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 Dance Floor Etiquette 

Good Manners Are Easy

Even On The Dance Floor

Lisa Cowan

Good manners make a huge amount of difference in almost any area of life.

My friend, Jeff, recently told me about a day he spent in court.  The two-dozen or so people who went before the judge ahead of him, he said, displayed absolutely no trace of good manners, nor even minimal politeness.

"No one bothered to dress respectably.  Most slouched and few even looked the judge in the eye when they spoke to her.  Not a single person addressed her as "Your Honor," or showed even a hint of courtesy in their conversations with her."  

In fact, my friend says, although the judge greeted each person with "Good morning, (or afternoon,) sir (or ma'am)," no one even bothered to return the greeting.

The judge greeted Jeff when he stepped forward to face her, and he responded, "Good afternoon, your Honor!."  The judge actually looked startled...and she smiled, probably for the first time since arriving at the courthouse that day.

I can hardly imagine that this world has become so discourteous that a simple, respectful greeting becomes a bright spot in someone's day.

Manners are like the shadows of virtues, they are the momentary display of those qualities which our fellow creatures love and respect.
~ Sydney Smith ~

I spend a lot of time on the dance floor, so I can tell you that good manners are just as important there as anywhere else.  I'm not alone in this opinion.  People tell me they really notice good manners...and they remember the dancers who have them.

In my opinion, there are three separate phases of good manners in dancing.

1.  Courtesy begins before you leave your home.  If you take care to look nice and smell nice, you're off to a great start.  It shows that you respect yourself and other people with whom you'll come in contact.

2.  The next phase comes in the form of greetings and polite conversation.  Make your way around the room when you arrive.  Say hello to people you know, and introduce yourself to strangers.  Make it a point to speak to people who often get left out.  That small act of politeness bears more fruit than you can imagine:

  • It makes ill-at-ease people feel more comfortable and welcome.

  • It helps shy people find their voices, which leaves them more open to starting conversations with others.

  • It makes people aware of your presence in the room.

  • It marks you as a caring person, someone others will want to know.

  • It increases your friendship (and networking) base.

  • It's contagious.  The more people see each other mingling -- conversing and then  moving on -- the more confident they will feel about doing it themselves.

  • It generates a feeling of goodwill and connectedness in the room.

  • It raises the self esteem of everyone involved.

  • It elevates your worth as a human being.

3.  Polite behavior on the dance floor is the third aspect.  Treat your partner as the most important person in the room:

  • Don't be presumptuous.  No matter how well you know the person with whom you want to dance, ask for the dance.  Don't just take her (or his) hand and drag her (or him) to the dance floor.

  • If you ask someone for a waltz, for example, and he or she does not know how to waltz, either offer to show him or her the steps, or ask permission to come back later for a dance that he or she knows how to do.  It is very rude to simply walk away without comment.

  • If you plan to ask someone who is part of an established couple to dance, there is a right way and a wrong way to ask. 

WRONGDo not ask, "May I dance with your wife?"  He might be agreeable, but she might resent not being asked directly. 

RIGHT:  Do ask, "Do you mind if I ask your wife to dance?"  If he says yes, then politely ask her if she would like to dance.  Don't presume that her husband has the authority to hand her over without her consent.

(The same applies in reverse when ladies ask married or committed gentlemen to dance.)

  • It is usually appropriate -- although not absolutely necessary -- to take your partner's hand as you walk to the dance floor, even if you are married to or dating  someone else.  However; be sensitive.  Your partner might not be comfortable holding your hand, especially if he or she is part of a couple.

  • When you dance, look into your partner's eyes while you talk to each other, but don't stare or lock gazes (unless you're flirting, of course.)

  • Try to make small talk.  Easy subjects include:  jobs, church, kids, dancing, the song that's playing (or the artist who sings it), memories related to the song that's playing, etc.

  • Compliments are okay (and often welcome), but don't make them too personal, especially if you don't know your partner well.

  • Don't turn a casual dance into a lesson, unless your partner asks.  It's okay to offer, but do it politely and be prepared to take "no thank you" for an answer.  Remember, it is very easy to hurt a beginning dancer's feeling by criticizing their technique or by offering to show them how to do it right.  If you're going to stick your neck out, at least phrase your offer delicately.

