Social Dance Etiquette – Guideline for a great dance experience!

Social dance etiquette is something that everyone should be aware of, but is very seldom taught. At a social dance there are certain guidelines that everyone should follow to make the evening pleasant for everyone. Too often I hear people complaining about a dancer with poor etiquette and many times the offender is not aware he or she is doing anything wrong. This is a short guide that will be universal to many social dance environments.


First is the actual dancing. It is expected that people stay moving in the line of dance (everyone travels around the floor counterclockwise). This means two things. First, do not go against the line of dance. It interrupts the flow of traffic and causes many problems. Just think about what would happen if someone drove their car the wrong direction on the road! The second point is this. If a dance where most couples would be moving around the floor is playing (for example, waltz), and you decide to stay stationary or “on the spot,” move to the middle of the floor and let the traffic travel around you. Likewise, if you are dancing and for some reason need to stop, it is best to clear to the side of the floor (like a disabled vehicle pulls over to the side).

swing in the middle

Thought this was too funny not to post!

Next is social interactions. If you would like to ask someone to dance, ask. A male may ask a female, but it is perfectly ok for a female to ask as well. Most people are very gracious about dancing with people they don’t even know regardless of level (but please, introduce yourselves by the end of the dance. I make it a rule that if you dance with someone you should know their name by the time you finish dancing together). It’s a great way to meet new people at socials. Please do not physically grab or demand that someone dance with you, just ask politely. It is also generally accepted that people do not usually dance multiple dances in a row at a ballroom social (this is not a steadfast rule and certain other types of dancing, such as argentine tango, have different expectations).

More advanced dancers who are moving more quickly are expected to use floorcraft to avoid beginner dancers. Beginners are not responsible for “dodging” advanced dancers coming at them. In general, I like to use the rule that if you are standing in a spot, you own that piece of floor and no one can take it from you. Of course, collisions do happen (usually by accident). Make sure no one is hurt, apologize and move on. No use in making a little bump ruin your whole evening!

Of course these are guidelines and nobody expects everybody to be perfect. I am providing information you might not have already had. And the most important thing at social dances: have fun and share your joy! Let those you dance with know you enjoyed dancing with them. A little heartfelt compliment will go a long way and you will enjoy many dances to come!


Jeff’s Note:

Here is something I see all of the time so I wanted to add it to the conversation As soon as some dancers get a little knowledge, they get passionate and start feeling like they need to “teach” everyone they are dancing with (spouse or other) how to dance “correctly”. Honestly, teaching takes place best in classes or lessons. In a social setting, it at minimum reduces the experience of the person dancing with you and at worst case makes them not want to dance with you again at all. Your goal should be to make the other person feel like they are doing everything right so they forget about the details of the dancing and just enjoy dancing with you. Unrequested correcting, fixing or suggesting changes your partner’s dancing takes them out of that special place by making them feel unsafe. If the other person makes a “mistake”, the only thing the other person should do is alter what they are doing so their partner doesn’t notice anythng happened.


Don’t wait to do something fabulous

One of Jen’s students volunteered to share with us his experience in learning to dance. We thought it would be nice to share with you as it expresses some of the results we all have seen in making dance part of our life.

In Felipe’s words…

Don’t wait 50 years like I did to do something fabulous!

I hate hype, whether from politicians or people trying to sell me something. In the case of dance lessons, I found that the benefits are, unbelievably, under hyped.

I liked social dancing as a teenager and had two uncles who ran dance studios. I had a few lessons in elementary school, a Charleston lesson from my mother, a few lessons from my uncles as a late teen, and a few in college physical education. I always like ballroom dancing but rarely had the occasion to do it or lacked partners. So i took a little break of 50 years…

I started again out of curiosity about what went on in the dance studio that was a block away from my new office. After an introductory lesson, I decided to take a few more lessons to learn a few more steps. As I took more lessons I was encouraged to do a studio showcase (like kids who take piano lessons getting to show the parents what they had learned.) Well, I got hooked and good. As I got a little better, I was encouraged to try competition, starting at the newcomer level, which is very forgiving. The preparation takes you into a wonderful subculture. It is not about winning but enjoying the involvement in a beautiful, fun world. You can be any size, age or ability and still enjoy it.

