Dance Notes

Dance Etiquette and its practical application - Part 1 (English Dance & Song Summer ’98)

This article is a follow up to the article entitled ‘Further Dance Matters’ which appeared in the Spring ’98 issue of English Dance & Song.

It has been argued in the above article that English Country Dance is essentially a ‘social activity’ and in this respect differs from most other forms of dance related activity popular today, namely Ballroom & Sequence Dancing, Line Dancing, Step & Aerobics, etc. If we are to encourage new dancers to join our ranks we cannot just market this major attribute; we must actively improve our dance technique and our Dance Etiquette i.e. our ‘attitude’ to our fellow dancers. What practical steps can we take to achieve this?

Before we investigate the practical application of etiquette we must first understand more closely what we mean by Dance Etiquette. A couple of dictionary definitions will help to focus our understanding. For the word Etiquette we find:

Conventional rules of polite behaviour.

For the word ‘Social’ we find:

Pertaining to the relations of an individual to the community,

Forming a group of mutually dependent members,

For the welfare of the group or community.

We are therefore looking at ways of being polite and courteous not only to our partners but our fellow dancers in the set and the whole group attending a particular event.

Let us consider for a moment the attributes of the ideal dancer? If we look first at a dancer for a Social Dance Display Team this should give us a base to start from. The main emphasis here of course is on the quality of the performance. We would expect to find:

Excellent dancing skills i.e. Balance, Co-ordination, & Control,

An impeccable sense of Timing,

An Elegant Posture.

Each dancer is expected to be in the right place, at the right time, having followed the correct route, in the appropriate manner, and to be facing in the right direction, in balance, ready for the next movement. The above description can however be applied to all styles of display dancing, so what else is required?

Country dance is one of the few forms of dance in which you get to dance with someone whom you have not invited to dance. This is one of its great joys, meeting lots of new and different people often within the course of a single dance. It does however carry certain responsibilities and occasionally some disadvantages. You may end up dancing with someone whom you would not have invited to dance or from whom you would not have accepted an invitation to dance, perhaps due to a previous unpleasant experience e.g. rough, rude or insensitive treatment or even injury. It is therefore beholden upon us all to be sensitive in our treatment of our fellow dancers, regarding them as unique as indeed they are and not just as ‘the next partner/neighbour’.

One of our major aims as dancers should be to be ‘Great to Dance With!’ an accolade only bestowed upon us by others! but how do we achieve it?

Although the skills of the display dancer are undoubtedly beneficial in our quest we must also take into account the social element, ‘the welfare of the group’. This leads us to introduce other attributes that are equally as important as the originals when working as a team, namely:

Mindful & Supportive of our partners and other fellow dancers;

A Pleasant and Friendly Manner.

I would argue that it is these last two attributes that will earn us the ultimate accolade of ‘Great to dance with’.

Before we discuss how we put these extra attributes into action it would be useful to identify some of the idiosyncrasies in our dancing which impinge upon the enjoyment of others. Could any of the following statements apply to you? You are not being asked to declare your shortcomings to the world so please be truthful with yourself, bearing in mind that if you are not others will be, when considering your dancing manners:

There may be mitigating circumstances which lead initially to these shortcomings e.g. a gentleman lacks confidence in leading so his partner takes over and to ensure he follows the correct figures she may well hold him in a vice-like grip. Unfortunately that lady may apply that same hold when dancing with all of her partners / neighbours in the set whether or not they lack confidence.

It is these types of idiosyncrasy that are the most difficult to identify and thus eliminate. Most of the above shortcomings can be solved by a slight change in our attitude to our fellow dancers (by treating them as unique).

A recent article in the magazine of the Country Dance and Song Society of America (CDSS) highlighted some more shortcomings. It is entitled ‘How to be a Dance Tyrant in ten easy lessons’. With approval from the Author I have modified it slightly to more closely match our English terminology and dance scene but the sentiments are as pertinent as in the original.

How to be a Dance Tyrant in ten easy lessons.

Submitted by a Dancer who's tired of having the Enjoyment of a Dance Ruined by Rudeness

No doubt we can all think of many other instances of poor standards of etiquette. We may be executing the figures correctly and in time to the music but this does not make us good dancers. It’s our awareness of others that will add that extra dimension to our dancing.

From the above discussion I believe we now have a framework on which to build a set of positive guidelines:



With the above practices in regular use I am convinced that you will not only get much more enjoyment from your dancing but you will also become sought after as a partner / corner.

What are the benefits of being ‘Great to dance with’? A constant stream of partners dying to have a dance with you! If we were all of that ability then think how incredibly enjoyable, satisfying and uplifting our dancing would be. Our ranks would quickly go from strength to strength.

I would be delighted to get some feedback on these articles. I don’t think I’m whistling in the wind! Please contact me on 02380 360892 on Email: john.turner15 at or write to 35 Pirrie Close, Southampton SO15 7QA. Thanks

John Turner.

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