No one enjoys a dance creep. They’re the ones who won’t take ‘No’ for an answer, dance a little-too-close, and won’t leave you alone on Facebook for weeks. The really bad ones also try to get handsy on the floor, or will do crazy stuff like follow you to your car or room.

A dance creep is anyone who engages in behavior that makes those around them feel uncomfortable or threatened. Dance creeps can be men or women. They can be any age, or dance level. They can be intentionally or unintentionally doing the creepy behavior.

So, what can we do to make sure we’re not a dance creep?

Step 1: Don’t do the ‘obvious’ creepy things.

This should be common-sense. You should never do things that you know are unwanted or creepy. For example:

  • Touching someone inappropriately on or off the dance floor without express consent.
  • Forcing yourself on someone.
  • Refusing to listen to an express ‘No’.
  • Threatening, coercing, or guilting someone into specific behavior.
  • Following, stalking, or harassing people.

Most creeps don’t do the ‘obvious’ things that are clear-cut harassment or assault. This is an extreme minority of the population. But, in any conversation about eliminating creepiness, the point must be made that this things have never and will never be OK.

Step 2: Create the space for people to say “No”.

If you want to not be a creep, you have to give the people around you the space to say ‘No’ at any time – without fear, shame, or guilt.

For example, if you see that a person is hesitant to say ‘Yes’ to a dance, ask them if they’d prefer to get water this dance instead.

Creating a space to say ‘No’ is essentially saying “I got it –  I’m not offended, and I don’t need an explanation. So, let me give you an excuse that you can take without feeling guilty.”

Step 3: Understand how people use body language.

Body language sometimes tells you far more than words. The better you become at picking up body language, the easier it will be for you to figure out what people want, need, and like.

For example, body language is how advanced dancers differentiate between someone needing more clarity, or someone who doesn’t want to do something. It’s also how people assess if someone wants to dance with them, or sends signals that they don’t want to dance.

When it comes to dance creeps, some of the most common cues they miss are:

  • a partner trying to pull away from close hold,
  • a partner trying to avoid head-to-head contact,
  • pulling away or hesitating at unwanted or too-long hugs, massages, or ‘friendly’ touches off the floor,
  • awkward laughter or unenthusiastic/non-acknowledgement of unwanted comments about their looks or style,
  • awkward laughter or unenthusiastic/non-acknowledgement of ‘jokes’ that are very dirty, or physically sexual in nature,
  • trying to pull away from an unwanted 2nd or 3rd song,
  • turning down or a hesitated acceptance of  repeated ‘asks’ for dances, with guilt at refusal,
  • short answers or non-acknowledgement to interactions off the floor, or online.

As a general rule, there’s a few indicators of discomfort that are widely used:

  • Eye Contact: avoiding or refusing to engage
  • Smile: non-present, or not reaching the eyes
  • Body position: turning or leaning away
  • Tension: shoulders or body is stiff; arms pushing away
  • Non-engagement: a refusal to acknowledge, or short, bare-minimum engagement
  • Hesitation: a pause before giving an (often unenthusiastic) answer
  • Touch: a hesitant or light touch that avoids full contact

Step 4: Understand ‘Soft’ Outs

A soft out means the same thing as a ‘no’, but are frequently used when a person feels uncomfortable rejecting.

For example, excuses like ‘getting a drink of water’ are a common type of soft ‘no’. They’re not the real reason for the decline, but it’s evident that they’re still a ‘no.’

They can also be used as an attempt to stop a physical interaction. For example, someone saying ‘thank you’ as a way to end a dance, massage, or other interaction where they were receiving a ‘benefit’ can be a soft out. Yes, they’re thanking you – but it’s also a sign that they’re at their limit for that particular interaction.

Another type is using an ‘Ok’, quick hug, or other positive interaction to set the tone. For example, during a hug a person may say ‘Ok’ if it’s been too long for them. Or, if a comment they’re uncomfortable with comes up, they may say ‘Ok’ to change the topic into something else.

People may also use a soft out if they don’t want you to come with them somewhere. For example, ‘I’ll be right back’, ‘I just need to run up to my room’, and ‘I’m going to go talk to my friend’ are all signs that they probably don’t want your company for that errand, unless they specifically invite you.

The better you get at assessing soft outs, the better you will be at respecting boundaries.

Step 5: Respect the ‘No’.

Whether it’s a soft out, a direct no, or non-verbal body language, respect the ‘No’. It’s a boundary, and it shouldn’t be crossed – regardless of your opinion.

Even if you think it’s ridiculously stupid.
Even if you think it’s all in their head.
Even if it was taken the ‘wrong way’ by the other person.

If you try to justify your behavior or change their mind, it seems like you’re pushing the boundary. If it’s appropriate, say ‘sorry’ and move on. They know if you didn’t mean to make them uncomfortable.

Step 6: Put other people’s personal boundaries before your ‘wants’.

One of the biggest causes of creepiness is our desire to fulfill our own wants – even at the expense of other people’s boundaries. For example, our desire to dance sensually over their discomfort.

Most ‘creeps’ will not overstep the boundary if directly confronted. This is because most people who are creeps convince themselves that they just ‘didn’t know’ the boundary was there.

It’s the same reason that some people use the line “Well, why didn’t she just say ‘No’ if she didn’t want me to flirt with her?” Deep down, most of those ‘creeps’ knew that the advance was unwelcome. However, they can convince themselves that they ‘didn’t know’ because the person never directly said ‘no’.

If you don’t want to be a creep, you need to honestly look at if your behavior is wanted. If you have any inclination that the behavior doesn’t seem to be welcome, stop.

Step 7: If in doubt, don’t.

If you are someone who really, really struggles with reading people, the best way to keep yourself from being a creep is to be extra-sure you don’t overstep boundaries.

Not sure if they want to dance close? Don’t hold close.
Not sure if they want a hug? Let them initiate.
Not sure if they want a second dance? Wait for their decision, or just do one.
Not sure if they want to dip? Try one slowly. If no response, do no more.

No matter how bad you may be at reading people, there’s no reason to be a dance creep. It simply takes awareness, a willingness to respect others, and knowing to not do things that could be creepy if you can’t understand non-verbal cues.

In the end, ‘not knowing’ is not a suitable excuse for being a dance creep. We have an obligation to our fellow dancers to monitor our own behavior.