So what happened to me? In two and a half years, I lost 16 pounds. have better posture and aerobic stamina, and am competing against people ten years younger in salsa, cha cha, merengue, mambo, swing, samba, waltz, tango, foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, and just started lessons in quick step. I am far from Dancing with the Stars, but last week I finished first in salsa and second in rumba and mambo in a competition in Los Angeles (I live in the Washingtron DC area.) Getting involved in dancing has reduced my blood pressure and pressures in my professional and personal life, and even given me a major new outlook on life. It is a great conversation piece, produces great photos, gets you to meet many interesting people and makes you more interesting. My family and friends get a huge kick out of my involvement in dancing, and are as happy as I am about it being such a positive force in my life.

Now, you need a good studio and first rate teacher to go this fast this enjoyably. A boutique studio like Jen’s is more likely to have people who really care about dancing and are willing to tailor things to you individually. This is opposed to being under pressure to teach by a formula and sell lessons the way a chain studio does.

The ideal teacher should be someone who not only can dance well but can teach well, is patient, knows about the human body to understand and explain technique, helps you figure out where to start and how fast to proceed, can explain and demonstrate clearly, and somehow makes you feel good when you finish each lesson.

Every amateur student I know has one lament-“I wish I started earlier.” Take my experience and step in..

Felipe El Bailador (formerly known as Phil from the Bronx)


Is there a perfect way to learn to dance?

I often hear the question “What is the best way to learn to dance?”  While I understand the drive to be better and get to the “destination” quicker, I believe there is no real answer to this question.   To understand my opinion on this, you must understand that before my passion for dancing was kindled, my creative energy was directed toward playing piano.   While learning to play piano as an adult, I learned many things that I now apply to learning to dance.  I am going to share one of those lessons here.

I’m a pretty process centric and logical guy.  I spend a good part of my day as a business consultant managing projects and working on how to improve the efficiency of various business systems for corporations.   It only made sense that I would take that mindset and apply it to learning a new skill such as piano or dancing.   I knew there must be a step by step plan to becoming a great pianist and I knew I needed one if I was going to succeed!

As any artist would, I would get frustrated when learning to play piano that I could not create  exactly what I heard in my head.   I could hear exactly what I wanted to come out but I just could not play on the piano what I heard.   I finally decided that it just must be that my piano teacher was not  teaching me things in the most efficient manner.  I walked into my next lesson and declared “It’s time.  It’s time we stop fooling around and put together a plan that says that if I do such and such, I will become a great piano player and I will be able to play what I hear in my head at the end of the plan. ”  It seemed like a logical approach.  Hey.. that is how we learned Algebra so it must apply to piano–right?   There must be the perfect set of steps I can follow to get to my goals most efficiently.  Anything less than the perfect plan would slow me down so I needed the PERFECT PLAN.

Fortunately for me, my piano teacher was a lot smarter than I was and a far better piano player than I ever will be.   He  flat out refused to lay out a plan.  Instead, he responded in a manner similar to this:  “Piano and the arts in general really can not be learned in a serial/logical way.   Here is the truth.  To learn piano, you have to spend countless hours practicing scales, you have to take lessons, you have to listen to music all night, you have to practice singing and drumming, you have to dance, you have to  go out and perform with your band, you have to play Chopin from a score, improvise all night over jazz music and a bunch of other things that you might not expect.  Then, one day, one day when you least expect it, you are going to be able to do what you want to do even though I am never going to be able to explicitly show you every step to get there.  I can show you key pieces of the puzzle but a good part of the puzzle has to come together within you.

bruce lee

Here is the bottom line I learned.   Artistic skills can’t be learned like math skills.   Part of learning an art is just trusting that if you enjoy the journey and keep the vision of what you want to be, you’ll wake up when you least expect it and be that vision.  Your mind and body will integrate things you learned in ways that can not be taught explicitely.   You will take dance classes, private lessons, practice leading your partner, lead your friends, perform with your teacher, watch “Dancing with the Stars”, perform choreography in front of an audience, listening to music and other experiences and subconsciously combine them and create something new…you as a dancer.   (with all of your own uniqueness)    Then, one day when you least expect it, someone will watch you and say “Just how did you learn to be such a great dancer?”.

— Jeff


A guide to buying your first pair of dance shoes

After your first few classes, you will want to invest in a pair of dance shoes. After all, you wouldn’t run, play tennis, play basketball or any other sport without having the proper footwear. Dance shoes can look very elegant and dressy but they do have a specific function. First, the sole of the shoe is covered in suede. This allows the shoe to move easily across the floor while still providing some traction. Additionally, depending on the type of shoe, they can be more flexible to allow full usage of your foot.

