Monday, September 27, 2010

Shall We Dance?

Asking someone to dance can be a challenging prospect. After all, putting yourself out there, open to rejection, is never an easy thing to do.

I'm writing to share my thoughts on who should be doing the asking and how to respond. One of the best ways to improve your dancing is to get out of the classroom and onto the social dance floor. One of the biggest hurdles to social dancing (especially for a beginner or someone new) is the daunting thought of asking someone for a dance. I offer some thoughts, tips and entertainment to those of you interested in the topic.

[A small digression]"Shall We Dance?"
For me, this phrase is inextricably tied my childhood memory of a song in the movie The King and I (1956) with Yul Brynner as the King and Deborah Kerr as Ana. The King had just seen a polka and Ana explains the dance with a song. He is supposed to be learning western ways and he asks her to teach him about the dance. [ Check it out through this youtube link. ] The scene demonstrates the joy of learning a new close dance and a little bit about the romance in dancing.. sigh! I had a big crush on Yul Brynner ...
[ok, back to the topic at hand]

I've often been asked why follows don't ask leads to dance more. In this modern day of feminism, it seems to be expected or taken for granted that its perfectly fine for follows to ask a lead to dance.

Here's an indisputable fact: there are 2 roles in Social Partner dancing - a LEAD and a FOLLOW.

A LEAD initiates the movements, provides direction during the dance, sets the tone for the dance, gives their follow's the cues on what to do next and make sure that the follows are taken care of on the dance floor. A FOLLOW responds to the directions of the lead, enhances wherever possible, oftentimes inspiring the LEAD and completes the movement of the dance. LEAD, then FOLLOW.

So, who should be asking? LEADs

"C'mon! At this day and age, women should also feel free to ask the guy to dance!"

Yes, that's true. Certainly when there are good friends around, a simple "hi!" is synonymous with "let's dance!". BUT, if you just think about the 2 roles: LEADS initiate. Its really that simple.

I remember something an instructor said in a workshop (the instructor is a lead): "Leads, MAN UP! When you see ladies waiting on the side, don't wait for them to ask you to dance, step up, ask them to dance and lead them to the dance floor!"

Easier said than done right?

There's a lot to do: the pressure, the stress of having to think of the moves, take care of the follow, etc.

BUT - here's the bottom line: it's your perogative! You can choose to ask anyone you wish! Sure, they might say no, but you do the asking and can determine you're dance card for the night.

General Guidelines:

  • Be nice, smile and introduce yourself. [check out simple rules for social dancing ]
  • If you're not sure, watch 1st before asking (that applies to the music too! Listen before you ask.)
  • Emulate confidence: even if you're not quite sure what you're doing, confidence can be the difference between a great dance and an ordinary one. So what if you only know 4 sequences?  Dance them with relish and smile!
  • When your out of  town, try not to be a snob against your fellow "townies": I've travelled to other congresses with folks from my own city and I sometimes hear "I'm not dancing with anyone from [insert home city here]" because they're so excited to dance with new people. I'd just like to point out that starting the night out with a fantastic dance with someone you know can help you both! You can both "strut" you stuff and show off your follow in a room full of strangers and they'll all want to dance with you (and your follow). [Yup - this one applies to follow's too.]
  • Don't make a lame excuse about a follow being so busy you couldn't ask them to dance. Here's a universal truth: if one wants something bad enough, they'll make it happen.
  • Sometimes, you just get a lemon: keep remembering, its only a few minutes, let it roll off your back and find a good follow/friend to dance with after that to get you back on track.
  • Sometime, you just get a lemon with a live band: ok, this takes longer... so wait for for the song to go for a few minutes before you ask a total stranger to dance with live bands. They've been known to play 15 minute songs and that can be an eternity sometimes... just let it roll off your back.
  • Don't be a dance hog - unless of course, she's ready and willing. Dancing multiple songs one after the other can be misconstrued as rude. I think its polite to dance multiple dances with someone, especially if you had a great dance to begin with, but, don't monopolize the follow's time. You can always ask them to dance again later.

As a follow, I don't do a lot of asking because I strongly believe for the dance to be successful, it relies a lot on the LEADS initiative right from the get go. There are exceptions of course, with good friends and people I'm familiar with, I greet them with a warm hello and they'll ask me to dance if they're so inclined. If not, no sweat. If I really want a dance with a friend, I'll ask if they don't.

Most leads tell me that it should be easy for a follow to ask a lead to dance: what guy would say no to a girl? Believe me, leads have turned follows down before. Skip to the "Never Assume" section below to make sure you don't take it to heart.

Follows, if you do ask the leads, I suggest doing it sparsely. I think that if you establish yourself as one that asks, then you don't get asked to dance. If its working for you though, by all means continue (go girl!) - see my universal truth below.

At the risk of giving away some feminine wiles, here are some ways to "invite" the guys to ask:

  • As you see a lead dancing to them music on his own, catch his eye and start jamming along with him. Anyone that into dancing will see you dancing and its highly likely that you'll end up dancing together
  • A warm smile and hello does wonders, especially if you reach out with both hands to great them.
  • Never look like a wall flower: I know this is hard when you're in a new place by yourself. Smile, dance to the music, walk around and find the "advanced corner" and enjoy the show. When you look like you're enjoying the music, you'll get asked to dance.
  • When you catch someone's eye that you want to dance with, just give them a big smile and slightly incline your head towards the dance floor - that's usually a good enough hint.

