English Ceilidh (ECeilidh)


Dance Partners

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:

Things you really need to know...

 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

Rule One: Men have 15 seconds

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 ..

Rule Two: Show the Lady

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.

Shoes, Clothes and Flesh for women

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

Rule Three: Don't beat around the bush


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:


Comments, interpretation

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"

A Woman's guide to answering offers of a dance


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"

Warning: Don't say "Yes" when you mean "No"

Quite a lot of women say "Yes" to unwanted dance offers. I know this because:

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.


Booking dances ahead


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:

Suggested gambits:

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.

Suggested gambit:

Tom: Can I book you for Rosza?
Mary: No but I'm free for this dance now whatever it is.

Booking the last dance

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.

The problems of avoiding particular dances

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:

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"!

Dancing with the same partner a lot

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 doing the asking (and other arrangements)

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:

Asking "another man's woman" to dance

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:

Finding keen dance partners

Everyone at a ceilidh is keen to dance. Err, not necessarily. A few points:

Dance with my friend...

...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:


If you are having trouble getting enough partners, here are some possible reasons: