Women and the Etiquette of Social Dance
It is time now for me to step into my Wizened Wizard of Dance role. I am about to offer
some suggestions based on experiences from the course of my dance career.
I honestly wish
someone had spelled out these thoughts for me when I was learning because, quite frankly,
at one time or another I made every mistake that I am about to discuss.
Rule One: Be Gentle
Where do you suppose the word "gentleman" comes from ? You must be careful to
not hurt a lady while dancing. Women are smaller and they are vulnerable to getting hurt.
Men often do not realize their own power and many times your leads are very painful. When
a lady dance instructor warns you in class that you have used too much power, she is
giving you valuable advice.
One of my favorite sayings is that a woman who is balanced in the first place doesn't
need a lot of power to move her and a woman who isn't balanced will only do worse if you
try to "make" her move, i.e. overpower her.
For example, when a woman falls, it is often because the man tries to lead something she
doesnt have the skill to handle properly. She hesitates, but the man forces her to
move faster than her skill-level can react. She can't get her feet under her fast enough
because she doesnt even know where to put them, so she falls. It is dangerous when a
man supplies enough strength to "make" a woman move. Even worse, once you start
to use power on a woman, then she begins to tense or freeze up. Now that she is afraid of
you, she becomes even heavier on their feet.
Turning on your power is an inappropriate solution that
does nothing but reinforce her fear. Let a woman move at her own speed even if it means
occasionally getting off the beat of the music; don't use extra force to move her faster.
Once a woman starts to trust you wont overpower her, she will relax a little and
become faster naturally as the result of practicing.
Personally speaking, I have been hurt badly twice when
dancing the ladys part in class. Once a man jerked me off balance when I was
teaching the relationship of arm tension to hip motion in Whip. I felt something give in
my lower back. A little while later I fell to the floor with back spasms. I had to be
carried to my car. I spent a week in bed totally unable to move with lower back pain. All
because a man didnt listen in class. This is one reason some men are called
Another time in a dangerous Western Swing move called the Rope, I nearly had my arm
ripped out of my shoulder. I was unable to play basketball for a month because I
couldnt raise my arm past a certain point. If a 200 pound man like me can get hurt
this badly, just imagine what a stupid mistake could do to a lady. Be careful; be gentle.
But unquestionably I learned the lesson of a lifetime
in 1984 on the night I danced the woman's role in class for the first
time. Due to an emergency situation - 16 men and only 7 women - I
decided to dance as a 'follow'. The third man I danced with nearly
murdered me! After I danced with him several more times, I
realized this brute was the reason we had so few women in the class.
Without my knowledge, each week this guy had hurt several women who now
refused to come back to class. No wonder we had so few women in
the class! (Read more about the story: Valuable Lesson)
Believe it or not, when I confronted this guy, he was actually mortified
to discover he had been hurting women. In addition to many other
interesting discoveries, I realized it was true that men
often too rough because they honestly do not know their own strength.
times in class I have coached men to ease up. The nice guys take my advice in stride and
improve quickly in this area. As they say, a word to the wise is sufficient.
Men Who Play Rough
however it seems like men deliberately don't listen.
They seem to take delight in hurting women and go too far.
Let's face it - there are angry men in this
world. Take as an example this true story of a
man who stepped much too far across the line of decency. This letter was sent to me in
July, 1999, by a lady student.
As you know, Tuesday at the Longhorn is "SSQQ"
night. Well, last night seemed like a typical night. Many of us were there, dancing and
having a good time. Then came the whip music. Normally thats no big deal.
Theres always a little two-step, a little polka, a little waltz, a little swing, and
then a whip set. Thats when I always sit down to take a breather, since I have had
absolutely no whip lessons. None. So I was just sitting, enjoying the rest, when a guy
came up and asked me to dance. "No, thank you," I replied, "I dont
know how to whip." To which came "Aw, come on," and "Its
really easy". All the time I continued to say "No, thank you."
