For a social dancer, being asked to dance is a big thing, as is asking someone to dance.
I’ve always found you can’t hide away and not ask people to dance. Similarly it’s not the done thing to refuse a dance if someone asks. People do refuse but it’s rare, and I can probably count on one hand the times over the years I’ve refused a dance with someone, not including the ‘Not this track’ or ‘I need a breather’ where I’ll dance with them later.
Some people do get asked more than others. If you’re young and stunning (even if you’re not a great dancer), then you may get more offers when you’re sat out (yes, dancers can be shallow). If you’re on the dance floor already, it’s easier to find the next partner. So you may need to push yourself out there to get a dance, especially if there’s a gender imbalance. It doesn’t matter if you’re an amazing dancer or not, the likelihood is you’ll need to do some asking especially if you want to progress and dance with better dancers than yourself.
I do a lot of asking because I rarely get asked to dance, which means I’m always pleased to be asked. But when I’m doing the asking, I’m always going to ask those I enjoy dancing with.
It’s rare for me to have a really bad dance. There might be bad songs, which then can sometimes be reflected in a dance that’s not as good as that partnership would usually be. I could be having a bad day and not dance as well. But there are also a few people that I might want to avoid dancing with after the first experience.
But everyone wants to be asked to dance, so here’s my thoughts on how to be that person.
How to be the one who’s asked to dance
1, Look like you’re enjoying every dance.
If you look miserable then it really won’t inspire your partner to enjoy the dance. Instead they’ll probably be wondering what they did wrong. A smile goes a long way. Obviously if you’re dancing a moody blues number, then by all means be immersed in the music. But a smile at the end does help.
2, Make your partners enjoy dancing with you
If I see both dancers enjoying themself, then I know the leader is thinking about their follower and having fun. They’re probably someone who’s going to make me feel good dancing with them.
3, Make your partner look good
When I go dancing I want to enjoy my dances, but I also want to improve and challenge myself. That means I want to dance with aspirational partners – teachers and those who’re better dancers than me. First to prove that I can hold my own, but also to learn from them. So if I’m at a freestyle I’m on a bit of a mission to look out those dancers and have a dance with them. It’s not always easy to ask these people for a dance especially if I’ve never met them before. If I look confident and capable dancing with other people, then there’s more chance of getting a dance with the best dancers in the room.
So if you can make your partner look good, not only will they feel like they’ve had a great dance, but it could open doors for them. And it doesn’t just apply to leaders, but followers as well. Don’t go twizzling off and do fancy things to unnerve a beginner, but do dance to boost their confidence.
4, Look at me during the dance
Interacting and looking at your partner is important. You don’t need to look all the time, occasionally is fine better unless I know you really well. You don’t want to unintentionally scare off your partner for future dancing opportunities by being a little too intense.
Sometimes I can have a really lovely dance with a guy, but there’s no eye contact at all which is a little unnerving. Plus it feels a little like they don’t want to be dancing with you. There’s shy and there’s rude, and it’s hard to tell which when you don’t know someone.
It also looks a bit odd to anyone watching if one person’s ignoring the other.
5, Be pleased to be asked to dance and accept graciously
Yes, sometimes you don’t want to dance with everyone, but if someone’s plucked up the courage to ask someone to dance, they don’t want to be looked up and down before a grudging yes. It’s so much nicer to say yes thanks, and dance with them without looking at them as though to say ‘how dare you ask ME to dance’. It may be a surprise and you may have a really great dance. It may not be the best dance ever, but you’ll not have made someone feel inferior.
Oh, and if you are one of those who does the rude acceptance, you’ll probably be pointed out to others as someone who isn’t the best one to ask.
6, Have fun, and play with the music
While I love to come away from a dance having had an amazing connection with my partner and the music, some of the most enjoyable dances have been those that are just FUN. Yep, with capitals. Because dancing is fun, and sometimes you get a funky song and just want to be showy and over the top. If you’re doing that with a partner it can be a lot of fun and laughs even if it’s not the most technical or absorbed dance.
Playing with the music takes confidence and practice, but when it works with both of you it can be mind blowing. It won’t happen for every dance, but it can really add to the dance and show how you’re progressing.
