by Steve Harris
From time to time, we all fail to end up on the dance floor with someone we want to dance with. Sometimes we're left sat down when we would really like to be up dancing with just about anybody. This guide is intended to help.
A couple of notes/caveats:
Note that this is not really an dance etiquette guide - for one of those, see here. In places, you may find it sexist, unfair and at variance with how you believe dance floors should operate. It's much more realistic than that! It is written in the context of English Ceilidh but I find much of it applies on other dance scenes
You'll notice that in most of what follows, I assume that men ask women to dance. Yes, I do know there are alternative arrangements. To take account of that all the way through would be tedious. I have put in a few bits about woman asks man, etc. where it seems relevant.
Men have 15 seconds
Show the Lady
Don't beat around the bush
A Woman's guide to answering offers of a dance
Hazards of booking dances ahead
Finding keen dance partners
Dance with my friend
There is one very important concept that governs a lot of partner selection behaviour. Nearly everything flows from it and although it's about men, women do need to understand it.
Men have about a 15 second window in which to arrange a dancing partner
I'm sure at this point, someone will come along and tell me about the time, back in 1993, when they found the most marvellous dancing partner three minutes after everyone else was partnered up. I'm glad you got lucky.
The most obvious consequence of Rule Oneis that men should get themselves sorted with a partner quickly. It also has very important implications for women ..
Women! If you hide down the back of the hall ten rows deep in some seats, you will get very few offers. That's because the men operating Rule Onedon't have time to race to back of the hall and clamber over seats to get within asking distance. Instead get as close to the man/men you want to dance with as possible. Where to find them - see here. Always do your best to look like you are ready to answer "Yes!" to offers of a dance.
Corollary (or Rule 2A): If, for whatever reason you don't want to dance, reverse the advice in Rule 2. Otherwise you'll continue to get lots of offers, turn them down (which wastes men's time) and then when you do want to dance again we will have moved on to the "Yes" sayers. Yes, I know the men should be more sensitive and just know that you are tired but we're not. Sorry about that.
The higher your heels, the less dance offers you'll get from keen dancers. High heels are (perhaps wrongly) considered the badge of a woman who wants to be seen rather than to dance well. An accident with a high heeled partner could ruin a man's dancing for weeks. Low or no heels will suggest to some men that you know what you are doing on the dance floor. The same applies to clothes to some extent. It's not a bad idea to be reasonably eye catching but if you overdo it, men keen to dance may think you are more interested in being seen. If you bare your midriff or shoulders, be aware that it's mechanically necessary for your partner (and often other men) to touch you there. Yes, they're not meant to get turned on or misinterpret what you want but it may get you unwanted attention. Many men will be wary of touching you there and may decide it's simpler to ask someone else to dance
Men, ask women for a dance directly. Don't waste time talking about the weather first. Ignore this advice and some oaf like me will butt in and sweep her away to the floor. I often do this when I can see that she really wants to dance and is worrying that all you want to do is chat her up. The longer it goes on, the less chance she has of finding a partner. She can always decline my offer and announce she's dancing with you - and sometimes she does!
So, go up to her and ask "Do you want this dance?" (Note: Don't ask for the next dance. I've seen it misunderstood, ask for this dance) Dealing with the answer is less straightforward:
An immediate "Yes"
Looks like you are sorted
An immediate "No"
Slightly less good. Gives you time to look for alternatives
Mumbling, indecision, long explanations about needing to comb a puma in Leicester next Friday, etc.
Treat as a "No" Do not hang around for the end of the story or to clarify the answer. You haven't got time. Remember Rule One!
|"I need to get a drink/change my dress...."||In my experience, it could mean "Yes, there will be a delay" or it could be a "No" - but treat it as a "No"|
In this day and age, answering "No thank you" is acceptable. Really! Do not explain. If a man stops to listen to your explanation, he may end up without a partner at all due to Rule One. If there is a particular reason why you want a man to understand your refusal, find him again soon when he is not in the 15 second window and tell him then. Even better, go up to him later in the evening and offer to do the next dance with him.
Very, very early in your reply, use the word "Yes" or the word "No" clearly and distinctly. You might think that "I need a drink" is just as clear but some of you use it as shorthand for "Yes, I'm going to grab a swig of my drink, please grab us a place on the floor". The other common meaning is "No, I intend to join that horrendous queue for the bar"
Be aware of the affect of saying "No"
If you say no several times to a particular man - especially on consecutive occasions - he may decide you don't want to dance with him ever. You may or may not want that to happen
If you say no to one man and then accept an offer from another for the same dance, the first man may take it personally and never ask you to dance again. You may or may not want that to happen
If you say no to an offer of a dance, other men may be aware and not bother ask you now or possibly later. Remember, they may be operating Rule One
Every time you are seen up and dancing, men will notice you as someone interested in actually dancing. Often, you will be closer to someone who will ask you for the next dance. So get on that dance floor - ask another woman for a dance if no man approaches you as a wallflower. Or ask a man you know. Or one you don't!