Men’s shoes come in two styles–ballroom and latin shoes. Ballroom shoes look more like a traditional men’s dress shoe. They come in leather or cloth and patent leather. For your first pair, I would not suggest patent leather. While they may look nice, they can stick to each other.  (To avoid the issue of them sticking together, vasaline can be used on the surface of the shoe on the inside edges). Shoes should fit well and not be too lose. Keep in mind that they will stretch a little bit. Latin shoes are a bit more flexible than a ballroom shoe and do have a small heel on them.

Men's latin shoe (right) and ballroom shoe (left)

Men’s latin shoe (right) and ballroom shoe (left)

Women’s shoes also come in ballroom and latin styles. Ballroom shoes are closed toe and can come in a varying height and style of heel (up to 2.5 inches usually). Heel protectors should be bought and put on the shoe. These look like little soft plastic cups that fit snugly around the tip of the heel to protect the real heel of the shoe. These are sold based on the brand of shoe and style of the heel (slim, flare, etc.). This information is on the shoe box, or any sales person at a ballroom shoe store would be able to help you. The most common color ladies shoes come in is a flesh or tan color. These blend in with the floor and create an uninterupted leg line. Many other fun colors and designs are available as well. Ladies ballroom shoes may also have a strap across the top of the foot or may not. This is a personal preference, but clear bands can be bought and used to keep strapless shoes from slipping off. The fit should be snug, but not too tight. They will stretch some, but not too much.


Various types and styles of women’s dance shoes

Ladies latin shoes are open toed and what we would refer to as “strappy” shoes. These are more flexible than ballroom shoes and the heel can be as high as 3 inches. Again they mainly come in tan but many other colors and designs can be found. The same rules apply to heel protectors as I talked about with ballroom shoes. Latin shoes will stretch more than ballroom shoes, and the thinner the straps, the more they will stretch.

There is a third type of ballroom shoe for ladies and this is what you will see a lot of the female teachers wearing. They are called “teaching” or “coaching” shoes and look more like a man’s latin shoe than a ladies shoe. These are a much lower heel and are usually black. If you really do not want to buy a pair of heels or feel uncomfortable in them, this is a great alternative.

Many websites sell dance shoes but I would recommend buying your first pair in person. Your teacher can direct you to a local dance supply store that sells ballroom shoes. Do not be afraid to ask the salesperson for help. Many people are very excited to get their first pair of dance shoes and are amazed at how much easier they make dancing!


Where to dance?

Learning to dance is a wonderful experience and there are a ton of benefits. (see my previous blog entry).

One thing that people find fun to do with their dancing is attending social dances. These are parties held (often on the weekend) where people come and dance with their partners or each other. Most people who attend are more than happy to dance with someone they just met. The events give you a chance to meet people, practice what you have learned in lessons and have FUN using what you have been learning. It’s a great alternative to going and seeing a movie and is a lot more exciting (and it’s exercise)! There are many more parties around than you might realize.

Picture taken from one of our West coast swing socials!

Picture taken from one of our West coast swing socials!

Another popular thing to do is showcases. (Editor’s Note.. Think Dancing with the Stars with a few less people watching!) Many students work with their teachers to make a choreographed routine to the music of their choice. These routines are prepared for a special event where multiple students perform. The routines can go in any artistic direction the student chooses, or if they are unsure of what to do, their teacher can give them advice. The events are always fun and it is great to have a goal to work towards and a chance to create something special!

Some students choose to compete with their new skills. There are two types of competition-two amateurs dancing together and also one amateur and one professional dancing together.

Two amateurs (or am-am competing) is divided by level and age category and events are held all over the country almost every weekend. Am-am competitors usually have a regular partner and routines they develop with their teachers. This is fun because the partners spend time together practicing what they have learned and can become better dancers together. Your teacher (or coach once you start competing) will help you decide which competitions are appropriate, what to wear to the competitions and other details of preparation.

