Tel: 707.761.5214 Hours: Monday-Thursday 6-10pm and by appointment
Dance Class Etiquette
The do’s and don’ts of dance class time! How to avoid the social faux pas of the dance class and be everybody’s favorite face in the studio.
Though some of these things may seem obvious to some, they’re not always obvious to everyone. Some of the info is similar to the “Social Dance Etiquette” blog, which, if you haven’t given it a read, it is well worth it if you ever plan on being social with your dancing! Let’s review:
Before you leave the house:
- Take care of proper hygiene. Don’t show up to your dance class stinky! No one wants to dance with the “stinky student”!
- If you were sweating during your day and are not so fresh, consider showering before showing up.
- If you just ate, or your breath needs a pick me up; Brush your teeth! And don’t only brush your teeth, BRUSH YOUR TONGUE!!! A lot of bad bacteria live on the tongue and it isn’t enough to just brush your teeth to get rid of that bad breath, you need to brush your tongue too!
- Make sure you’re good on the deodorant/anti-perspirant! Never leave home without it!!
- Smokers, be aware of how your clothes, breath and hands smell. There is nothing that turns off your dance partners more than smelling like your smoke after dancing with you, or being enveloped in the smell during your interaction.
- Perfume or cologne might be a good idea, but don’t overdo it! Remember some people may be allergic to it.
(You’ll note that at our studio, the bathroom has a LARGE selection of most things you might need to freshen up in case you don’t have time to after work, we made sure we provide these items for you. You can find mints and gum (at the front desk), spray deodorant, hair spray/gel/ties, Q-tips, floss, body mists, lotions and many other things in our bathroom for your use.)
- Wear proper clothing.
- Wear clean clothes that are free from odor or stains.
- Choose clothing that breathes as you begin sweating.
- Every studio is different. Some studios you may feel out of place wearing workout clothing, but in others, you may feel out of place if you dress up. You can always call and ask what to expect before showing up. At our studio anything (within reason) goes. You aren’t out of place in workout clothing, or nicer clothing either. Whatever you feel good and comfortable in is what is best at our studio.
- Bring some gum or mints with you to stave off bad or stale breath. (We provide both at our front desk for you.)
When you arrive to your class(es):
- Don’t interrupt classes currently in session. Be mindful not to talk loudly, or make noise that would be distracting to the teacher or students.
- Turn your phone to silent. Like at a movie theater, it is quite rude to have your phone ring, interrupting others in the class.
- Smile, be friendly and say hello to all the other people not in class that are there. Be the friendliest face and everyone will love you!
- If you see a new face, introduce yourself AND ask them a non-yes or no question about themselves! A fun way to ask them about themselves could be “So what do you do when you’re not hanging out at dance studios?” This allows people to share what they do for work, or a hobby they are passionate about and gets a conversation started! Once you know their name and a little bit about them, take it upon yourself to introduce them to whoever else you can. Ask if they’ve met so and so yet, and if they haven’t, walk them over and introduce them.
A great way to do this is to say, “(new Guy) John, I’d like you to meet Jane. Jane is one of our best dancers here, but also one of the nicest. John was just telling me he works over at …….” This shows the person you were listening to what they were telling you and you were kind enough to make them feel welcome by introducing them to others.
It is hard being the new kid on the block, especially at a dance studio where people don’t know what to expect. At our studio we want EVERYONE to feel warm and welcomed and know we aren’t “clique-ish”, dance snobs or exclusive. The joy and camaraderie of dance should be felt by all who enter our doors. I know not all studios have this philosophy, but they should! We don’t grow a dance community by intimidation of newbies, but by nurturing and kindness.
- If you’ve brought a friend/co-worker/family or other to try out a class, introduce them to others at the studio so they feel comfortable.
A good introduction includes the names of both people (or at least the person you’re introducing if perhaps you’ve forgotten the other person’s name) AND an interesting fact about them, which could be as simple as how they are related to you (co-worker at <fill in the blank>, friend from <fill in the blank>), or something they are passionate about. For example you might say, “Jane, I’d love you to meet my good friend and co-worker, John. Jane is one of our best dancers here, but also one of the nicest. My friend John is joining us today instead of winning another golf tournament”. Using small compliments is always a fantastic way of introducing people.
