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?