In honor of wedding season, I’m re-posting an entry on ballroom etiquette. It’s great advice for anyone interested in a genteel approach on the dance floor.
Dance cards and white gloves may be gone, but the etiquette of social dance is still in style. Gracious behavior can make prom night even more memorable.
Dance floor manners follow codes of behavior established long ago in Europe, says Peter Vaco, director of Indigo Ballroom, in Somerville. A native of Slovakia, Vaco has danced competitively and professionally in Europe and the United States for more than 20 years.
“Lately, there has been a lack of manners at dances because young people think the rules are repressive. In reality, the rules are elegant and teach young men and women how to behave in a relationship,” says Vaco.
Dance etiquette can help in other situations also, he says. The straight posture required for ballroom dance lends an air of confidence, and good manners can impress everyone from peers to potential employers.
“In dance clubs, people have a hard time approaching each other because they don’t know the rules. Ballroom dance rules teach people how to remove the barriers, which is good because dancing brings people together,” says Vaco. The basic principle of dance etiquette is respect. Vaco describes dancing as a game between the man, who invites the woman to dance and is the leader on the floor, and the woman, who follows his lead. Creative partners of the same or different genders can play with which partner takes the lead.
“That sounds funny to feminists, but it’s a healthy way to create respect and a 50-50 relationship. No one goes for a free ride when they dance as equal partners,” says Vaco.
Every high school has its own prom customs, but good manners will impress people in any environment. Vaco gives the following advice for male and female dancers, which also apply to couples of same gender. The rules apply to proms, clubs, weddings and other social occasions.
“To start, the man should always seat the woman so she can enjoy the view of the whole room. When the man sits with his back to the room, he’s saying that he is only interested in looking at his date, not at the other women in the room,” says Vaco.
To ask a woman to dance, the man should approach her and ask, “May I dance with you?” while extending his hand. The woman should accept by putting her hand in her partner’s and walk with him onto the dance floor. Neither partner should walk in front unless the couple must pass through a door or go upstairs to reach the dance floor.
“If they go through a door, the man should go first so he can open the door. On stairs, man goes first so can give her a helping hand and avoid looking up her skirt,” says Vaco. When the song ends, the man may bow slightly in front of the woman to show respect, and she should nod her head to him, Vaco says.
“The man should then take the woman’s arm and lead her back to her chair, which puts closure on the dance. A nice touch is for the man to pull out the woman’s chair so she can sit down at her table,” he says. Some couples prefer to dance only with their date, while others happily dance with other partners, including those who have attended the event solo.
“In dance society, you don’t have to be someone’s boyfriend to dance with her. You can dance several dances together and then say, ‘Thank you very much for dancing with me’ before returning her to her table,” says Vaco. It may once have been permissible for a man to cut in and replace a man on the dance floor, but Vaco says that’s a good way to start a conflict on the floor today. He suggests waiting until a song ends to request a dance with someone else’s partner.
“When the song ends, you can say to the guy, ‘Do you mind if I dance with your date?’ and he should be flattered,” says Vaco. When dancing, women should leave their evening bags on a chair or bring a very small purse they can easily hold on the dance floor. At some proms, tradition allows women to kick off their high heels and dance in socks, but Vaco suggests a more tasteful alternative: comfortable shoes.
“In a ballroom that’s very fancy, you don’t take your shoes off no matter how free you feel about yourself. For a proper ballroom dance, you wear shoes designed for dancing,” he says. The best dance shoes have suede soles that glide easily on the floor without slipping. Shoe repair shops can add suede soles to regular shoes for roughly $20.