Round Etiquette

Etiquette and Good Behaviour

Do I need to read this?
Asking someone to dance
Forming up to dance
Dropping out of dances
Dancing with consideration for others
Correcting people’s dancing
Personal hygiene
Flirting and touching outside a dancing context
Gender and dancing
Finally ...

Do I need to read this?

Yes and no. No-one wants to do something embarrassing or upsetting when they go out dancing, so here’s our rough guide to club etiquette. Almost everything on this page is just common sense and common courtesy. If you’re generally polite and considerate of others, it’s unlikely you’ll upset someone just because you went out dancing. On the other hand, a lot of people get nervous: there are lots of traditions and until you’ve been you don’t know which ones people still follow. Also, some of the conventions aren’t obvious until you’ve been a couple of times, so you might like to know in advance how things usually work.

Asking someone to dance

This is the 21st century, and it’s perfectly acceptable for anyone to ask anyone else at the club to dance. The traditional image may be of men asking ladies to dance, but it is entirely fine for ladies to do the asking, and for people to dance in mixed-sex couples, same-sex couples, or couples that do not identify with the gender binary.

Traditionally, to invite someone to dance you would ask something like ‘May I have this dance?’ or ‘Would you like this dance?’ These are still commonly used, but no-one’s going to be offended if you’re less formal about things, a smile and ’Want to dance this one?’ is fine!

If you don’t want to dance with someone, it’s perfectly polite to decline — "No, thank you" is always a valid reply, and it is entirely fine not to give any further explanation. If you say ‘I’m sorry, I don’t want to dance this dance’ to someone, and then accept someone else’s invitation to dance this is rather bad manners, and will be taken as a snub. (There are exceptions — if you had already agreed to dance it with that other person when you were asked, or if the dance is short of people and you are clearly coming in reluctantly to make up a set.) If you don’t want to dance that particular dance but you’re worried about upsetting someone who has asked you specially, you can always offer to find them for a different dance later. If you have specific reasons why you do not want to dance with someone, it can be helpful to let them know, eg ‘I’m sorry, I don’t want to dance with you because you swing very fast and I find that uncomfortable’, but you should not feel obliged to.

The corollary to this is that you shouldn’t be upset if you ask someone to dance and they turn you down. It happens all the time, and it’s probably not your fault. People get tired, need a drink, particularly want to do a favourite dance with a favourite partner or just don’t like a particular dance. You’re more likely to find a partner for the dance if you look for someone else than if you try to wait for an explanation. Also, just because someone turned you down, that doesn’t mean you can’t ask them again later, particularly if they said they’d come and find you when they declined before. If you’re turned down by the same person twice, you might want to wait and see if they ask you to dance later instead, as they might have a good reason and you don’t want to hassle them.

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Forming up to dance

Generally, when a dance is announced, people will ask each other to dance until they have found a partner, and then go and stand with other couples to make the correct formation for the dance. (It is important to listen to the caller at this point — there are occasional dances that don’t need couples, but need three people, or groups of seven people!) Just standing in the middle of the floor without a partner can cause confusion, as everyone else on the floor already has someone to dance with. Going to the edge of the room and asking people to dance is usually best.

Many dances take place in ‘longways sets’, that is, two long lines down the room, with couples facing across the set at each other. It is good manners to always join a long set at the bottom (the end away from the caller). This is because the dance often involves dancing in a small group of four with the couple next to you, and these are counted down from the top — joining at the top or in the middle will reset this, and mean people need to reassess whether they are ‘ones’ or ‘twos’.

Other dances need a fixed number of couples in a set. Generally, if there are people who want to dance who need more couples, they will put their hands in the air until they have the right number of couples. Occasionally you will find yourself trying to join a set that only needs one couple at exactly the same time as someone else, there are no clear guidelines for what to do, but smiling and being apologetic and remembering that there will always be another set to join, or another dance to dance works pretty well.

The main thing to remember is if you don’t have the right number of people for a dance, make it obvious to the caller — if you stick hands in the air it is much easier to sort things out than if you just stand there with five couples for a four couple dance.

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Dropping out of dances

Sometimes, you may have formed a set to dance, and then find that you are not enjoying the dance — maybe it is much harder than you were expecting, or it is a type of dance you don’t like, or it is a mixer dance, and you have found yourself without a partner. It can be very tempting to just run away and sit down. Dancing is supposed to be fun, and you should never feel obliged to keep dancing if you are unhappy or in physical pain. But most dances only work with a specific number of people. If you sit down halfway through a mixer dance, there will be another person on the floor without a partner who is now confused and unable to dance. If you leave a four couple set with your partner, that leaves six people unable to dance. If you can stick out a dance you don’t enjoy to the bitter end, it does help the other dancers — and in ten minutes it is all over and a better dance will come round. If you do need to leave, you may be able to find someone sitting out at the side to swap in for you.

Dancing with consideration for others

Dancing is a contact sport, as the saying goes, and if someone has said ‘yes’ to dancing then it’s reasonable to expect the main dance moves like holding hands and swinging to be fine. However, always be considerate of others. If it’s the first time you’ve danced with someone, it is better to check things like ‘what sort of swing do you like’ during the walk through. And if the dancer seems new or nervous, think about keeping things simple and low stress — some people will find a very close ballroom-hold swing with a stranger to be more uncomfortable than a cross armed swing. Keep an eye out for the body language of your partner — a smile is a good sign that they’re comfortable and enjoying the dance.