Warning: Don't say "Yes" when you mean "No"
Quite a lot of women say "Yes" to unwanted dance offers. I know this because:
Some women who accept my offers then start giving out strong "I didn't really want to do this" signals
Some women continually say "yes" to men they don't like dancing with and then moan to me about the men in question!
Recap: You have the right to say "No"! Passive-aggressive behaviour sucks!
What to do after saying "yes"
Dance floors can be noisy places and your "yes" may not have even been heard. Move towards the dancing area with the man. Possibly take his hand.
Do not back out from the dance you have accepted for any reason whatsoever! It usually results in the man being partner-less and sitting down for 10-15 minutes instead of dancing. Keen dancers will avoid unreliable partners.
Using Eye Contact
A sometimes useful alternative to a verbal ask is to look the potential partner in the eye and raise your eyebrows. This has the advantage that "the ask" can be accomplished at greater range. Also the asked person can choose not to see the look. If the couple don't dance together the fact of an ask and a refusal can be fairly private. It's known as "plausible deniability" by some.
Summary: Don't do it! It causes all sorts of problems. You might think that booking up the next 3 or 4 partners is a neat way of avoiding all the stress of Rule One. Here's what often happens in practice:
Tom knows he is booked for this dance with Mary but can't see her anywhere. Does he search further, assume she's gone to the loo and try to find an alternative partner at a late stage or just write that dance off?
Mary forgets that she's booked with Tom, accepts an offer from Dick and then Tom finds her ...
The caller may tell dancers to stay where they are at the end of a dance. It's not clear whether Tom and Mary are supposed to be doing that dance together or not. If they are, Mary's partner from the first dance may not find out about that until quite late and lose out on any partners.
Some women offer "Next one" because they don't like saying "No". Sometimes, the next dance can in fact be claimed from these ladies. Quite often they will have left or accepted another partner. If you're the person offering "Next Dance", be aware that some people may think you mean "No, never" and find someone else for the next dance.
Tom: Would you like this dance?
Mary: I'm doing it with Dick, then I'm dancing with Harry, you can have the one after that
Tom: Oh no, that's too complicated, I'll find you again later
Believe me, she WILL be available without a queue later. Even spectacularly attractive girls work their way through those prepared to queue quite quickly.
Tom: Can I book you for five dances time?
Mary: That's far too organized! DO look out for me and ask again when you've got through all those other women!
Tom: Would you like this dance?
Mary: How about the next one?
Tom: Sorry, I'm booked for that, I'll catch you later.
Booking named dances ahead
E.G.: "Can I book you for Rosza?"
In some circumstances, it can work. Some (good) callers will announce "Bring your partners on the floor for Rosza" right at the start of the 15 second window and you can get the right people together reliably. If the caller likes to keep the name of dance a secret until the last moment, you end up on the floor with the wrong partner. Quite likely, someone will end up with no partner.
Tom: Can I book you for Rosza?
Mary: No but I'm free for this dance now whatever it is.
First, a clarification: "Last dance" generally means the last formal called dance. There is a moderately strong convention of couples with a relationship off the dance floor dancing it together. The "last dance" is usually followed by a "final polka" where partner selection is more random. So, providing both parties and the caller play attention to the clock, it can work. But it's safer to use this gambit:
Tom: Can I book you for the last dance?
Mary: Book me, no, but if you're the first to ask me at the time, that would be lovely.
A woman may wish to avoid a particular dance, or figure altogether or wish to do it only with a particular partner. It's difficult, consider these example responses to offers of a dance:
"Yes, but not if it's Rosza, I'm doing that with Tom"
"Yes, but with my back, not anything with a dip and dive
The problem with these from the man's point of view is that he may find himself without a partner when it's too late to get another. A possible response to the Rosza Exclusion is, "No then, I'll ask you again when Rosza has been done". The problem doesn't arise if the caller always announces the name of the dance promptly. The caller can also help the woman who wants to avoid certain figures. Callers are quite human and if you explain the difficulty they might decide not to use the figure at all. Or maybe they'll tell you which dances are going to be suitable. Or maybe even announce, "Mary, this is one for you"!
