Swing folks are friendly around here (Boston area), and typically change partners almost every song -- although you certainly don't have to! We have put together a few practical tips, mostly related to partner-changing, based on what we've observed of Boston-area customs.
(1) Who may ask for a dance?
men and women may ask someone for a dance. The classical
phrasing is "May I have this dance?" The contemporary
wording is usually "Would you like to dance?" but anything
even remotely resembling it will do.
(2) Timing: when EXACTLY to ask someone to dance -- a pragmatic tip for novice gentlemen dancers.
Normally, one asks at the beginning of a song. However, when we Gentlemen are brand new at Swing and don't have a very big repertoire, we often get dismayed by the prospect of leading our 5 or 6 moves for an entire three-minute song -- we feel that the fascination is gone (for her) long before the end of the song. So here's a secret tip: wait on the sidelines until halfway through a song and then ask her to dance. Ingenious, yes? (Also, during the song, switch back to Closed Position from time to time.)
(3) Be specific!
ask one particular person to dance. Do not go
up to 2 people standing together and ask, "Would either of
you care to dance?" What will happen is each of them will
hesitate and defer politely to the other, but you'll see it
as total rejection. (This is the Voice of Bitter Experience
talking at ya -- from both ends of the experience.)
(4) When to say yes.
If someone asks you to dance, dance with 'em -- unless you don't want to. On the one hand, it's friendlier to say yes, and the dance is only 3 minutes, so it won't kill you. On the other hand, it's the 21st century and you are no one's slave. Etiquette strongly supports you in saying no if the person is dangerous or offensive (physically, morally or olfactorily), or if you've promised the dance to someone else already, or if you are resting or heading for the water trough.
(5) How to say no.
If you want to say no to someone who asks you to dance, do so. It's your life and limbs. Etiquette explicitly says that you do not have to give reasons, despite the strong American predilection for doing so. Something like, "No thank you, not just now; perhaps later" works fine. (You can keep saying it all night if you have to.) Add a smile to cushion the blow. Then wait out the whole song (gracious classical approach) -- or at least 20 seconds (modern approach) -- before you dash onto the dance floor with someone else.
(6) When someone says no.
If someone declines to dance with you, accept it graciously. If he or she offers an excuse, pretend to believe it. Let's face it: either the excuse is true or it's because of you personally. If it's personal, you probably don't want to know about it, so just assume that the excuse is true. Around here, you'll almost certainly be right -- the local Swing dancers are remarkably nice in general. For example, if you get rejected right after a fast song, chances are the person is genuinely fatigued. Wait about two songs and then ask again. When to give up and assume it's personal? You might want to use the Rule that someone once told us was standard amongst the Country Club set in which he grew up: if someone declines 3 times without offering a compensating alternative (such as "next song, okay?"), forget it.
(7) Danger, Will Robinson!
danger. If you are being maimed during a
song, stop dancing and head for the sidelines -- even
if it's the middle of a song. Say something along the lines
of, "Gee, my shoulder suddenly seems to be hurting" if you
are timid, or, if you are more straightforward, "Excuse me,
but you've hurt my arm. I'm going to stop now." And then
walk away -- it's not a discussion; it's not a negotiation;
and you do not need permission or approval from the maimer
to stop dancing with him/her.
and groping. Same principle applies if
you are being fondled in ways you dislike: stop
dancing, say something to the creep, and head for the
sidelines. How can you know if the groping was intended or
accidental? Trust your feelings, Luke -- you will be correct
99.99 percent of the time. Yes, there are one or two gropers
on the local dance scene, all male at the moment -- the most
common local technique is that he switches to a swoopy
ballroom-ish style and pulls the woman's upper body so close
that her breasts are pressed against his chest, while he
pretends that he doesn't notice. (In case you are wondering,
this was NEVER correct for ballroom styles, and every guy on
the planet knows this. If it happens, you are being
Gentlemen Moving/Kicking Backwards: Gents, never move or kick backwards until you check that the area there is unoccupied! Usually, it happens halfway through a move that started out forward, so you are not as attentive to danger as usual -- get attentive! Note to others: If you see a guy moving or kicking backwards towards you, assume that he does NOT know what he's doing and, for your and your partner's safety, get out of the way.
(8) When the song ends.
When finished a dance, (i) APPLAUD THE BAND EVERY TIME (many people rudely forget), then (ii) thank your partner with something like, "Thanks for the dance!" Traditionally, one added a third step: (iii) walk your partner back to the sidelines. However, the time for finding a new partner between songs is so short these days, that most partners prefer that you skip this bit.
(9) How many songs in a row?
Dance one song with someone, then change partners. Maybe two in a row, but not more than that. (We have no idea why, but this seems to be the way it works around here.)
(10) Dance with partners of all skill levels.
Overcome your shyness and do it. It's good for you. And it makes everyone a better dancer sooner, which means more fun the next time out.
Dancing with someone LESS skilled than you. Be gracious -- stick to stuff she or he can handle, and then, when you are comfortable with each other's dancing, slip in something one degree harder, and then (maybe) two degrees harder. Come back to those one or two things until your partner is comfortable with them. Never over-dance your partner's capabilities. Always try to make your partner look and feel like a terrific dancer. And for heaven's sake, NEVER criticize or offer instruction, unless your partner explicitly and repeatedly demands that you do so. (Do all instructing on the sidelines, by the way, never on the dance floor.)
Dancing with someone MORE skilled than you. Concentrate! Smile! Do your best! Suppress the urge to apologize, except maybe once per song just to get it out of your system. Don't worry if you flub things -- the second or third time they happen you'll get the hang of 'em.
See you on the dance floor!
Page updated 8-22-2000, minor edits 10-15-2003
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