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Dance Floor Etiquette

The do’s and don’ts of the social dance world! How to be the guy or gal everyone wants to be on the floor with!

Though some of these things may seem obvious to some, they’re not always obvious to everyone. Let’s review:

Before you leave the house:

  • Take care of proper hygiene.
    • Take a shower before going to the club if you need one.
    • Don’t only brush your teeth, but also 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!!
    • Perfume or cologne might be a good idea, but don’t overdo it! Remember some people may be allergic to it.
  • Wear proper clothing. ​
    • Wear clean clothes that are free from odor or stains. 
    • Choose clothing that breathes as you begin sweating. 
    • Dress for the occasion.  When going out, generally most people dress up to some extent. Wear clothes you can move in, sweat in and stay in (tube tops not always the best options for women).  Avoid wearing “workout clothes” like sweats and track pants. Wear something that makes you feel attractive!
      • Salsa clubs: Dress up a bit.
        • Men can wear jeans with a nice button up and maybe a nice sport coat, or slacks and a guayabera.
        • Ladies can wear nice pants with a nice blouse, skirts and/or dresses. Something with a Latin flare is always good. 
      • West Coast Swing: Keep it casual! Most people wear jeans (or similar) and a t-shirt. Unless your competing, keep it casual. Women almost never wear skirts or dresses.
      • Milongas: Dress to impress! You’ll find many Argentine Tango dancers where a lot of black.
        • Men wear a suit!      
        • Ladies wear a nice skirt and blouse or nice dress.
      • Ballroom: Dress up a little.
        • Men wear slacks and a button up shirt. Possibly with a tie.
        • Ladies can wear nice pants with a nice blouse, skirts and/or dresses.
    • Bring some gum with you to stave off bad or stale breath.

Asking someone to dance/Being asked to dance:

  • Ask and dance with as many people as you can – more advanced, beginners, new faces, familiar faces, older and younger. Don’t discriminate.
  • If you want to dance, ask. This goes for followers as much as it does leaders. If you want to be asked, look ready, available, friendly and approachable. People are not usually seeking out the sour puss in the back dark corner of the dance hall.
  • The best way I’ve found to ask someone for a dance is say “Would you like to dance, or are you resting?” This gives the person an out if they need one that isn’t meant to be offensive. Argentine Tango Milongas are very different in this aspect. **See below for more info.
  • If you’re asked to dance SAY YES! It takes a lot of courage to ask someone to dance, so don’t crush their spirit with a rejection. There are only 4 reasons why anyone should say no: 
    • If you are hurt (someone stepped on or hit you, or other) and aren’t up to dancing, or you know the leader or follower may hurt you because of their aggressiveness or lack of ability in leading or lack of control in following.
    • You’re honestly just too tired – then it’s time to leave.
    • The leader is drunk and either liable to hurt you or be inappropriate with you.
    • They are inappropriate with the way they dance with you in any way.  That behavior is not appropriate and should not be tolerated.
  • If you need to say “no”:
    • Be kind about it.  You can simply say, “I’m sorry, but I’m resting right now.” If you want to be nice you could add, “How about in a couple of songs?” (Then follow up).
    • Consider asking them to dance when you’re ready to dance again.
    • NEVER dance with someone else the same song you just refused to dance with another.  It’s just rude! 
  • If someone has asked you to dance just after you’ve promised a dance to another, it is always very polite to promise them the next dance. If you promise someone the next dance, make good on your word.
  • If you are told no when you ask, don’t take it personally, there could be a whole lot of reasons why that specific person said no in that specific moment that could have nothing to do with you. Sometimes asking people to dance is just a numbers game. The more people you ask, the more your odds improve. Keep asking until someone says yes.
  • Be willing to dance the whole song with your partner. It would be rude not to finish the song out. 
  • Dance with ANYONE, ESPECIALLY beginners because they are the lifeblood of our dance community.  Without beginners we do not have new dancers, and without new dancers, we no longer have a community. Besides, you never know who the next best dancer could be!

Getting on to the dance floor:

  • Men: Escort your dance partner on to the dance floor like a gentleman.
  • Don’t walk into other couples while getting on to the dance floor. Be mindful of the other dancers on the floor as you find your spot. 

With your dance partner:

Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll be guaranteed future dances with this and other partners!