I am told that in some cultures, to ask a woman for a third consecutive dance is tantamount to an offer of marriage. Although that's not the case with English Ceilidh, lots of consecutive dances may suggest to others that a relationship off the dance floor is starting or in existence. The result is often that the woman gets ever fewer dance offers from other men. That may or may not be what she wants. I'd suggest that a woman who'd like to dance with a variety of partners doesn't do more than two consecutive dances with any one man. Perhaps the best advice for the beginner (male or female) is to assume that you will be changing partners after every dance.
Women can and do ask men to dance. Much of the foregoing applies. It's useful to both men and women if only because it exposes them to the experience of the other sex. Women also ask women. Men asking men is rare although it is growing amongst the younger generation. A couple of specific points:
Women asking men should accept a refusal with good grace. Men are allowed to say "No"
Women dancing with women at a dance where there is a shortage of women may receive many offers from pairs of men to "split them up"
In some places, asking a woman for a dance when she is the life partner of another man is considered aggressive and could get you beaten up. Even if you had no clue such as a wedding ring to guide you. Such problems are quite rare in English Ceilidh but a few tips:
If you choose amongst the more enthusiastic dancers, the chances of trouble are minimized
One off rural dances and some festival ceilidhs may attract people who are not really into dancing at all. They are more likely to misinterpret you asking a woman to dance.
Some men who don't want to dance may be very happy for you to show their wife a good time on the dance floor
Dancing ONCE with someone's wife/girlfriend may persuade the man to get on the dance floor for the first time in his life. He may have a great time, discover a new hobby and thank you. Seriously!
Everyone at a ceilidh is keen to dance. Err, not necessarily. A few points:
Some people are there because they want to enlarge their social circle and will readily accept offers of a dance
Others have an adequate social circle, thank you very much and are at this social event with family and/or friends. A stranger asking for a dance feels odd. If they dance at all, it's with their group. You can often spot these "framily" groups by their inward focus.
Some regular ceilidh series do have a high proportion of people wanting to dance. A typical "ceilidh series" happens once a month during Autumn, Winter and Spring on the Nth Saturday
One off fund raiser ceilidhs (..in aid of the XXX appeal) can be a bit of a desert. People attend to support the cause.
Festival ceilidhs (ceilidh events that are part of a folk festival) are rather mixed. Some people will be there because they don't like the concert act and since they have a season ticket, they might as well get a drink at the bar in the ceilidh marquee.
Late night ceilidhs at festivals may be the only event available at that time. So people who don't want to go to bed go to the ceilidh.
Some of the people at a ceilidh may be musicians who are there to hear the band - not necessarily dance to them.
Enthusiastic dancers tend to congregate near the band. And if (as in some marquees) the floor slopes, they'll gather at the top of the slope. If you want to find a dancing partner, hunting in this area is a very good idea both for men and women.
...she's very nice but no one knows her so she's not getting any dances.
I used to accept such suggestions. Not now! It very rarely worked out well. Some thoughts:
Your friend would rather not dance with me but it's difficult for her to refuse now
I would rather not dance with this particular woman but it's difficult for me to refuse now (but I will!)
Your friend doesn't actually want to dance even though you think she does
Many men are continually checking out potential new dance partners. If she's not getting offers, being unknown is not the reason!
Give her this article to read. She may then see why no one is asking her to dance and fix it. Me having one dance with her isn't as effective.
If you are having trouble getting enough partners, here are some possible reasons:
You are one of the majority sex at the event. You must work harder at the appropriate points listed above.
Your appearance suggests you may not be a good partner. No that isn't fair but it's real. Some dancers are wary of people from a different age group. Athletic dancers may spurn the overweight. Some younger women are very floppy and dance like a piece of spaghetti. Competent young male dancers do exist but are quite rare. Some older women are stiff and have a vice-like grip. To diagnose the issue, try getting a few dances from people with similar characteristics to yourself and see if that works.
If people you've danced with before avoid dancing with you then it's likely they don't like some aspect of the dancing experience with you. Some possibilities:
They interpret your dance offers as a potential unwanted sexual advance. Give up and play the (dancing) field more widely.
Your dancing style is too different to theirs.
After you stepped all over their feet, they don't want a repeat.
A woman may like to chatter her way through a dance and be frustrated by a partner who is poor at multi-tasking and neither listens or dances well. The partner, recognizing his weakness, may avoid her in future.
In dances with a convention of a male lead/female follow, men who don't lead or women who won't follow may struggle to find partners
Even in dances without such a convention men often want to dance with (a conventional) real woman and women with (a conventional) real man. Weak men and forceful women may find they are less in demand.