  • If your partner's dance style is so overbearing that you cannot stick it out through the whole dance, make a polite excuse and end the dance early.  Don't walk away and leave your partner standing alone.  (The exception, of course, would be for inappropriate behavior.  Politeness does not require you to tolerate mistreatment.)

  • Don't check out the other gals/guys in the room while dancing with your current partner.  The person you are dancing with right now deserves your full attention.

  • When the song ends, thank your partner for the dance, and then...

Gentlemen:  walk your partner back to her seat or back to where she was standing when you asked her to dance.

Ladies:  allow your partner to see you off the dance floor. 

Neither of you should abandon the other -- especially to grab your next partner before someone else can!

  • If you stop to speak to others along the way, introduce your partner. 

  • Don't monopolize a partner.  Two dances in a row are usually about all politeness will bear.  You can ask again later.

Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential.

~ Will Cuppy ~


Since we're on the subject, let's talk a little bit about standard dance floor etiquette. 

Good dance etiquette impacts nearly everyone in the room.  The rules will change from venue to venue, and from one part of the country to another.  If you are dancing away from home, try to be aware of the unspoken rules that everyone else seems to be following.  Some generalities are fairly common, though:

  • The line of travel generally follows a counter-clockwise path around the dance floor.

  • Imagine the dance floor is divided into two outer traveling lanes, with a larger open area in the center.

The outermost lane is for continuously-moving travel (such as the two-step or the country waltz).

The inner lane is for stop and go travel (such as the schottische, traveling cha cha, or horseshoe shuffle). 

The center circle is usually divided between line dancing and more-or-less stationary dances, such as swing and cha cha.  Remember: line dancing is not strictly a country & western phenomenon any more.  You never know where it's going to pop up, so be prepared to share the floor.

  • To keep tempers from rising and everyone having an enjoyable experience, it's important to observe a few rules of politeness on the dance floor.

Line Dancers:  leave room on the outside for the travelers to go around you.  Ideally, you should take up no more than about half of the inner circle, leaving the other half for stationary dancers. 

Swing Dancers and Freestylers (and others sharing the center of the floor):  Be aware of where the line dance body is moving: it shifts in all four directions.  Don't dance into their space.

Travelers:  Follow the line of travel.  If you find yourself on the inside, never cut into the body of a line dance or in between another couple.  If you come upon a traffic jam, even if the couple causing the jam is not obeying the "rules," dance around the obstacle.  If you cannot get around the traffic jam, or if it looks like it might dissolve quickly, use a hesitation step to hold your position until you can move forward again. 

West Coast Swingers:  Be aware of others couples' "slots".  Arrange yours so that it doesn't intersect with someone else's.

Non Dancers:  Don't stand and talk on the dance floor -- especially at the edges where the travelers are headed.  Avoid carrying food or drink across the dance floor.

Dancers:  Never "bump" another couple to get them out of the way or to "teach them a lesson."  It is very poor form and reflects badly on you.  If you bump someone by accident or step on someone's foot, apologize as soon as possible.  This simple courtesy does so much to keep tempers from flaring out of control.

Whomever one is, and wherever one is, one is always in the wrong if one is rude.

~ Maurice Baring ~


Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you - not because they are nice, but because you are.

~ Author Unknown ~


Courtesy is defined as "polite behavior; a gracious manner or "manners."  Possibly the most gracious courtesy you can show another human being is forgiveness.  No, everyone isn't going to follow the rules; but that doesn't mean you can't rise above circumstance and set a better example; sort of like Jeff did in the courtroom.


In case you're wondering, the judge didn't let Jeff off with just a warning because he was so polite.  But, he tells me, she was fair -- and in the end he got what he had coming.  The difference was this:  Jeff still feels good about himself.


Christianity is designed to refine and to soften; to take away the heart of stone, and to give us hearts of flesh; to polish off the rudeness and arrogances of our manners and tempers; and to make us blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke.

~ Jay ~


"That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God without
rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation,
among whom ye shine as lights in the world,
holding forth the Word of life."--Phil. 2:15,16



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(503) 939-2221

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