My One Rule for Asking People to Dance

I recently wrote a contentious blog.

I had no idea that it was going to draw as much fire as it did. I thought people might disagree – I didn’t anticipate how emotional everyone would become about it.

In the blog post I believe in the hierarchy: 5 reasons I never ask pros to dance, I discussed my views on asking etiquette.

In the post I made the case – though honestly I think it’s so obvious it doesn’t need to be made – that more ‘advanced’ dancers frequently enjoy dancing with other ‘advanced’ dancers the most (and intermediate with intermediate; pro with pro… though most people always enjoy dancing “up”). This is the case because technique and familiarity with the dance (as well as experience with musicality, creativity, etc, gained over time) facilitate a unique kind of connection. Having a reasonably equal skill set means that people can communicate at the same degree of precision, subtlety, and creativity.

This does not rule out enjoyment of “lower level” dancing by any means. It simply says that people tend to match up well at similar levels of technique and familiarity in the dance. It’s like playing any one-on-one sport, like tennis. People can enjoy playing with anyone at any level, but particularly enjoy when they can match skill sets.

And we should take these factors — in addition to many others — into account when we ask people to dance. We should do this in order to best be sensitive to the emotions and needs of the people around us. It’s perfectly okay for someone to enjoy one kind of dancing or another. I see nothing condemnable about that.

Why this is a contentious idea

People were disturbed by my post for many reasons. I cannot infer all of them, but my impression is that the most common causes for concern were:

-I was promoting an attitude which discourages beginners from the dance

-I was disrupting the credibility of instructors who for the sake of their business require their reputations to be egalitarian

-I was promoting coldness or hostility on the dance floor

-I was denying that people have more to contribute to a dance (such as musicality, or emotional connection) than technique (I wasn’t, to be clear)

-I was saying that less experienced dancers should never ask more experienced dancers to dance (I wasn’t)

-I was advocating for a world in which we pay attention to differences based on ability (I was)

I could respond at length in an attempt to refute each point above, but instead I think I’d like to just simplify the matter.

I can actually distill this idea into one specific rule.

This is the rule:

Only ask people to dance with you if you think, with your most objective and self-aware best guess, that the person you ask to dance with you will enjoy it.

That’s it. That’s all I make sure of when I ask someone to dance. Before every single dance (without fail) I ask myself the question:

“What are the chances that this person will enjoy dancing with me?” Sometimes I get a clear answer – such as 1% or 99%. Most of the time it is more ambiguous. I follow a 40% or a 75% or what-have-you based on the context.

Many factors go into my calculation of these odds. Very many. Most of them have nothing to do with technique, skill, or experience level at all. They can concern someone’s mood, social environment, or level of exhaustion, for example. But some do. Some factors most certainly do take experience into account.

Here is a small sample of questions I consider when evaluating each potential dance partner (and usually it just takes seconds): 

Do I know this person? Have I danced with them before? Did they indicate they enjoyed it or would like to do it again some time? (Examples of this would be asking my name after the dance, engaging me in conversation, appearing to be genuinely smiling and engaged with me in the dance, having open body language with respect to me both on and off the dance floor) Do they regularly ask me to dance? Do we ask each other to dance at roughly the same rate, or am I always the one asking?

Has this person had a chance to ask someone she personally wants to ask recently, or has she been asked repeatedly without a chance to choose? Does this person have a queue of people waiting to dance with her? Does she appear to enjoy it or would she rather go be among friends or take a break?

When watching this person dance with others, does she appear to enjoy or seek out dancing with people at my “level”?

Is this person surrounded by a group of friends, and does she appear to only want to socialize and dance with them specifically? How close is she to the dance floor? Is she looking about the room for a partner to do this dance with, and NOT scanning for one person in particular? Is she tapping her foot, itching to get out on the floor? Or does she appear tired? Is she sitting down, drinking water, combing her hair, or otherwise disengaged from the floor? Is her back turned to the dance floor? Is she in an intimate conversation with someone? Is she talking to or dancing with someone who looks like she’s really into them and it would be an obnoxious cock block or interruption for me to ask her right at this moment? Has this person clearly detached from her previous dance partner and moved on, or is there a chance she wants to do another with them, or talk with them as she is walking off the floor? By my best guess, is this person possibly my equal in skill, creativity, or some other important facet of dancing that would make them really enjoy dancing with me, even though we don’t know each other yet?

I literally consider each of these factors when asking someone to dance, whether it is a close friend or a stranger. A close friend might have a lot going on or  feel tired; a stranger may simply not be interested. In any case, I want them to have, at this moment, what they need or want the most. If dancing with me is not near the top of that list, then I see no reason to ask them.

Because the thing is this: everybody has different preferences, and finds themselves in different situations on the dance floor. As in life, you never really know if someone wants you until you ask. But very many people feel obligated to say yes to a dance, even if they don’t particularly want to.

So I always try to guess before I ask, in order to best take care of both of us.

Of course, I am not always right. How can I tell? I can tell by how much eye contact they make, by if they are smiling, by how earnestly they thank me after the dance. If I guessed wrong when I asked someone to dance, I feel a bit bad, but I apologize to the universe (or to the dancer, honestly, depending on the situation) and move on.

Very often, the people who do not enjoy dancing with me are better dancers than I, professional or not. This is in large part why, as I indicated in my earlier post, I rarely ask “pros” to dance. I am waiting until they (and everyone else) are just as excited to dance with me as I am with them. Sometimes people accuse me of having this perspective because I now consider myself a hotshot dancer, having learned a thing or two. I want to rationalize saying “no.” This could not be further from the truth. I have felt this way from my very first dance several years ago. My allegiance to this principle is more about respecting the needs of the people I ask than it is about protecting myself. Dancing for me is like sex. I won’t do it unless both of us are excited.

So that’s my rule: I only ask people to dance if I believe there is a reasonably good chance they will enjoy dancing with me.

What do you think? Still contentious? Let me have it. 🙂



6 Comments, RSS

  1. Just. Say. No. – The Perfect Follow May 24, 2017 @ 3:32 pm

    […] before about asking etiquette (I believe in the hierarchy: 5 reasons I never ask pros to dance, and My one rule for asking people to dance) that people have disagreed with vociferously. In the end, to be clear, I like saying yes to […]

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