  • Be kind, be polite and be respectful of your partner! Smile, be pleasant and BE PRESENT!  Don’t make faces of disapproval or roll your eyes in any way. Make your partner feel comfortable and happy they chose to dance with you over everyone else!
  • NEVER criticize, offer advice or try to instruct someone on the dance floor, no matter how well-intentioned. If someone wants your advice, let them seek it out, otherwise, just be encouraging, positive and kind. 
  • Dance the whole song with your partner. It is considered very rude to end a dance before the end of the song. The only time it is appropriate to end a dance is in cases of emergency, if you’ve been hurt on the dance floor and can’t continue, or your partner is so inappropriate, you don’t feel comfortable continuing. 
  • Have gum or a mint in your mouth for fresh breath, but do not chew it in their face! If you’re a cud chewer when you have a piece of gum in your mouth, choose mints instead.  (Just don’t choke while you’re dancing!)
  • At most venues (a Ballroom, Salsa club, West Coast Swing dance, etc) it may not be appropriate to dance more than 1 dance with your average dance partner per night. The fewer the dancers out at the venue, the more often you may find yourself dancing with the same people, that’s normal, but typically we keep to 1 dance, or at least 1 dance per hour. If you and a partner both really enjoyed your dance, it is not unusual to dance a few extra with this person. You’ll find Milongas are an exception to this rule. **See below for more information.


  • Your #1 concern is keeping your partner SAFE on the dance floor. 
    • As the leader you are driving a very expensive car. Take care as you drive on the dance floor. ANY collision will be your fault (like it or not). Don’t do moves that would lead your partner into other people and keep your eye out for others that may be moving into your space. Keep her safe!
    • If you are just learning a new more advanced move, make sure you know it well enough to lead it. Don’t lead anything you could hurt your partner doing because of your current lack of skill in it. I’m not suggesting you not try out your new moves, I’m simply saying, don’t damage your partner to do it.
    • Don’t lead a new partner into fancier moves like dips, lifts, slides, drops, etc unless you know she is physically capable of handling such movements. If your partner has a back or neck injury that doesn’t allow her to do big dips, you may cause serious damage to her. This is an important caution for you as well, men, because not all women know how to hold their weight in these moves and if not, you could really hurt yourself trying to make sure you don’t drop her.
    • Regarding trick moves like mentioned above, if your partner goes down, you better be ready to catch her.  The only drop to the floor that should happen is if you’re underneath her.  As gentlemen pulling these stunts, you must take utmost care of your partner. Do not even attempt these moves if you’re unsure you can handle her.
  • Your 2nd job is making your partner feel comfortable.
    • When you are a more advanced lead, don’t lead things that make your follower feel inadequate. If she is struggling to pick up on your lead, lead something else. Never try to force a lead onto a follower who doesn’t get it.
    • Don’t be creepy!  Keep your hands in the proper places – off her *ahem* assets and keep your eyes up (a good rule of thumb for all dancers). Even if you’re looking at the floor, it will look like you’re looking “elsewhere”.  If you are shorter than your partner, keep your eyes focused UP at her FACE and your head in your own space (i.e. not in her bosom)!
    • Lead in a way that is clear, concise and direct, but remember LESS IS MORE! Never force a partner into a lead – GUIDE. Be gentle, but assertive! Your partner wants to be lead, not man-handled.
  • Your 3rd job as her dance partner is to make her look good! You are the frame, she is the picture. You are the vase, she is the flower. While you’re no piece of chopped liver – a beautiful picture needs a good looking frame after all, SHE is still the focus. Do everything you can to make her feel and look beautiful.


  • Keep in mind your leader is under a lot of pressure. Leading is not a simple task.  Be kind to him as he may be trying patterns he’s just learned in class. He may not be great right that second, but he is becoming a better dancer because you are showing him grace and patience. 
  • Follow. I know that seems obvious, but for lots of women it isn’t. Don’t try to lead the dance, it isn’t your job to do so.  Remember your mantra as a follower: “Right or wrong follow along”. Now that doesn’t mean if your partner needs help starting on the correct beat you just stare at him blankly, it just means don’t take over the dance.
  • Styling is highly encouraged, but not when there isn’t room for it. Be aware of your hands and nails, kicks and flourishes. You could seriously take an eyeball out. 