7, Have a clear lead, and adapt it
Followers don’t usually need a strong forceful lead, just a clear on. Followers often say they find women leaders easy to follow because they understand what a follower needs in a lead. Clear direction and not millions of fancy fling you around moves.
A good experienced leader is also able to adapt their lead according to the follower. Some women need a stronger lead, others need a gentle one. Dancing with someone who can adapt to my needs over the previous partner makes me feel like there’s more understanding and connection, and likely it’ll be a better dance.
Again, this also applies to followers. My salsa teacher always taught us that compression was about matching
the tension that the partner is applying. Some moves need more compression than others, understand that and following or leading becomes much more comfortable and pleasurable.
8, Dance on the beat
Or have a clear enough lead that I can follow the beat, rhythm or phrasing that you’re using.
I’ve been away from dancing for 5 years and in that time, the proportion of people dancing off the beat has increased a lot. It might be something to do with more variety of dance styles coming into modern jive, and more musicality, but most of the people I’ve found doing it are those who’re more basic traditional modern jivers.
As a follower it makes it so much harder to dance with someone (the first time at least). If you don’t want to dance on the beat that means you need a better lead to be able to help the follower know the phrasing or rhythm that you’re following. Personally I watch people dancing off the beat to music with a really obvious beat, and it puts me off dancing with them; It looks scrappy and it’s harder for the follower.
Maybe this is my classical music background relying on the beat, but for dancers starting out, learning to dance on the beat is pretty critical in a dance journey.
9, Mix your moves up
It’s really difficult as a leader. You need to remember moves, think on your feet, react to your partner, listen to the music, have spatial awareness, and enjoy yourself. I know because I’m fine at leading in class, but when it comes to freestyle I resort back to the moves I can remember. So it makes sense to have a set of moves you rely on.
But a little bit of variation is a good thing for followers you dance with regularly (unless of course the pair of you just want to have a comfortable nice dance with a chat in the middle). They do remember even though they may dance with 10s or hundreds of different men over the months.
After 5 years away, I came back to dancing and lots of men are still doing the same moves in the same order. It’s good practise for me getting back into it again, and was reassuring, but it’s so much more challenging and exciting to have some different moves. That’s why people travel to different venues, for the challenge and different partners. So don’t just be complacent and stick with the same moves. Go to an occasional class to add a couple of extra moves to your repertoire.
10, Don’t grip or be too tense and therefore drag my arms around.
Some leads think they need to wrench and drag around women, others are really loose. I don’t want to go home with aching shoulders or having been flung into other dancers. Being someone with the ability to hurt (even unintentionally), is the one reason I will avoid dancing with you.
If the lead is a beginner, I’ll subtly remove the thumbs from my hand, or mention how I like a light lead, but with someone more experienced they should know better and are probably not receptive to being told.
Followers, if you’re a floppy follower and the lead needs to drag you around, that’s also hard work, and might be something to work on.
11, Don’t smell of smoke or alcohol
12, Laugh off any mistakes
I hope my partners don’t get offended when I laugh off any mistakes – usually down to me totally missing a lead and not getting the move. But I find often people are really serious about their dancing when really a bit of a laugh will lighten the pressure people feel if they’re dancing with someone they think of as above their level. There’s no point dwelling on mistakes at a freestyle and they will happen because you’re dancing with different people.
And don’t start teaching your partner what might or might not be the reason why the move went wrong unless they ask. It makes them feel a bit rubbish and that you’re annoyed.=
13, Say thank you, and a compliment never goes amiss
I don’t think I’ve had anyone just stalk off from a dance, but it goes without saying thank your partner for the dance. If you enjoyed something about the dance then pay them a compliment. It’ll really make their evening.
I’m always a bit awkward about saying thanks, it feels a little understated for some of the dances I’ve had, but without appearing like a stalker and gushing about connection and dream dances (which they may not have felt), I’m not sure how to get over that.
All or a mix of these will get me (and others) believing you’ll be someone we want to dance with.
Of course the big tip is ask others to dance. When you feel like you do all the asking, it’s really nice to be asked by anyone whatever their ability.
What makes you want to dance with one person over another? Do you do all the asking or are you someone who tends to be asked?