No, you are not. I will explain.

We’ve all heard it. The famous saying: “Never say No to a dance”. I disagree. There are very valid reasons to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to a dance. All of them are completely legitimate, and within your right to exercise. By giving ourselves the power to say ‘No’ to a dance, we help to preserve the joy we gain from actually social dancing when we want to and on our terms.

In life – which includes social dancing – you are never under an obligation to say yes to things that make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Even in the workplace, it is illegal to force an employee to do something that makes them unsafe. In the context of social dancing, this unsafe-ness can cover anything from feeling tired and needing a break, to a dangerous lead or follow, to a person who makes you feel uncomfortable for any reason.

It is also completely OK if someone declines to dance with you. We’re going to talk about that too, in a second part to this article.

Good Reasons to Say Yes:

  1. You genuinely enjoy dancing with the person.
  2. You genuinely like the person, even if their dancing is so-so.
  3. You just really like the song, regardless of partner.
  4. You just really feel like dancing.
  5. You enjoy fostering beginners in the dance scene.
  6. You noticed that this person worked really hard to get the courage to ask.
  7. You know it will make your partner happy.
  8. You don’t have a particular reason; they just asked and you like to say yes.

There are many ‘Good’ reasons to say yes. Not all of them have to do with being super elated by the level of your dance partner. All of these decisions are a choice you have the power to make on your own terms, at any time.

Bad Reasons to Say Yes:

  1. You are worried about what other people will say.
  2. You are worried about your reputation.
  3. You feel obligated.
  4. You feel scared or uncomfortable saying no

Basically, ‘Bad’ reasons include feelings of guilt, shame, coercion and lack of self-esteem. In many ways, it’s like choosing to hug, air-kiss, or otherwise touch someone. It’s a personal decision, and it should never come from a place of or fear. Ever. End of story. I don’t care who told you to always say ‘Yes’, you never have to do something you don’t want to do in dance. You get to decide how to spend your dance life – no one else.

Good Reasons to Say No:

  1. You’re tired hungry, hurt, or upset.
  2. You don’t like the song.
  3. The music is too fast or slow.
  4. You just don’t get along with the person asking.
  5. Your partner has hygiene issues.
  6. Your partner is known to hurt people.
  7. You just don’t feel like dancing.
  8. You don’t trust the person asking.
  9. Any other reason that will make you resent the dance.

Bad Reasons to Say No:

  1. You don’t think you should dance with them, even if you want to.
  2. You refuse to dance with people who you’ve never met before.

There is a balance in saying ‘No’. On the one side, it is important to always feel empowered to say ‘No’ to a dance you really don’t want. On the other, as a dancer it is important to remain open to new experiences and create a sense of inclusion. The question that I always ask myself before deciding whether to decline a dance based on the person asking (aka, I’m not tired or in pain; I just am not sure I want to dance) is whether or not that dance is likely to create a bad tone for the rest of the evening (it does happen).

If I think that I’m likely to dislike the dance to the point of it ruining my night or setting a poor tone going forward, I will decline. If I’m on the fence, I will usually accept. I almost always accept very new beginners (or even ask them) because I want to give them a great experience. Helping beginners brings me joy.

I will never accept a dance from someone I don’t trust to keep me safe. There is one particular dancer in the Salsa scene who I used to dance with quite frequently – until he decided to follow me up to my room despite my protests at an event and, later, berate me for not accepting his advanced when talking online. I don’t trust him, so I always say no. There are also some painful leads to whom I will always say no.

What if I said ‘Yes’ before I knew my partner would make me uncomfortable?

You have a few options.

  1. End the dance immediately
  2. Ask your partner to stop the bad behavior, or guide them into behavior that is less troublesome
  3. Get through the dance and never dance again
  4. Override your own feelings for the sake of being ‘polite’

I would always advocate #2 to help with most behaviors. For example, I will ask a rough or painful lead to lighten up.  If I’m leading a follow who is throwing him/herself around, I will manage their movements in a close hold instead. If I have an injury, am intoxicated, or tired, I will speak up. It’s the best way to protect myself, and turn a dance from a negative experience into a positive one. There are also strategies for rescuing different kinds of ‘bad’ dances.

