me to dance. I have long curly hair that’s very distinct and seems to be a magnet for drunks. I didn’t want to put a damper on the occasion so I accepted, but afterwards he informed his family that I was great and they should all dance with me, which is how I ended up dancing with an entire drunk family. I was too polite to say no, but I don’t recommend this. Being too polite to say no has gotten me in far worse trouble than this, so I suggest practicing in situations like this if you have this problem too.
In retrospect, it wouldn’t have been hard to simply excuse myself saying I had promised the next several dances and had to get back to my friends. It can be hard to come up with a good exit line when you are taken off guard, so I also recommend practicing in advance. You don’t have to be rude to say no, but if you don’t prepare, it can come out that way. “Ask me again when you’re sober.” will get you out of there, but is unnecessarily rude. Think up a few good excuses to have at hand for emergencies and you’ll be able to get away without creating a negative vibe.
And if you’re an advanced dancer, do be nice to the newcomers and grace them with an occasional dance. They’ll remember you when they gain more experience and you’ll be rewarded in the future!
by LaurieAnn Lepoff
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