Dance Behavior Basics for Beginning Folk Dancers
By Loui Tucker
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Okay, so you've talked a friend into going to a dance class with you. Before dinner you demonstrated some of the basic steps grapevine, hop-step-step, Yemenite. You've shown them how to hold hands in a circle (right palm in, left palm out, thumbs free). You talked to them about basic dance etiquette:
Now, over dinner, it's time to talk about those unspoken "facts of life" in the dance community that will sometimes take beginners by surprise.
OH, I HAVE TO DO THIS DANCE!
You are in the midst of an interesting conversation and the face you're looking at suddenly becomes very alert, like a dog that tips its head and perks up its ears at an unusual sound. The person you've been talking to turns and dances away.
Tell your beginner friend not to become alarmed. This is an instance when the normal rules of etiquette are suspended. Remind them that at dance classes and dance parties is unlike ballroom dancing or nightclub dancing where you can do any dance to any piece of music that fits that rhythm. Often Dance A is done to Music A and Dance B is done to Music B. If a favorite dance comes on, you rarely get a second chance later in the evening; it's a case of "Dance it now or not at all."
Sometimes the dancer who left in the middle of the conversation will come back and pick up the conversation where you left off. Sometimes they won't. Don't take it personally.
CAN A WOMAN ASK A MAN TO DANCE?
In some social situations this may be viewed as inappropriate. In some situations it's accepted and, in some cases, expected.
If a beginning dancer of either gender wants to avoid the direct rejection that can come as a reply to "Would you like to dance?" a handy alternative is "Do you know this dance?" A negative response to this question does not, however, stop the invitee from suddenly remembering the dance and waltzing off with another partner which brings up the next point.
RUDE DANCERS, RESERVED DANCERS
Your beginner friend gets up the courage to ask someone to dance. That someone declines. Twenty seconds later your friend sees them on the dance floor with someone else.
Tell your beginner friend that there are rude people in this world and some of those rude people also dance. Those people probably also run stop signs and don't write thank-you notes either. Not all dancers are gracious and well-mannered, and we can't screen everyone before allowing them on the dance floor. And we don't have Etiquette Police who write citations or send offending dancers to the penalty box.
Beginners can save themselves from this special kind of pain by watching for a while who dances with whom. There are couples who only dance with each other. There are also couples who promise that "No matter what, we will always do Dance X together!"
It is ironic that some beginners forget how this rejection feels when they become proficient dancers and start rejecting the next generation of beginning dancers.
DANCING WITH BEGINNERS
A trio of axioms revolve around beginning dancers:
In addition to individual dancers welcoming or not welcoming beginners, different dance groups are more or less accepting, and beginners should not assume that all groups are equal. Suggest to a beginner that, if their first encounter with the dance scene proves to be less than warm and friendly, they should not give up, but should try another group.
THE DANCE FLOOR IS FOR DANCING
Perhaps at a nightclub you can linger on the dance floor, finish your conversation, decide whether to return to your own table or join your partner's. Not so at a folk dance class or party! A slow couple dance can give way to a fast-paced circle dance in the span of four seconds. Beginners are often vociferously admonished to get off the dance floor by a line of dancers that must swerve to avoid them.
Beginners often think experienced dancers who almost run them over or yell at them to get off the floor are being impolite. Tell your friend that this loud reproach may appear to be inconsiderate, but is really for the safety of all dancers. Beginners should watch to see the area the line or circle of dancers appears to be using and walk outside that area to talk. Keep an eye on the dancers for sudden direction changes and expansion of the circle.
AH, THAT RICH AROMA!
Talk about garlic. Talk about onions. Beginners sometimes equate folk dancing with an exercise program. In an exercise program or aerobics class, you're pretty much by yourself on the floor, so your breath is rarely of any concern. In folk dance classes there are lots of line dances and circle dances, but you're also going to be breathing in your partner's face during the couple dances and garlic / onion breath is not pleasant.
On the flip side, some beginners worry too much about body odor and apply the wrong solution to this problem. Specifically, they fear they will offend when they sweat and overcompensate by applying too much perfume or cologne. They may not realize that warming the body through exercise will over activate the perfume / cologne and that can also be offensive.
RINGS ON YOUR FINGERS, BELLS ON YOUR TOES
Beginners may not be aware that jewelry, particularly large rings, can be uncomfortable both to the wearer when their hand is squeezed firmly, and to the other dancers if the ring scratches bare skin or catches on clothing. Beginners may also hear the word "dance" and envision a certain type of footwear heels for women, dress shoes for men. Talk about appropriate jewelry, clothing, and footwear.
Beginning dancers can be fragile and the more we can do to ease their way into our community, the better off our community will be.
P.S. If any experienced dancers saw some of their own behaviors described in this article, and modify their behavior accordingly, our dance community will receive an additional benefit.
Loui Tucker is an Israeli dance teacher. She also has been president of the Folk Dance Federation of California.
Used with permission of the author.