A professional competing with an amateur is called pro-am competition. Again, like am-am, competitions are held often and are divided by age category and level. The difference is, in pro-am you would be competing with a professional and only the amateurs would be judged against each other. Many people opt for this because they do not have to find an amateur partner and also it is comforting to have someone experienced on the dance floor with you who can make you look your best and guide you through the experience. Your professional will most likely have several students they bring to select competitions. The experience is amazing. The events are usually held at hotels and make a great day out. During the events, there are dancers of all ages and experience levels. I find even watching other people dance can be very inspiring and educational.

No matter what you do with your dancing always be sure of one thing. The process of learning to dance should be the most enjoyable part. The outlets above provide great opportunities to show what you can do and the goals they create will help you progress faster, but it’s about the journey, not the destination!

Note that Jersey Dance instructors can help you reach any of your goals above. Talk to us about what you want and we will show you the best path for getting there.


American vs. International Style

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is what is the difference between International and American style dancing. The next question is almost always “Which one is better?”

First, there are two “styles” of ballroom dance. International standard and American smooth. International standard includes waltz, tango, viennese waltz, foxtrot and quickstep. American smooth contains all of those with the exception of quickstep. International standard only includes steps in closed hold while American smooth includes closed hold as well as steps where the frame opens. Viennese waltz is faster in international style and waltz and foxtrot are traditionally slower. There are other nuances that make these styles different, but at first glance, these are the main differences.

Dancers in shadow position. A common dance position in American Smooth.

In the Latin American style of dancing there is International Latin and American Rhythm. International Latin includes cha cha, rumba, paso doble, samba and jive. American rhythm includes cha cha, rumba, bolero, swing and mambo. Traditionally International latin involves a “latin motion” associated with movement arriving on a straight leg while American rhythm is associated with “cuban motion” where the dancer arrives on a bent leg and later straightens. As both of these styles of dancing have developed over time, we have begun to see examples of cuban motion in latin and latin motion in rhythm.

As to the question “Is American or International style better?” I have to answer: neither. Both styles are different and serve different purposes. For example, American tends to be used more in social dancing and international style in competition. Many people pick one style and say that the other styles is “bad” or “low level” or “for snobs.” Everyone is different and likes different things. My advice is to not worry about which style is better and try them both. You may like one better than another or maybe you will love the nuances of each. Which ever style or whatever dances you like is a personal decision based on personal taste. It’s completely up to you!

At Jersey Dance, we have tons of experience teaching both International and American styles. Ask your instructors for demonstrations of either.



Why Ballroom Dancing?

Ballroom dancing has become very popular.  TV shows have brought a ton of positive attention.  Many people, however, are not aware of the many benefits of dancing and people shy away from dancing because they feel that they will not be “good enough” and might embarrass themselves.

As a teacher, I have had the honor of introducing many people to dancing and they all have two things in common. One is that they had the desire to dance for a long period of time (usually a few years) but were too scared to come in and take a lesson. The second is that after a few lessons, they wish they had come to learn to dance much earlier. You have nothing to lose by taking a dance lesson and everything to gain.

benefits of Dance (1)

First, there is a physical benefit. Dancing is great exercise and is much more fun than going to the gym. A night of dancing is a lot healthier and a lot more fun than going to see a movie, and many trainers say that the best type of exercise is any activity you will consistently stick to. Not to mention, holding correct posture (one of the skills you will learn from dancing) makes you look 10 pounds thinner!

Dancing also trains balance as well as posture. These two seemingly simple concepts have a great deal of benefits. Having correct posture promotes spinal health. Also, when you stand straight, your organs are not cramped and have the proper room to work. You will have a good deal more energy without changing anything else. Balance improves agility and you will develop core strength while learning to improve your balance.

Dancing is a great social activity as well. At social dances, you will meet other students who already have one thing in common with you – an interest in dancing. I know many people who met at dance events and became good friends and sometimes even more!  If you are looking to spend time together with a special someone as a couple, dance lessons are great for that as well. You will not only spend time together, but you are learning a new skill and are creating something together. About 50% of the lessons I teach are to married couples.

Finally, there is the benefit that you will learn to dance. Dancing is an amazing activity. It allows people to learn how to use their bodies in new ways without being intimidated. Learning to dance makes you more graceful and will help build a sense of confidence.

With all these great benefits to dancing, there is no reason for you to wait any longer to take your first lesson!  Our lives are incredibly busy and we often put off those things we can do for ourselves until “later”.  Dancing allows us to start taking care of ourselves.

— Jen

Visit our website: www.jerseydance.com



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