He then said, "Well why
dont you just let me show you a few steps." So taking him at his word (what an
idiot), I walked to the dance floor. BIG MISTAKE! First of all, those whip sets are long,
and secondly, he proceeded to throw me around like a sack of potatoes. I mean, he jerked
me up, down, over, and under, and I lost count of how many times my feet came up off the
ground! I realize that Im no spring chicken anymore, but he would have destroyed the
joints of a 20-year old with these moves! Not to mention all the nasty, sleazy moves he
tried. Every time I would try to pull away from him or tell him to stop he would just
laugh and not let go of my arm. When that song was over I just stormed over to my chair
and the jackass had the nerve to tell me to save him a two-step. If Id had my wits
about me, I would have ground my boot into his instep!
A fellow from ssqq told me he has seen that guy before at
other places and he does the same thing to other women.
Well, all I can say is I felt like whip got its name
from "whiplash"! I couldnt even turn my head last night it was so sore.
And thats coming from a woman who went through childbirth 3 times with no drugs -
and one of those was a 37- hour labor! So I am no wuss. (Im not really sure how to
spell that, but Im still not one!) He just really ran me through through the mill.
Now you know why I just had to thank
SSQQ. It is an incredible place for many reasons. But its the respect for other
people thats taught along with dancing that, and I think I can speak for many women,
that is really appreciated.
This particular woman is lovely, gracious, and intelligent. I have never seen her treat
someone disrespectfully. Most of the time I see her laughing and smiling. Any normal man
would take pride at having a lady like her accept his offer to dance. Whatever this guy
was trying to accomplish is beyond me. Meanness of this nature is difficult to comprehend.
I might this creep continued to bother different women at the Longhorn
to the extent he became such a public menace that we gave him his own web
site: Longhorn Jackass
Women appreciate gentleness more than you can ever
imagine. Getting roughed up is definitely not their idea of fun. That pulling pigtails
stuff is strictly myth. Treat them like a lady and you will be rewarded in
I would like to add another
letter written to me by SSQQ Staff Member Patrick Steerman.
In this letter
he covers many themes of dance etiquette in a clear and concise way:
With great amusement I read all of the letters on your website regarding the "Longhorn Jackass". These guys have been around as long as I have been dancing. I remember one, who I will call John (not his real name), who you probably know, who took lessons at every dance studio in town. He would come to the old Wild West and try to dance Whip and Two Step with anyone he could get out on the floor. All women lived in fear of being asked to dance with him. His problem of course was that he thought he was a great dancer. John had taken lessons for years and once told a group of us that Mario, Sr. told him that in three or four months he would be as good as Mario, Junior.
So, under the belief that he was a great dancer, John would drag beginners out on the floor and try to teach them how to dance - most experienced dancers wouldn't dance with him at all (Sharon Crawford was one of these).
Since these types
of men are always around, I believe the women writing the letters should stop talking and do something. They have to bear some responsibility for what happens. No one can make you dance and keep you on the dance floor - most of us do not wish to hurt
someone's feelings but if you dance with this guy a second time or do not walk off the floor the first time - it's your fault. Dance is supposed to be fun - if you are not having fun dancing with someone, just stop and walk off the floor.
Better yet, don't agree to dance with the Longhorn Jackass a second time. Some of the letters say that once on the floor they tried to walk off but he would not let them - I have never seen anyone held against their will on the dance floor. They may not want to hurt his feelings but that is what it takes. That is what eventually happened to the guy I call John - few
women would dance with him.
Many told John that they wouldn't dance with him because he was too rough and didn't lead moves they could follow.
This was a surprise to John but when enough people told him this he finally got the message. I know several women instructors who would dance with him but gave him a very frank warning before stepping onto the floor - "If you dance rough and sling me around, I will walk off the dance floor" - he got the message and eventually became a fair dancer.
This is an extreme measure but necessary if what the women say is true. Of course I have trouble following my own advice. There are many women around town who ask me to dance and I do so even though I would rather not. There is one woman who I use to see out at clubs and at C&W and Whip competitions. Since she was around when Sharon and I competed, she always comes straight to me and asks me to dance. She has trouble spinning and refuses to hold-up her own arm. To make things worst, she always waits until the fastest two step or polka. It's bad enough that I have to "drag" her around the floor and cheat my footwork because she takes extra beats to complete her spins, but she does not follow my lead most of the time. She looks at me and says "I like to do that turn - is that okay?" - which is opposite to what was lead and results in a "busted" pattern. I just look at her and say - "sure, that's fine with me". I am polite and dance with her once per night - two if I can't get out of it.