With others on the dance floor:

  • BE AWARE OF YOUR SPACE. There is nothing worse than a Miley Cyrus coming in like a wrecking ball on the dance floor.
    • Spot dances (Rumba, Samba, East Coast Swing, Lindy Hop, Cha Cha, Mambo, Merengue, Night Club 2-Step, Bolero, Bachata):
      • Find your own space.
      • Keep your eye out for fellow dancers.
      • When moving into new spaces 1st make sure there is space to do so.
      • When dancing these dances during a song that could also be danced around the floor (for example: dancing an East Coast Swing or Lindy Hop during a Fox Trot), stay to the center of the floor out of the way of the dancers going around the room on the outside of the floor. 
    • Slot dances (Salsa, Hustle, West Coast Swing)
      • KEEP YOUR SLOT! See which way the floor is oriented and fall in with the others. Once you’ve established your space, keep it!
    • Traveling dances (Fox Trot, Quickstep, Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Tango, Argentine Tango, Country 2-Step)
      • If you are more advanced dancers, stay to the outside of the room.
      • Beginner dancers should stick to the inside track of the dance floor.
      • Do not dance in the center of the room.
      • Always travel counter clockwise around the floor.
  • Sometimes collisions are inevitable. If you hit or step on someone don’t ignore the fact and keep on dancing. Take a moment to acknowledge and apologize to the person.
  • Ladies:  If you have long hair, be aware your fellow dancers on the floor do NOT want to be whipped by your long (and sometimes sweaty) hair. Put your hair up if it is going to be a problem.

Getting off the dance floor:

  • Men: Escort your partner off the dance floor and back to where you found her, or at the very least you should escort her off the floor.
  • Watch where you’re going. Others are probably already starting to dance, and there are many others exiting, try not to walk in to any of them. Go around others dancing on the floor.
  • Thank your partner for the dance. Regardless of how good (or not good) they were or how great you are, be humble and gracious. **See notes for Milongas and Argentine Tango regarding “Thank you” below.

In between songs:

  • No parking on the dance floor! The dance floor is for dancing, not chatting or spectating.
  • Bringing drinks onto the dance floor is a MAJOR No-No! Liquids ruin the bottom of our expensive suede bottomed dance shoes and make them sticky and almost impossible to spin and turn in. Keep drinks OFF THE FLOOR!
  • If you use the bathroom, WASH YOUR HANDS! There is nothing more disgusting than hearing your dance partner was just seen in the restroom walking out without washing their hands 1st.
  • If you choose to drink, be wise about it. Dancing takes balance, connection, control and many other skills that drinking can impair. Don’t be that drunk person flailing on the floor. And of course, never drink and drive.
  • Cigarette smoke smells disgusting. If you’re a smoker, take as much care as you can to not smell like a smoke stack. After a cigarette, wash your hands and pop a mint before dancing with your next partner.
  • If you are a profuse sweater (as men can often be), consider bringing a shirt (or several shirts) to change into between dances. No woman wants to dance with a man with a wet shirt! 
  • Some venues have little snacks and finger foods to eat. If you eat something in between dances, make sure it is not left in your teeth for your partner to stare at and your breath doesn’t smell like the ranch dressing you just dipped that carrot into.

Most importantly have fun and have a good attitude. Treat people with kindness. Support and nurture your dance community or else we won’t have one!

Argentine Tango/Milonga Etiquette:

  • Wear proper clothing (See other notes above for general applicable info)
    • Milongas: Dress to impress! You’ll find many Argentine Tango dancers where a lot of black.
      • Men wear a suit!      
      • Ladies wear a nice skirt and blouse or nice dress.

Asking someone to dance/Being asked to dance: (See other notes above for general applicable info)

  • Do not verbally ask someone to dance at a Milonga! It’s a major faux pas in the Argentine Tango world. What you will use is the Mirada and the Cabeceo. How this works is while you are sitting or standing around at the dance, you will catch eyes with a potential dance partner. This is the Mirada; “the look”. You lock eyes for a moment and then follow with the Cabeceo (literally the head), which is a nod or eye brow lift, or some kind of indication you are accepting the dance. At this point, you both move to the dance floor to dance. If you’d like to politely and discreetly decline, simply do not lock eyes, or turn your head away to indicate you are not interested in dancing with that person.

With your dance partner: (See other notes above for general applicable info)

  • At most Milongas you will be expected to dance at least 3-4 dances in a row with your partner known as a Tanda. Like leaving the floor in the middle of any other song, leaving the floor before the end of your tanda is considered extremely rude! When accepting a dance with your partner, expect to dance all 3-4 dances of the tanda with them.Never say “thank you” til the end of your tanda. When said between dances of your tanda, it’s essentially like saying “Thank you, I’m done with you”, and ending your partnership before the end of the tanda would be rude. Instead of saying thank you, try something like, “It’s such a pleasure dancing with you”, or “I’m really enjoying our dances”.