Don’t feel the need to suffer in silence if someone is doing something you find uncomfortable — people may not be aware that they’re doing something wrong, so politely pointing it out will be to their benefit too. However, corrections should not be offered in an angry tone of voice, and it is best to couch feedback in terms of ‘I feel … when you do …’, rather than ‘you are …’ — for example ‘It hurts my wrist when you do the turns on the ladies chain, could you please not turn me?’ is better than ‘you are a rough dancer’. Similarly, try not to be offended if someone asks you to dance differently - good dancing is about a partnership between two people, and if the way you’re dancing isn’t working for your partner this is not a time for an argument about who is right or wrong, it is a time to collaboratively work together to find a way to dance that works for both of you.

Also be considerate to others in your set. If you think you are going the right way and the other couple aren’t, it can be tempting to just keep going, but they probably need a bit of time and space, not to be galloped into! If you can’t dance around a couple who are in your way, it’s much better to stop, let them move and then carry on than it is to crash into them, trip them up or step on their toes.

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Correcting people’s dancing

Everyone in the club is invested in making the dance work, and we all help each other. But it’s important to be careful and think about whether ‘help’ is helpful.

It can be tempting to try and explain things to people in your set during the walkthrough that they didn’t get when the caller first explained them. This can be really helpful — you can do demonstrations and show people where to go and explain by name. But it can lead to lots of people trying to explain things at the same time, the caller feeling ignored and talked over, and the poor confused person having to try and deal with explanations from all sides! Generally make sure only one person is explaining anything at any one time — and when in doubt, that should be the caller. If you need a more careful explanation, stick up your hand, and when the caller spots it, say ‘can we go over that bit again’

When dancing, you may find you want to correct people who are dancing with you. It is better for the dance to go wrong than for someone to feel upset or unfairly criticised. Gestures for ‘go this way’, with a smile, are usually good; but there should be no need for anyone to be physically pushed, and corrections should never be offered in an angry tone of voice. After the dance is over, it might be a good idea to check in and say something like ‘I hope that was helpful, I always get a bit confused in that one, don’t worry, you’re generally doing really well’.

Also, not all mistakes are mistakes! It may be that if there is a man dancing on the ladies side, and a lady dancing on the man’s side they are confused and need correcting, but it might just be that one half of the dance is more fun than the other, and they have decided to swap over.

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Personal hygiene

This one’s pretty obvious, really: if you’re going out dancing, be in a state where other people would be happy to dance with you!

We’re not talking about the unkempt look here: it’s not obligatory for men to be clean-shaven with hair gelled down like a matinee idol, nor for ladies to spend two hours putting their hair up and make-up on. Just make sure you’re clean, and please don’t go out dancing in a crowded room if you’re bringing some unpleasant lurgi with you.

With experience you’ll find that some clothes are much more comfortable for dancing on hot days than others, but if you tend to sweat a lot and you’re worried, you can always take along a change of clothes.

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Flirting and touching outside a dancing context

Just because someone has said yes to a dance it does not mean they’ve consented to anything further! Dancing is fun, and dancers are fun, and many people have met and fallen for people through dancing. But just because dancing involves hand holding, eye contact, and being inside someone’s personal space during a dance does not mean these behaviours are acceptable after the dance. Like in any other social space, consent is important. You may see dancers with close and flirtatious relationships — but the odds are these people have known each other for years. In general, at the end of a dance give people the same personal space and respect you would in other social contexts. People come dancing to have fun and enjoy spending time with other people — behaviour that makes people feel uncomfortable should not be part of that.

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Gender and dancing

Traditionally, most dances have the dancers dancing in couples, and one of the couple is referred to as the ‘man’, and the other as the ‘woman’. This is the 21st century, and (at least in our club) gender labels in dancing should refer only to the role someone is taking in the dance they are currently dancing. Although it is still most usual for people to dance in opposite sex pairs, with the man taking the ‘man’ role in the dance and the woman taking the ‘woman’s role, it is very common to see female-female pairs, and is entirely fine to have male-male couples, mixed-sex couples dancing with the genders swapped, or couples that do not identify with the gender binary.

Please try not to assume that people dancing in same-sex couples would prefer to be dancing in opposite sex couples. It is possible that two women dancing together would prefer to be dancing with a man, but couldn’t find a man to ask. But it could be that they are looking forward to dancing the next dance with the person they asked to dance, for a wide range of reasons — they could be dancing with a really excellent dancer, could be wanting to learn how to do the opposite sex dance moves, could be looking forward to a dance to catch up with someone they haven’t seen for a year, or may be dancing with someone they are deeply in love with. Imagine how you would feel if someone said to the person you just asked to dance ‘don’t dance with them, come and dance with me, that would be better’, and try not to assume.

The club is supportive of callers who want to use gender neutral calling, which can be more accommodating to people who want to dance in same sex couples or don’t identify with traditional gender roles. However, this can be difficult for the caller, and is easier for some dances than other, so most dances continue to be called with gendered terminology. If you’d like to dance with us and this is a problem for you, let us know. Likewise, if you’re a caller who’d like to know more about gender neutral calling, please contact the committee.

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And always remember...

Never forget that dancing is supposed to be fun, not a means to tie yourself in knots over P’s and Q’s that you spend the rest of the evening trying to undo. You’re there to have a good time, and so is everyone else. If you’re not sure about something, just look for someone who seems to know what they’re doing and ask politely. Dancers are by nature a pretty friendly bunch, and you’ll find plenty of help if you need it.

If you have any questions about any of this, or problems with people not following this guidance at club night, please contact the Round Committee or see our formal complaints policy. We are always keen to work to make dancing a safer and happier space.

[With huge thanks to Cambridge Dancers’ Club for their very helpful etiquette page which was the seed for this]

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