- Be on time. Leave yourself enough time to change your shoes before the class starts. Showing up "fashionably late" is not appropriate for classes.
- If you must be late (coming from work, traffic, it just couldn't be avoided) just make sure you do not interrupt the flow of the class already in progress.
- Have a good attitude about learning to dance. EVERYONE can learn to dance, but everyone learns at a different pace, besides, no one wants to dance with the grumpy person who doesn’t want to be there. Even if you were dragged to the class by someone else, having a good attitude about it will not only benefit the entire world around you, it will also benefit YOU.
- Avoid saying things like “I can’t <insert skill here>.” The truth is you can’t YET. And YET is really the key. It doesn’t matter where you start, it only matters where you finish and you’re not finished til you quit or give up.
- ANY improvement is something to be encouraged by. Celebrate the small victories and keep going! As one of my coaches has said, “Never spit in the face of improvement.”
- Know that you may need to take the same class numerous times before you really grasp all the concepts being thrown at you. This is normal and is to be expected. Expect you won’t be really good in the beginning, but expect your best. No dancer became good by assuming they would be perfect from the beginning, but by simply expecting to do and give their best each time, and not giving up. In dance, as in life, to be good, you have to be willing to fail a whole lot before succeeding.
During class, regarding the class as a whole:
- Be considerate and respectful of your classmates (including the teacher)!
- Avoid doing things that are distracting, inappropriate, disrespectful or rude.
Don’t make faces of disapproval or roll your eyes at the other dancers or your instructor.
Don’t talk at inappropriate times - especially while the teacher is talking or trying to talk. You and whoever you are speaking to will likely miss out on important information, and it distracts the class as a whole.
Make sure your phone is either turned off or on silent.
Eat before or after class, not during.
o If you have to sneeze, sneeze into your elbow. If you sneeze into your hands or are wiping your nose, sweat, etc with your hands, use some hand sanitizer before taking your partners hands again. (At our studio we always have hand sanitizer at the front desk.)
Bring a handkerchief or small towel if you need it for you nose or sweat.
o Listen intently and follow directions to the best of your ability.
o Avoid mentally checking out.
o Try to avoid leaving the class for any reason.
If you know you will need to use the restroom during class, try to use the bathroom either before or after class to avoid leaving during class.
Avoid taking phone calls during class unless it is very important and cannot be avoided. If you need to use your phone before, during or after a class, step outside of the class area so you are not interrupting the class.
Be prepared to dance with EVERYONE, including people of the same sex at times. Sometimes you will have to dance with an instructor or trainee who is the same sex. This is necessary for teachers and often students to learn both parts as it is essential to understanding the steps, lead/follow, patterns fully. I always say, the best dancers are the ones who know both sides of the dance, and when you fully understand your part, it may be time for you to do the same. It helps followers to follow better and leaders to lead better when they understand what the other is feeling on the other end of their usual role.
Further, it is a GROUP class and dancing with others is of great benefit to improving your skills, even if you only plan on dancing with your significant other outside of the studio. Those who are not interested in dancing with the group, should stick to private lessons, not group lessons.
Avoid wearing shoes that:
o Mark the floor! Someone will have to go behind you to clean them all up and it just makes the floor look unattractive for everyone else.
o Are heavy, like boots. If you step on someone’s foot or kick their foot, it will be extra painful. I’ve seen whole toe nails kicked off by big boots.
o Don’t stay on your feet, like flip-flops or slip-ons.
o Are too high of a heel for what you can comfortably move in.
o Are too sticky for you to turn properly without hurting yourself.
If you are going to play the sport and make it your “thing”, buy the gear appropriate for the sport (i.e. a suede bottomed dance shoe or a dance sneaker for practice shoes). For those interested, we have a wide variety of shoes available for you in all sorts of styles, colors and sizes.
During the class, regarding the other students:
Be kind, be pleasant and encouraging!
