For automotive vehicles we have the DMV "rules of the road." We take regular exams to check if we remember them, and we can expect citations if we forget. There are no exams or formal penalties in social dancing for the "rules of the floor." But whether you are maneuvering around a crowded floor or "parked" between dances, ballroom dancing has a long history of guidelines for acceptable conduct.
Ballroom studios frequently reference or post etiquette tips, because sometimes dancers forget the rules and new dancers may not be familiar with them. Today I'm focusing on one of the most common questions: When is it OK to decline a dance?
No dancer should be expected to leap onto the floor for every dance. Sometimes a dancer is tired, needs a break between dances, or chooses to sit one out. Perhaps a physical condition or injury is involved, and the dancer needs to be cautious about how many dances in a row he or she can enjoy. While these are good reasons to decline, they should be explained to anyone asking for a dance. It is not enough to simply say "No thanks."
After pleasantly stating you just "need to sit one out," you must adhere to it. Do not, under any circumstances, accept an invitation onto the floor with anyone else during the same song. It is an additional courtesy to offer to dance later that evening with the person who asked. This makes it clear that declining an earlier request was not based on a personal dislike.
There are exceptions to this last courtesy: You do not need to encourage an invitation to dance if the person asking is physically dangerous – tugs painfully on your arms, hurts your back, or pulls you off-balance – acts inappropriately, practices poor hygiene, or is verbally abusive or rude.
You should promptly inform the studio manager about such problems in a private setting. Studio staff will talk to the person about etiquette, perhaps suggest coaching, and emphasize the importance of proper conduct on and off the floor.
It is considered discourteous in a social dance setting to refuse a dance because the person asking is at a lower level of skill than you. Intermediate and advanced dancers are expected to know and use basics steps in social situations, whether at a studio dance or elsewhere. It is also considered rude to avoid dancing with others simply because you consider them unattractive, too old, or too young.
We all started somewhere.
We were all beginners once, and we fondly remember more experienced dancers who graciously danced with us when we started. In time, all dancers come to realize the dance community has its own karmic circle. You might recall something I mentioned a few months ago: "Treating everyone equally is like 'Social Dance Insurance.' Today's beginner could be your favorite dance partner next year, a champion dancer in several years — or your dance coach a few years later!"
Hope to see you on the dance floor!
A champion dancer and six-time finalist on "Dancing with the Stars", Cheryl Burke is the founder of a dance studio complex in Mountain View. For more information, see cherylburkedance.com and click on "Contact Us" or see our Facebook pages.
© 2012, Cheryl Burke Dance, LLC. All rights reserved.