What you need to know about asking her to dance

by James Joseph

Photo by Alexander Zabara

Photo by Alexander Zabara

While approaching the opposite sex often has its risks, asking someone to dance is routine. A request for a dance is the perfect cover: there’s a script, which both sides follow.

You don’t have to be creative or cool about it; just follow the script. Even better, if you’re not a good conversationalist, that’s it; after you ask her to dance you don’t have to talk again. Just dance. (Correction: it’s good etiquette to say “thank you” at the end of a dance.)

Identify someone to approach

Some good choices for potential partners include: someone who you know; someone about your dance ability; someone who dances a lot and with different partners; someone close to the dance floor; anyone on the edge of the dance floor, tapping her foot and smiling.

What to say

The opener is straight out of a playbook: “Would you like to dance?” “Shall we dance?” Or a simple “Dance?” Don’t think too hard, just follow the script. A nonverbal request is not uncommon: you offer your hand, smile and maybe nod. I’m somewhat okay with that, although I think a nonverbal request with a stranger is a bit distant (I’d at least throw in the word “Dance?”). What I often do is offer my hand, as a minor nonverbal gesture, as I’m asking her to dance. For a related tangent, Argentine tango dancers have a whole nonverbal ritual, which includes a nod of the head called a Cabeceo.

Rejection is rare

The etiquette in ballroom dance is to always accept an offer to dance. So your requests will almost always be accepted. (Note: that doesn’t mean she’ll be happy about dancing with you, which is a different topic). And you should accept virtually all requests when you’re asked to dance.

If she declines

If she declines, to save a little face, you can respond, “okay, maybe later.” If she declines, it usually comes with a reason, which is the polite way to decline a dance. If you decline, give a reason like you’re tired, or you’re sitting this one out, or you don’t know how to do the jitterbug. The proper etiquette is to sit the entire dance out and not accept a dance from someone else until the next song.

Offer your hand

After she accepts I either offer my hand or, if my hand is already out, I leave it out for her to grasp. The hand thing is a little corny but it shows confidence. I escort her onto the floor still holding her hand, which I find to be a manly gesture. At that point I’ve also established, to some degree, a dance connection before we’ve started dancing. This helps me evaluate what we’re going to do a moment later when we start dancing.

Be a desirable partner

The more dance-oriented the venue, the more it matters how well you can dance. Generally, the better you can dance, the easier it is to attract a partner. If you’re at a dedicated dance venue, the sure way to be the guy that followers seek is to be a good dancer. If you can’t dance, check out this post on how to be the ballroom dance partner women love.

So, are you going to be an arms-folded-hiding-in-the-corner wallflower or are you going to join the group? After years of being the loner on the sidelines, I came to the conclusion that it takes more effort to avoid the dance floor than it does to follow the playbook and ask someone to dance. Don’t think, don’t hesitate–just do it. Action cures fear.

Do you have a favorite way to ask someone to dance?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Cristian Andrei June 20, 2012 at 11:39 pm

The cabeceo practice is a personal favorite. There are people that don’t use it. However as the dance is a way of expressing yourself, I prefer to use cabeceo.
After the end of the dance I usually just smile and maybe bow. Coming from other dances I have a habit of saying “thank you” and it takes some effort to refrain from it at milongas.
As for learning tango, just take a partner, embrace her/him like you would go with a person that’s dear to you and simply breathe. Your partner should sync her/his breathing with yours. That’s tango.
It’s healing for the soul.

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James Joseph June 25, 2012 at 9:49 am

Christian, thanks for the additional insight. The eye-contact invitation-to-dance, the embrace, the syncing of breaths. Given that partner dancing is built around nonverbal communication, I see how tango takes it to another level.

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Cristian Andrei June 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Nice article and I would mention something related to the Argentine Tango. In Tango it is not a good idea to say “thank you” at the end of the dance. You are in 4-songs relationship (a tanda, the period you’re dancing with a partner usually is 4 songs) and saying thank you at the end is like saying thank you after making love. It’s just not necessary. If the relationship survived all 4 songs then it is implied that it was nice. Otherwise if things go really wrong one of the partners will stop after one or two songs saying guess what – “thank you”.

As for method of invitation, tango’s cabeceo is the best. If the girl doesn’t want to dance it will just ignore your eye contact and this way won’t make you feel awkward and no one else would know.

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James Joseph June 20, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Christian, yes, well, and then there’s tango. Thanks for the insight. Tango remains a mystery to me but, one day, I intend to indulge and I hope to find god (it’s a religion, right? I kid, I joke). I’ve read of the cabeceo, the eye contact invitation, and the tanda, the multi-song relationship. I wonder, is that just at traditional milongas? Would they do cabeceo and tanda at, say, a practica at a hip Los Angeles tango studio? If you don’t say thank you at the end of a tanda, what do you do–look at each other and smile, with maybe a quick nod?

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