There are very few reasonable reasons to leave a dance before the end of a song. Generally speaking, agreeing to a dance means you are agreeing to spend a minimum of 1 song with that person. It does not mean taking a test-drive, and then deciding 30 seconds later that you no longer want that dance.
Of course, you always have the ‘right’ to stop a dance… but having the ‘right’ to do something can be very different from doing the ‘right’ thing. There are times where it is both your right AND the right thing to stop a dance, but those are by far the minority of times.
The ‘dance contract’ of accepting an offer means that you are committing to a dance.
Even if you don’t know the dancer’s level, body odor level, or anything about them, you have agreed to a dance. Cutting that dance short can be devastating for your partner, and can also make you look like an arse. Do you really want to leave someone standing there, not understanding why they just were cruelly left (embarrassed) in the middle of the floor?
Most of the time, the thing that is *bothering* you about the dance is tolerable enough to spend 5 minutes ‘surviving’ the dance. Even really bad B.O. is survivable for a couple minutes – especially if you stay in an open hold. If you have defensive dancing skills, most ‘bad habits’ are also safely survivable for 5 minutes.
If a dance is getting dangerous, use your voice before walking away. If it’s bad enough for you to walk away mid-dance, it’s bad enough that you should be using your words. Got Mr. Grippy destroying your hands? Tell him his grip is hurting you. If you have issues being direct, say you have ‘an injury’, so a heavy grip doesn’t work for you. Ms. I-Dip-Myself? Tell her that you’re not doing dips this dance. If you have issues being direct, tell her your back is out – which makes dips dangerous for you.
“So. When is it ACTUALLY acceptable to leave a dance?”
There are five main umbrellas for when it is actually OK to leave midway through a dance:
- DJ, Door Duty, or ‘My Ride Is Leaving’
- Injury/sickness while dancing
- Inappropriate behavior
- Requests to stop a dangerous behavior are ignored
- You and a friend have ‘the moment’ where you mutually decide to dance at another time instead
Let’s unpack these.
D.J. Duty, Door Duty, or ‘My Ride is Leaving’
These are reasons that have nothing to do with the dance itself. In fact, it can be with one of your favourite dancers – but when you’re a ‘working dancer’, your work (or your ride home) has to take priority.
Generally speaking, a good practice is to tell the person in advance that you may have to jump away if duty calls. Even better, go immediately back to your dance as soon as you finish your duty. When it’s a work- or drive-related reason, people are very understanding that it has nothing to do with the dance – as long as you tell them. If you don’t let them know what’s going on, it feels just like any other time you get left on the floor: really sucky.
Injury/Sickness While Dancing
I’ve been in situations while social dancing where I acquire an injury. For example, one time a heel managed to viciously attack my toe. It was painful enough that I was effectively hobbled for 10 minutes, and needed to go clean up some blood. Another time, my partner inadvertently punched me in the face – leading to a rather sore nose.
I’ve also seen dancers get sick during a dance – particularly from too many spins. It literally becomes a sit-down-or-I-puke-on-my-partner scenario. Please: sit down.
These things happen. Sometimes you can dance through the issue, sometimes you really do need to take a breather. It’s basically never intentional, and partners are almost always understanding. Once again, tell your partner what is going on. 99% of the time, they will be more than understanding. Very often, they’ll also offer to help you fix whatever the problem is. For example, getting ice or helping you to a seat.
Hint for dancers: if your partner is having a rough time, help them. It makes you *super* awesome.
Certain behavior is inexcusable on the dance floor. Some of it is ridiculous enough that you need not even offer a ‘verbal’ warning – it’s your call. For example, someone who is groping you, trying to kiss you, saying derogatory or inappropriate things to you, etc. is acting inappropriately.
If you think it’s an issue where the person simply hasn’t learned to navigate personal space, verbally say something. You can also use body language, such as moving the offending hand. However, if they will not adjust their behavior, you need to decide when to leave. You have no obligation to be treated poorly or disrespectfully in social dancing. It’s just not a thing.
If you want to make absolutely sure that the person was doing it intentionally, stop the dance and ask them why they’re doing that. If they respond like an ass, leave their ass on the floor. If they seem genuinely shocked or sorry, it’s up to you whether you accept their apology enough to try again.
Your Requests to Stop Dangerous Behavior are Ignored
There’s a spectrum here. Sometimes, people are trying to change a behavior but slip up. For example, reminding a newer dancer to lighten up the grip, or the dancer who forgot that you requested no dips. Then, a gentle reminder or physical cue will generally illicit an apology or a second correction.
I have danced with people who had to re-correct certain things 5-6 times in a song, but I didn’t mind simply because they were really trying. Additionally, they stopped short of actually being a risk because they would respond to my ‘stops’ on the behavior.
However, if you have asked someone not to do something and they purposefully ignore your requests, please feel free to leave. You don’t have to (it’s always your choice), but it’s an appropriate option. You can even say to someone ‘If you don’t want to listen to my request, I need to stop this dance. It’s dangerous for me”.
You and a Friend have a ‘Let’s Dance Another Time’ Moment
Sometimes, you grab a friend for a song – only to realize that the song is way too fast, or it’s your least favourite song ever. Suddenly, even though you want to dance with the person, it feels flat. Sometimes, you’ll make eye contact with each other, with the silent question ‘Do we really want to do THIS song?’ in your eyes.
It goes without saying, but mutual decisions to cut a dance early are totally cool. After all, you’re both on the same page, and no one is getting hurt. I once asked my favourite lead if we could get a different song, since the Zouk remix of Soulja Boy is *really* not a good jam for either of us.
You should (almost) always leave the dance in a way that lets your partner keep their dignity.
I don’t advocate leaving dances in the middle of songs, but it is technically your ‘right’. If you must leave for whatever reason, at least be as nice as possible about it. Offer an explanation. Make up an excuse if you must.
The only exception to the rule is if someone is being grossly inappropriate, and you need to send a strong message that their behavior is not OK. In every other scenario, you have no reason for humiliating your partner if you leave them.
For example, if they stick their hand down your pants, feel free to leave them embarrassed. Maybe report them too.
Leaving your partner with some of their dignity is a matter of decency. If you have to humiliate your partner to leave the dance, you probably should not be leaving the dance. Low dance level, a boring dance, or a less-than-favourite song are not appropriate reasons to (possibly) ruin someone’s night.
Be kind, and be generous. The chance that one bad dance will ruin your night is slim. The chance that you can ruin someone else’s night by leaving a less-than-prime dance is very high. Do you really want to be responsible for someone else having a terrible experience, simply because you felt they weren’t up to your standards?
Your general rule should be to never leave a dance in the middle of a song. If you don’t want to dance with someone, save both you and them the trouble and give a polite ‘no’. Specific instances may require leaving in the middle of a song, but it should not be a usual mode of behavior.
Be gracious – it’s a much better look on you. Better yet, turn the ‘bad’ dance awesome by working with your partner! 🙂