When switching to a new partner you don’t know, quickly introduce yourself with your name and a handshake.
Do not critique your partners. You are the student, not the instructor, and they did not pay you to be critical or negative about their dancing. No matter how “bad” a person might be, avoid any negativity. Remember, they are taking dance instruction to learn, not because they are already good at it. The best way to handle a “bad” dancer is:
o Turn the “problem” into a question. At the end of the rehearsed movement, raise your hand and ask your instructor for more details or clarity about the issue.
• Say, for instance, your partner is twisting your hand when you turn, you might ask the instructor, “Can you explain how to hold the hands during turns? Our hands are getting twisted up. Can you help us?”
• Or say, for example, your partner is turning in a direction you don’t want her to, you might say to the teacher, “Can you help me, I want to lead my partner this direction, but we keep ending up over here.”
When you ask a question about the partnership as a whole, you might find how you can be better at your part, improving your own dancing AND you will help improve your partner’s issue without making them feel bad, embarrassed or insulted. Additionally, the information gained will help your other partners not make the same mistake and improve the class as a whole. Questions benefit everyone!
If you have gum in your mouth, do not smack your gum in your partner’s face (and of course be careful not to choke on it either!!).
If you knock into another couple while practicing, take a moment to apologize, you needn’t make a big deal of it, it happens, but a simple, “Sorry about that” can go a long way.
Before switching to a new partner, thank your last one. We often do high-fives, or sometimes a hip bump, whatever fun way you have of saying “Good job, thanks for the dance”.
No matter what level you are at, understand that the people in the class are there because they don’t know the dance already or they are aware they need to continue working on ideas, concepts, technique and patterns they may have been previously introduced to. Everyone learns at different speeds, and certain concepts take longer to grasp for some than others. If they already knew everything and were good at doing it, I guess they wouldn’t need to be in your class, would they? Keep this in mind and be kind to people who are new or still fighting the good fight. The ones who don’t give up are the ones you want to dance with! Stay humble and hungry, folks!
o If you really feel you are in the wrong class level, ask your instructor if you are ready to move up to the next level, or take private lessons and move at your pace and get direct feedback on how you need to improve.
During class, regarding the instructor:
Ask questions. If you have a question about it, it’s likely someone else needs the same information as well. Do not be afraid to ask your instructor anything regarding the dance. Your instructor is there to instruct, and we love when our students are engaged and showing genuine interest in what they are learning/we are teaching.
Never argue with an instructor or ask questions intended to be combative or oppositional. Questions asked in a spirit of understanding and learning are ALWAYS wonderful, but a question phrased like “That doesn’t make any sense. Why would you do it that way?” works better when said, “I’m having trouble understanding this. Can you explain <this> to help me?”. You don’t have to agree with every instructor, but you should respect them while in their class.
Some instructors are better than others, they are not all created equal, but you certainly can learn SOMETHING from every single one of them if you are open to it.
If you feel you know more than the instructor, or feel a need to belittle their approach, then it’s time you find another instructor who better suits your needs and preferences.
After class, clap to show appreciation for your instructor. If you really enjoyed the class let them know how much with a comment about something you particularly enjoyed or found helpful, or even just an appreciative word. Teachers love to hear their students are really getting something out of their classes and giving direct feedback about what you enjoyed or found helpful helps teachers improve future classes.
Don’t be the creepy guy.
o Keep your head (and your eyes) where they should be. Practice good posture and keep your eyes focused straight ahead at eye level or above the horizon. When you look at your feet, it can often look like you’re looking at your partner’s chest, and you don’t want to be “that” guy.
I was once asked to dance by a shorter, elderly man to Tango. Now that would have been ok if he had pulled his head up with good posture instead of slouching and slumping directly on to my breasts……made for a very awkward dance and I certainly didn’t want to dance with him again! Practice good posture ALWAYS! Don’t be “that” guy.
o We practice appropriate touching ALWAYS. Know where your hands belong in a hold and know how they transition from one position or move to another. In general, your hand should not ever directly touch their belly, and certainly NEVER their chest or derriere. There will never be a time where it is appropriate to touch any part of your partner’s chest, and if you happen to do it on accident, apologize and make sure your partner understands it was a gross mistake and certainly not purposeful (and then don’t let it happen again). This is how you avoid being stereotyped the “creepy guy who feels up on his partners when he dances with them”, or being slapped.
