The Perth Swing Dance Society (PSDS) is a non-profit organisation, committed to actively promoting swing dancing, its music and culture in Western Australia.
Social dancing is what swing is all about, and just like any other social situation there’s a level of etiquette required to make sure everyone has a good time, which is the whole point! In general, if you’re polite and considerate, and pay attention to your partner and others around you, then you’re doing fine!
We also have also developed a Code of Conduct to help ensure a safe and fun environment is created for everybody to enjoy at our events. Be supportive and respectful of each other, keep each other safe, have fun, make friends.
Here are a few swing etiquette tips to think about when you go out social dancing.
When you’re not Dancing
Don’t stand on the dance floor, and especially don’t stand there while you sip a drink! If at all possible, stand well out of the way and encourage others to do the same.
If you notice a hazard on the dance floor (usually it’s a spilled drink), then make sure people don’t dance into it, and if need be, alert the bar staff so they can clean it up. If you see something dropped on the dance floor, like a leaflet, just pick it up.
Buy a drink!
Since most of the swing gigs we attend don’t have a cover charge, the only way the venue is making money is through drink sales. If we don’t buy drinks, the venue can’t afford to pay the band, and we’ll lose a great gig. Though we know it’s hard to drink and dance, and all we usually want to drink is a long glass of cold water, do make sure you buy at least one drink a night at every venue, especially if you are taking advantage of their free water. Even if it’s just a coke or OJ, we must support the venues that support us!
Asking for or accepting a dance
Politely respond when people ask you to dance. You are allowed to say no to anyone, but you should try to be polite in your response. You also have to be prepared to accept a no. People don’t need to give you a reason not to dance, hearing and respecting a no is highly valued in dance as well as life!
Dance with more than just your friends if you can. We all remember how hard it was when we first entered the dance scene! Absolutely the best way to improve your dancing (whether you’re a beginner or advanced), is to dance with different people, at different levels and with different styles. Don’t be afraid to ask people, no matter what level you are! Finally, don’t monopolise one dance partner all night, no matter how much you like to dance with them!
Though we’d love to dance every song, not all of us have quite that much energy! If you’re too tired to dance, politely explain this to the person asking (they’ll understand), and perhaps promise to dance with them later on. If you’ve declined an invitation from one person, it can be considered impolite to accept a dance with someone else for that song. Consider how it might look to the other person if you then danced that song with someone else.
Dancing with your partner
This is a social dance, so engage with your partner! Be aware of how they move, and have fun! Some people like to chat on the dance floor and others don’t. If your partner clearly doesn’t want to talk, just concentrate on the dance. Besides, isn’t dancing just another form of communication?
Try to dance to the level of your partner and always keep it fun! Remember leads, your job is to make your partner look good, and follows it’s your job to be in-tune and well… follow. Nobody likes a “dig-me” dancer. Leads, you’re not going to impress your partner with fancy moves if you can’t lead them and/or they can’t follow them. Sure, challenge your partner, but don’t over-challenge them. Fun first, ok?
Leads, if your partner doesn’t quite pick up a move or variation the first time, lead it again a little later. This is a fantastic way for follows to learn.
Be careful of your partner’s makeup and hairdo! Some hairdo’s took hours to do, and that fire engine red lipstick will definitely stain if you bump into them. Make sure you leave enough room for your partner to clear your arm in underarm turns, etc.
If something goes wrong, just smile and keep dancing! Don’t blame your partner and don’t expect an apology, it was neither of your faults. Remember, there’s no such thing as a wrong move, just a new move!
Don’t dip a follow if you don’t know them (or their dance level) very well. Some follows feel very uncomfortable about dips since it completely throws off their natural balance. Be considerate, and if in doubt, end with something else.
Here’s a big one – never instruct on the social dance floor, unless specifically asked! We go to classes to learn, but we go out social dancing just to have fun!
Leaders, it’s your job to keep your follow safe. Be aware of the environment around you, including the stage, furniture, bystanders, and of course other couples. Dance appropriately for how crowded the dance floor is and always be careful where you lead your partner. The same goes for follows – try to be spatially aware, and keep an eye out for any dangers behind your partner’s back. If you do collide with another couple, be sure to apologise and make sure no damage has been done.
Sometimes it is difficult to share a dance floor with people dancing a different style (foxtrot, rockabilly, Latin, etc.), but remember, they have just as much right to the dance floor as we do. Just be especially careful to avoid collisions, be patient, and if it’s really too difficult, move elsewhere on the dance floor. It may help to know that most travelling dances (like the foxtrot), move around the outside of the dance floor in an anti-clockwise direction, and if you are sharing the dance floor with these dancers, it is safest to stay in the centre.
NEVER do aerials on a crowded social dance floor – it’s just plain dangerous, for you and for everyone around you. The same goes for dips, tricks or kicks which might be bigger than your average moves. Use common sense, and save these moves for jam sessions. While we’re on the topic of aerials, remember that aerials are dangerous and difficult, and you should never attempt them unless you’ve been properly trained and are with a partner with whom you’re very familiar.
Swing dancing is definitely a contact sport, and you can’t expect anyone to want to dance with you if you don’t have a certain level of cleanliness. Be sure you’re clean and deodorised before you start dancing. Bring your deodorant along with you, and let yourself cool down (and dry off) every now and again throughout the night. Breath mints aren’t such a bad idea either.
If you tend to sweat a lot, wear an undershirt, and always bring a change of shirt (or two or three!) and a towel. There’s nothing worse than Lindy Hop with someone dripping wet…except maybe Balboa with someone dripping wet!
Try to wear appropriate clothing. In general, tops that reveal a large amount of midriff aren’t particularly appropriate, and some leads may not feel comfortable leading you on bare skin. Strapless tops aren’t usually a good idea, and the same goes for tank tops and the like.
Make sure your clothing is comfortable and you have a full range of movement. Tops that are overly baggy can be difficult to dance in, and any clothing which you need to keep adjusting during a dance is not good.
Remove any potentially dangerous accessories (watches, rings, bracelets, necklaces) which might catch, tangle or hit someone while you dance. Don’t carry keys in your pocket when you dance!
Dance in appropriate shoes with soles that allow you to move without slipping, and support you sufficiently. Be careful of long ponytails – no one likes to get whipped in the face with flying hair during spins and turns.
After the Dance
Though it doesn’t really need to be said, when the song is finished, thank your partner! If it was a wonderful dance, tell them so. If there’s a live band show you’re appreciation by applauding.
Traditionally, once the song had finished, the lead would escort their follow back to the place where they had first asked them to dance. Though this might be a little formal these days, don’t just abandon you’re partner on the dance floor as soon as the song has ended.
With just a little common-sense and consideration, everyone can enjoy social dancing and get down to what it’s really about – doing the dance we love, making friends and always having fun!