I will resort to #1 in the case of bad – and intentional – behavior. For example, a lead or follow who intentionally touches my breasts, butt, or other private areas. If a lead has an erection and insists on pushing it into me and will not give me space to avoid the contact, I will end the dance. I once had a lead lick my ear. This type of behavior, or a refusal to listen to my requests for lightening up, etc. will cause me to leave a dance early. I’m not about to renounce my personal rights for the sake of the partner. I really don’t care if I look like a bitch – I have a right not to be violated.

#3 I reserve for non-dangerous behaviors – like smelling really bad, or being grossly sweaty. I can stick that out without feeling violated for the rest of the night. If I can find a nice way to help them out with the issue (like a mint) I will offer it after the dance. My heart goes out to those people. They’re not hurting anyone… it’s just gross.

I generally do not like to use #4 frequently, unless I am dealing with a fragile and well-intentioned beginner, or a friend who is having an off-day. The only other time I will do this is if I am acting in a professional capacity. Your first goal in social dancing is to make yourself feel good, safe and happy. Otherwise, why would you be social dancing??

What About Dance Etiquette?

Etiquette only extends so far. If I’m at a family dinner where my cousin brings her new boyfriend to dinner and he is kind of awkward or eats like a pig, I deal in etiquette. He may be a nice guy with bad and/or subconscious habits. If said boyfriend decides to stick his hand up my skirt under the dinner table, etiquette be damned. I’m taking action. The same thing goes on the social floor.

Etiquette only extends so far as to where it starts having a real and tangible negative impact on your dance life. If someone is just a little awkward during the dance or asking, etiquette applies. If someone is making you unsafe or uncomfortable, I don’t give a crap about social dance ‘etiquette’. Here is an example:

“No Teaching on the Dance Floor”

Absolutely agree. Do not start teaching; it’s not the place for a lesson. BUT – if a lead is forcefully dipping me and I know my back or neck are in danger, I will say “Please do not dip me. That hurts.” If they refuse to listen, I will walk away. Sure, technically I’m ‘teaching’ or policing their dance on the floor… but my back should not be the cost of keeping the lead’s feelings in one piece.

But Shouldn’t I Just Fake it Sometimes?

‘Faking it’ on the dance floor is just as bad as faking it in bed.
If you fake it (unless you do it really well) your partner will know. Even if you have nothing against them but are just tired, your partner will feel it. If you know you cannot muster a sense of enthusiasm for the dance, both parties are going to be unhappy at the end. The partner will feel like they dragged you into dancing, and you will feel unfulfilled. In my books, saying ‘no’ is better than saying ‘yes’ with a bad attitude.

What about ‘Excuses’?

This is an etiquette piece that I do like. Don’t make an excuse that is untrue. If you aren’t intending to dance with them later, don’t say you are. Don’t say the next dance is theirs if it’s not going to be. Don’t say you ‘need a break’ and then get up the same song and dance with someone else. Dishonesty serves no one well.

I got upset one time when someone I really wanted to dance with declined me 3x with an ‘Save me a dance later’ after promising me a dance earlier that day. Had they just declined it would have been all good; I would have moved on! Excuses are not kind.

What if they ask why I said no?

Be honest. Kindly, if possible. If you think it’s not worth the honesty (ie. normally a fav, but smell bad that day), just say ‘I don’t feel like dancing right now, and I’d rather dance with you when I’m excited about it’ or something similar.

But I hate it when people say ‘no’ to me!

Rejection sucks. Get over it. Keep an open mind; you don’t know why they said no. If this happens often; maybe there is something you can tweak. Ask an instructor or a friend for their honest opinion. Be willing to hear the hard truth.

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