Don’t hit your partners in the head (or even hair), or step on their feet if it can possibly be avoided.
o Unless your partner thrusts her head in to your arm or with all her strength pulls your arm down on to her own head, it’s your fault, and there really aren’t any excuses for it. Her head is in front of your eyes and you alone have control over how high you will lift your hand.
I once danced on a troupe with a guy everyone called “Chaparrin” or “Midget”, because he was so short. His shtick was that he would dance with MANY women all at once and NEVER hit our head! If he could avoid being a head bopper, so can you!
o Sometimes the girl is on the wrong foot and she puts her foot right under yours practically, and that’s not your fault, but if you hurt someone, you should still apologize. Sometimes, it’s you. Keep striving to do better and apologize when it happens. It happens, we all know that, but no reason not to still be a gentleman about it.
Always assume it’s your fault (‘cause it usually is). Just assume it’s your fault and you’ll only improve from any mistakes that happen. If the instructor can get your partner to respond appropriately, it’s a clear sign it’s not the car’s fault, but the driver’s. Of course your partner probably could stand to improve as well, but taking a class hoping for everyone else to improve so you can be a better dancer is silly thinking.
You may just be learning to lead, but keep in mind your partner wants to be guided, not man-handled. Be careful not to use excessive force, but also don’t be so gentle your lead is non-existent. Really work to find the correct balance, and understand just as you communicate slightly differently with each person you speak to, your lead too will need to be a little different from person to person.
If you are asked to move to another section of the room with your partner, do NOT take off without her, ESCORT her over to the new location.
Right or wrong, follow along. Your job is to FOLLOW YOUR LEADER. Unless your leader IS the instructor, the teacher is NOT YOUR leader. Your leader is your partner. The chain of command goes: Follower’s listen to the teacher, but follow your leader. Leader’s listen to and hopefully follow the teacher, but they don’t always because they’re not perfect and are still learning. Expect that they will not always be perfect. Expect them to screw up directions and combinations, and the better YOU follow, the better at leading your partner can become and the quicker the instructor can identify where the leaders could use some help. If you are always making up for what the leaders are doing incorrectly, how will the instructors be able to fix the problem, or even identify it? And how will the leader know they are not doing it correctly? In all honesty, not following your leader does a disservice to everyone, AND you are not learning to do your role properly either.
Be patient, be kind and show some grace to your leaders! You will never understand how hard their job is until you have to learn to do it yourself.
Followers, BE AWARE OF YOUR ELBOWS! I have seen many a fat lip and busted nose on a guy from a lady sticking her elbow out during a turn. Keep your elbows to yourselves ladies! If you don’t know what to do with your arms during a move, ASK, otherwise be careful to not knock your partners out with your elbows or arms.
If you step on your partner, apologize.
After the class:
Practice with your fellow classmates. If there is another class right after yours, find a corner of the floor that is not being used where you won’t interrupt, distract or interfere with the next class, or if there is a 2nd practice floor, go in and practice there!
Take notes. If you really want to remember what you learned, keep a dance notebook and make notes on your classes.
Socialize with the others from the class and take some time to get to know them.
A note about practicing:
Your responsibility to your fellow classmates and dance partners is to have made some effort to have improved - even if it's just a tiny bit. There is nothing wrong with not being good YET, but there is something wrong with not putting in any effort to improve when you are expecting someone else to partner with you. When you don’t practice, you're not only doing a disservice to yourself, but also EVERY partner you dance with.
Between classes, even withOUT a partner you should be practicing ANYTHING and EVERYTHING you can remember from class (and since you took notes, that should be easy).
As a beginner, your 1st concern is learning your own STEPS (where your feet go). Again, you don’t need a partner for this. Along with the steps, you’ll need to pay attention to your RHYTHM.
