Dancing is a very active and at times intimate social activity. As with other social situations there is an etiquette that you need to be aware of to make sure everybody has fun.
So here are some guidelines on salsa etiquette that applies both in classes and in social dance situations.
As salsa is a close partner dance, it is very important that you are clean and smell nice before you go dancing. Nobody appreciates dancing with a partner who is dirty or smells.
showering, either in the morning or before dancing, whichever is more appropriate to you.
brushing your teeth before going out dancing and bringing gum/mints to keep you minty fresh. It’s also a good idea to avoid eating strong smelling foods like onions and garlic on the day of dancing.
using deodorant/perfume/cologne. But don’t overdo it, light smells are better.
bringing clean clothes if necessary.
If you have a problem with perspiration, it is a good idea to bring a clean hand towel to use between dances. Also, visit the toilet regularly to use water and paper towels. Some guys bring spare shirts to change into over the course of the night.
While taking group lessons the teachers deserve your full attention at all times. This is not social time. If you are chatting away with somebody during the class it is disrespectful to both the teacher who is trying to instruct and to the other students who are trying to learn.
While it is good to ask questions during the lesson, too many questions will slow down the class for everybody. Save questions for after the lesson if necessary. However, be aware that the teacher is not obliged to spend more than a few minutes after the lesson to explain things. If you need a lot of help, then consider booking a private lesson.
The teacher will teach you in his/her own style. This may mean that some moves will be taught slightly differently to another teacher. It is not appreciated if you challenge the teacher on this. If you are not happy with how/what the teacher teaches then you should find another class that you are happier with.
If you take private lessons, be aware that once the lesson is over, the teacher is not obliged to dance with you! If you ask them, they probably will, but do not be offended if they decline.
Remember, dance teaching is their work, so when they dance for fun they want to dance with somebody at their own level.
Asking Somebody to Dance
Both men and women can go and ask somebody for a dance. Just go over, extend your hand and ask politely. If they accept, lead them by hand to the dance floor. If you are turned down, do not be offended, it’s rarely something personal. It could be that they’ve just danced the last five songs and need a break, or it could be that they don’t like the current song, or they’ve saved this song for a particular person, or they just want to have a chat with some friends.
If you are turned down, you shouldn’t usually ask that person again the same night. Once you have asked them, they are free to ask you back should they wish. It is bad form to pester somebody into dancing with you.
If you happen to be at the dance with a friend, partner or significant other, then it’s quite nice to approach another couple and ask them to dance in parallel. That is, he asks her and she asks him for a dance at the same time. This means nobody is left alone by themselves for the next song.
If the person you want to dance with is in a conversation, try not to interrupt. Either try again later or if you can get eye-contact, extend your hand with something like, “is this a bad time to ask for a dance?” or, “may we?”. Make sure you acknowledge the person they are talking to, perhaps with a promise to bring him/her back soon.
Another less obvious form of interruption is asking somebody who has literally just finished dancing. If he or she has just stopped dancing to the previous song, you should avoid jumping in to grab them before they start moving off. You should wait until they have come at least to the edge of the dance floor.
Being Asked to Dance
In general, you should try and dance with anybody who asks you.
If you simply do not feel like dancing at that particular time, for example if you’re tired, you want to chat to your friends, or go to the toilet, then politely decline. If you would like to dance later, then tell him/her, or ask them later yourself.
If the reason is something that can be fixed, for example if his lead was too rough last time, then you might want to tell him this before accepting.
Although the Latin Americans tend to dance very close, in London you generally only dance very close if you are familiar with the other person. You have to use your judgement here based on your partners willingness or resistance to being close. Don’t push it any further than your partner is happy with.
Most girls dance salsa for fun, not to pick up guys.
So if you are a guy and the girl is dancing close or styling in a very sexy way, this does not necessarily mean she’s interested in a romantic way.
More likely she is just having fun and expressing herself and making the dance look good.
Bumping Into Others
Dance floors are often overcrowded and at some point you are going to bump into somebody or step on their feet. If this happens, apologise. If somebody bumps into you, apologise even if you think it was their fault. If it keeps happening, try to find a different spot.
Adjust your moves to the space available. If there isn’t much space then stick to moves that are tighter, otherwise you will keep bumping into everyone around you.
If you are in a place where waiters/waitresses are moving around, then always give them space to pass you even if it means stopping your dance. They are there to work and it’s hard enough without dancers spinning around them at speed.
If you are a stronger dancer than your partner, then out dancing them is frowned upon and does not look good. This applies to both male and females. There is no need to demonstrate to people that you are better than your partner. Anybody watching will know the real situation.
Even worse than out dancing your partner is pulling faces of disgust to people watching. Just be patient finish the dance.
Remember that there are always better dancers than you out there, so would you like to be treated like that?
Teaching on the Dance Floor
During social dancing that doesn’t follow a lesson, you shouldn’t correct or teach your partner unless clearly requested. If your partner leads or follows a move incorrectly, it is not an invitation to teach them. Instead, if you’re the guy, try simpler patterns. If you’re the girl, just follow the best you can.
Line of Dance
When dancing on a busy dance floor look for the line of dance; that is, the general direction and orientation of dance. For LA cross body style, people will generally be dancing parallel to one of the walls.
If you’re sick, you should stay at home. Nobody will appreciate you for giving them a cold or flu.
After the Dance
Smile, thank your partner and lead them off the dance floor.