notes on asking someone to dance

The last post I wrote generated a few interesting and thoughtful comments. Most notably, I was struck by this comment:

New dancers need to know that when someone says “no,” it’s not necessarily about them personally. And at the same time, it can help them to have some idea about things that dancers can work on to make it more likely that people would say “yes.” – Anonymous

I mean, there’s this incredibly convoluted and unnecessary spreadsheet, but honestly: it’s so much simpler than we want to make it.* I have a few simple and personal beliefs about asking someone to dance, but it boils down to this: use your words, and be as polite as you can be. Hopefully, they’ll say yes.

1. Use Your Words

I like it when people ask me to dance – but I mean ask. Use your words. “Would you like to dance?”

One of my biggest pet peeves in dance is when a lead comes up to me, holds out his hand, wiggles his eyebrows, and expects me to join him. I think one reason leads and follows alike omit this question is because it invites a response, and that response very well could be “no.” When someone just holds my hand (or worse, takes it without my permission!), then I no longer have the option to decline politely, and that makes me uncomfortable.

Conclusion: Use Your Words. Please. It’s so much nicer.

2. Be Polite.

This follows right behind “Use Your Words,” and it’s so based in common sense that people often assume they are being polite when, in reality, their actions are incredibly rude. The best example I can think of with this is the “hoverer” – that person who is hovering just a few feet away, waiting to be noticed so that he or she can swoop in and get the next dance. When someone is hovering around me, waiting to be noticed, I feel obligated to end my conversation – and moreover, I feel like I am the one being rude if I choose not to acknowledge their presence.

You know when children tug on their parent’s clothes and go “Mommy, mommy, listen to me?!” It feels like you’re doing that. Silently. But with your eyes. And it makes me want to discipline you like a child by telling you to go mind your own business, because “Mommy’s having an adult conversation.”



I swear I won’t use #WhatShouldWeCallSwingDance every time, but it’s just so accurate…

Personally, I prefer it when someone is direct (again with using words!). I am so much happier when a lead walks right up and asks, “Hey, I don’t want to interrupt, but would you like to dance?” If the conversation is over, I will happily accept, and if it’s not over, I’ll happily promise you the next dance – and I’ll make sure to follow up!

3. Asking teachers and “bad-ass” dancers.

Consider the teachers at an event like Lindy Focus – yes, there are twenty or thirty instructors, but there are nearly a thousand people in attendance. Teachers dance all night in an attempt to fill the needs of the event, and are often (unjustly) criticized for not dancing enough – but seriously, they’re human. They need water, they’ve danced the last seventeen songs, and they want to catch up with their friends from all over the world. Let them.

Personally, I choose not to hunt down teachers and “rock star” dancers. I do not hover, I do not “stalk,” and I do not ask someone to dance who is clearly engaged in another activity. I might choose to follow up another time, but I do not expect the bad-ass dancers to hunt me down at a later point. I try to accept “no,” as the end of the conversation, without painting them as rude.

The best way to ask a teacher to dance, I think, is to take advantage of an opportunity. If there’s no opportunity, then I would rather dance with my good friend who is also standing nearby.

4. Be Friends.

The more I consider someone a friend, the more likely I am to dance with them, sometimes multiple times in a night. This is not because they are better dancers (though they sometimes are), or because I am trying to avoid dancing with other people. It is because we are friends. We are able to do this awesome thing together, and that’s just cool.

So strike up a conversation. Preferably one which isn’t about dance. Trust me – it works, both on people in your scene and bad-ass dancers at major events.


A note on being offended.

First off, “later” is a valid response, even when I give it multiple times in a row. Maybe, if I have said “not this song” a couple times in a row, consider how you are asking me. Are the songs always fast? Am I usually headed towards the water fountain? I try not to say “later” multiple times in a row, but it happens.

It should be said that when I forget to follow up with someone, I feel terrible, but it happens. Maybe I didn’t keep track of the time, or maybe I couldn’t remember their face – but it happens. Follow up with me – I seriously appreciate it.

Of course, I know there are people who say “no,” never follow up, and don’t feel any guilt. “Dance snobs” will always exist, and that’s their own deal. You can choose to be offended, or you can choose to move on and dance with your friends who enjoy your company – but I promise the latter will make you happier.


The funny thing about the flowchart I mentioned before is, actually, in its convoluted nature: while the process of asking someone to dance should be very simple, the anxiety we experience in deciding to ask someone to dance is incredibly high. I myself have had a very similar internal series of questions to determine whether or not I should ask someone to dance, and in reality, it all boils down to the central message: Ask At Your Own Risk.

Personally, the more polite you are, and the more you use your words, the more likely it is that I will say “yes.” As for everyone else – well, I’m sure someone feels differently. But I’m sure it all applies, to some degree or another.


*I would just like to state a personal note. I find the very first qualification, “Are you remotely creepy?” to be one of the most offensive things I have ever seen in a flow chart. I could rant on for ages about this, but I would just like to point out that it is a judgmental and ineffectual qualification. A person’s actions can cause discomfort, but they should be given an opportunity to improve before being unilaterally shunned.


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