Your TECHNIQUE will really help you do your steps easier. The more you can improve your technique, the easier time you will have learning your steps. Even if you can’t remember your steps, some skills you can and should still work on are:
o Posture – Beautiful and graceful dancing begins with good posture! Head up, shoulders back, spine long!
o Flexibility – Dancing requires movement. Movement requires flexibility.
o Leg strength - You will need a surprising amount of leg strength for some of the dances.
o Balance - Staying stable on both or just one foot, even the ball of one foot.
o Spotting in turns - Focusing on a single point while you turn to prevent becoming dizzy.
o Footwork - How you place your foot on to the floor; rolling through the foot toe to heel, heel to toe or maybe toe only.
The more you practice, the better you will get. The better you get, the more the other dancers will want to dance with YOU. Not only that, the more you practice, the more you feel comfortable, and the more you feel comfortable, the more fun you will have!
More advanced students:
When attending a class that is review of information you are already familiar with or patterns or steps you may already know:
Do your best to be the example of what the teacher is looking for in both behavior and technique. Believe it or not, the other students look up to you and are looking to you for how they should behave/dress/dance in class. Inspire students to want to be like you! There is nothing wrong with being the teacher’s pet!
Help your instructor and fellow classmates however you can. If someone is struggling and you can help them in a way that does not distract the rest of the class and does not take away from the instructor, then do so. If you can stand in front a little more, or stand next to someone new, then do so.
Work on your technique and develop style. Technique can ALWAYS be improved!
o Improve your posture, frame, precision, connection, balance, spotting in turns, footwork, styling and lead/follow ability.
o In Smooth/Standard classes work to improve your smoothness (or sharpness in Tango), glide and float.
o In Rhythm/Latin classes work to improve your rib, hip, and foot action.
Consider learning the other side (i.e. leader’s learn to follow, follower’s learn to lead). Learning the other side will really improve your dancing and bring a new challenge to the same steps you are doing.
If you’re attending a beginner class, keep in mind beginner classes are intended for beginners who don’t already know what you know or have the skill that you have. Be patient, polite and encouraging. They are where you were a while ago and looking up to you as a more knowledgeable dancer. Nurture the baby dancers and they will become the ones you want to dance with sooner than later!
There is something that happens to students who know just enough to be dangerous on the dance floor in that they begin thinking they know more than the instructor.
If you’ve learned something a different way previously, instead of saying, “That’s not how I learned it. That way doesn’t make sense.” It would behoove you to rephrase it something like, “Previously I was taught to <insert technique/lead/step, what have you here>, can you explain why you prefer this method?”
I would like to think teachers have a reason for teaching the way they do. The better the teacher, the better the reason they have. You will find champion competitors and esteemed coaches who say things almost completely opposite of one another and both can be right. If you don’t agree with something the teacher is asking you to do, ask them in a spirit of genuine interest to explain the theory behind what they are demonstrating. A good instructor usually has a method to their madness, and sometimes it is just personal preference, but by asking the instructor to explain why they do what they do the way they do it, you might just learn a new way of doing it yourself, or even better, a better way of doing it. Regardless of the reason the teacher gives you, you are there to learn from THEM. Take what you can, and if you really disagree with them, keep your mouth shut and just leave what you don’t like. You don’t have to agree with every instructor, but you should respect them while in their class.
Unless you are ready to be an instructor, your instructor still knows more and better than you, and if they don’t, then it’s time to find a new instructor!
Some instructors are better than others, they are not all created equal, but you certainly can learn SOMETHING from every single one of them if you are open to it.
Over my many, many years of training I have had lots of teachers, instructors, trainers and coaches, and when I didn’t understand their method behind something, I asked for more information. Sometimes I agreed and it changed my way of doing something, or improved my understanding and therefore performance, and sometimes I disagreed and I just kept my mouth shut. In their class at the time I performed how they asked me to perform, but outside of their class I used my best judgement and used the techniques I felt were most appropriate and correct. As you take from more and different instructors and coaches, you will have to do the same.
Stay humble. Stay hungry. No one ever looks foolish by being humble.