My universal rule: do what your heart tells you, without disrespecting those around you - especially with something as fun as dancing.

Accompaniment to my universal rule: don't take anything personally, its just a dance.

My personal policy is that I will dance with everyone at least once unless I've been warned ahead of time that the person is too drunk to hold himself up or is clearly not there for the dancing. I feel strongly that everyone has to start somewhere and I don't want to discourage people from dancing if I can help it.

There's always this "stigma" when you turn someone down. In the end, its just a dance and not some vital judgement on the character of a person. Here are something to consider when you do ask someone and they say "No."

Never Assume
There are always 2 sides to every story (and sometimes more as it gets retold by others). If you get rejected when asking someone to dance, don't dwell on it too much or read too much into it! There are too many reasons why someone would say no in that moment and life is much better if you let it roll of your back and move on.

Here's what I suggest: Don't take the rejection personally!

  • Don't come up with some story about why they said no. For all you know, the lady is pregnant and very tired and here you thought she hated your dancing.
  • Don't feel bad if you see the person dancing with someone else: they could be partners, boyfriends, best friends. Its not about you in that case, its between them.
  • Don't let it ruin your dance night.
  • If its someone you'd really like to dance with then ask again later but don't be a "stalker" I'd say after being rejected 3 times - move on!
  • When they say "next dance" assume they mean in it and come to find them. If they're not there, move on, if they are, well, you know what to do.

On the subject of saying "No"
I'm not advocating that one has to say "yes" every time one is asked for a dance. Follows/Leads if you're not up for it than just be polite and respectful: a simple "No Thank you" should suffice. Don't promise the next dance if you don't want to. Don't try to make an excuse.

Do I like getting rejected? No, but the truth is, I have no control over what other people do and I do have control over what I do. So, I'm suggesting that you develop a thicker skin and not dwell on the rejection. 

When all is said and done: do not to let some poopy head ruin the joy of dancing for you! Stay true to yourself, dancing is so much fun (here's why I love it) - enjoy it.


  1. My skin is 5 noes thick.
    Layer 1: "Maybe she hates this song."
    Layer 2: "Maybe she hurt her foot."
    Layer 3: "Maybe she's too sweaty and didn't bring a spare shirt so she needs to cool off."
    Layer 4: "Maybe she really needs to take a dump right now and she's waiting for a friend to accompany her to the restroom and she just can't wait five minutes."
    Layer 5: "OK, I give up! No more asking!"

  2. I have a strong reaction to this one.

    I disagree. There's a huge difference between being a follow and being passive. Good follows; GREAT follows are anything BUT passive.

    In any relationship from dance acquaintances to lovers it take mutual initiation and reciprocation to make it work. Follows do not wait to be "led" to style - they choose and initiate it themselves.

    Follows who chose to passively wait for leads to be the only one who asks for a dance, will passively have to accept what comes their way and will miss out on a HUGE amount of *their* ability to make wonderful things happen.

    I cannot tell you how honored I am when a follow - ANY follow - comes up to me to ask for a dance. It says that she likes me; it says that she wants to spend some time (even if only a dance) with me; it says that she values me... all the same things that I imagine follows feel when leads they like and enjoy ask THEM to dance.

    Sorry but passivity and strong beliefs in arbitrary sex-roles turn me off and there are follows I won't dance with simply because they never seem to have the confidence to ask; conversely, there are some beginners who still clearly struggle with many of the "basics" that I treasure dancing with, simply because they constantly seek me out, initiate asking and genuinely seem to enjoy dancing with me.

    I've never been one to await what might or might not happen in life; can't understand why someone else would choose to...

  3. Mr. Eliott - 5 noes deep is more than enough :)

    Mark - I appreciate your candor but I want point out that the word "passive" is no where in the post. Nor am I making statements to do with sex-roles.I certainly am not advocating being passive and waiting for something to happen. Nor do I even refer to arbitrary sex-roles - I am talking about the interaction between 2 roles in social dancing.

    I think you misunderstand what I mean by the dynamic between a lead and follow. A follow is not passive. We have an active voice in the dance: we listen to the lead, to the music and focus on communicating by reacting to what a lead initiates in order to create movement in harmony with the music that leads us both.

    As you say - I do not need to be led into styling (though some leads try to do it for me) and I can easily influence and change the mood and direction of a dance by the way I follow. The dynamic of leading and following does not mean that one role is "weaker" than the other or more passive or less active. As a follow, I have an active voice and can chose to accept or reject a request to dance.

    The dance would not work well if a follow were to initiate. Many leads have expressed to me that they are not comfortable when the follow decides to back lead. Something is lost in the connection when that happens. The same is true for follows that do not react to the lead - that would be a one way conversatin. Partner dancing does not work well if both people initiate neither one reacting to the other. Its like 2 people in a conversation talking about 2 entirely different things.

    I agree that is it wonderful to be asked to dance and equally wonderful to have someone smile and accept. What I'm writing about is more about the lead follow dynamic and less about "liking someone" - i can have a fantastic dance with a total stranger: I like dancing with him but don't know enough to make a judgement about liking him as a person. That's the beauty of dancing: a connection established by leading and following (initiating and reacting)

    We can agree to disagree. I think it would be mistake to assume that a follow is passive simply because they do not ask the leads to dance.

    In the end, I fall back on my universal rule: to do what my heart tells me without disrespecting the people around me.