My rule is that I will dance with anyone once a night. I don't care how bad they are, I just can't say no...
unless they are too drunk to walk (been there done that). On occasion, I have stopped in the middle of the dance and said something like "We must be hearing the beat differently" or "Sorry, you may not be recognizing some of my leads, let's try again later".
So you might advise the SSQQ women that this problem will always be there - it's up to you them do something about it.
Also, since the women say the Longhorn guy was leading advanced Whip patterns from SSQQ, instructors should be on the lookout for him and other "rough" dancers, in class and at practice parties, and try to talk to them about their style and technique - maybe talk them into repeating some classes.
(Rick Archer's Note:
"Ditto" and "Amen" to everything Patrick said above!
What an awesome letter.
Women need to understand that even in a large city like Houston there is
a 'Dance Community'. If you stick to one dance hall, you will
eventually recognize the same dancers are there all the time.
Women hold the cards - men don't learn to dance because they want to
learn to dance. They learn to dance so they can get women in their
arms. That's the name of the game.
So if a series of women put their foot down and refuse to be
man-handled, even thick-headed men like the Longhorn Jackass and Patrick
Steerman's 'John' character will eventually get the message.
Men are a gigantic training experiment run by women. As far as I
can tell, men need women more than women need men. Especially
Single Men. They don't want to admit it, but when their
sex drive hits the 'urgent' stage, this puts them at a strong
disadvantage in the dating game. Women should be able to dictate
how they wish to be treated. As long as this situation remains
intact, women have the power to insist that men treat them gently on the
dance floor. Otherwise they should freeze the jerks out.
Let me add that any male reader of this article needs to learn the
"Rules" and abide by them. If he does this, then he will be way
ahead of the game.)
: Do Not Dance above a Woman's Skill Level
At Practice Nights I feel like murdering men who try to double turn women who obviously
do not know how to double turn. This is a very dangerous thing to do. Women can easily
fall and get hurt in this situation.
Look at it this way : Pretend you are having a bad dream and somehow you get stuck
dancing the womans part. Now the roles are reversed. Try to imagine how well you
would do if someone tried to double turn you to the speed of the music when you
werent expecting it ? What do suppose would happen ? My guess is you would not turn
very well. You would either lock your arms and stop cold on the spot or you would stumble.
You might even say, "I dont know how to turn. Why are you turning me ?"
Now take the bad dream further
you lock your arms and try to stop because you are
out of control, but your tormenter decides you need a little help and uses even more power
to make you start turning again. Now you would probably fall. This scenario actually
happens to women.
Watching the poor women flounder, I can't help but wonder
what enters these men's minds...if a lady doesn't know how to double turn in the first
place, what good does it do to keep trying ? Dont men know that double turns are
difficult to learn ? He might think he's impressing her by teaching her something she
doesnt know, but in reality what he accomplishes is scaring his partner to death !
A man should treat his partner as if he is taking her to Astroworld for the first time.
There are some rides she is interested in, some rides she is scared to death of, and some
rides she isnt sure about. The smart man will start on the easy rides and gradually
take her on more difficult rides to discover what her comfort zone is. Eventually you will
come to one ride your lady friend does not want to ride. The thought goes through your
head that if she knew more about the ride, she would be less reluctant. My hunch is she
will trust you one time. If this ride turns out to be fun, she will listen to you again.
If you use poor judgement however and she gets scared, her courage level will drop and the
rest of the day will be much less fun.
I suggest when you dance with a woman, you start
easy and increase the difficulty of patterns. Once you determine her skill level, you have
the right to take her just barely out of her comfort zone into the unknown. If she handles
it, try something else. If she doesnt handle it well, back off.
Women do actually enjoy being tested; they simply ask that
you give them a fighting chance. Do not dance over their head !
A woman wants to feel safe. She wants to feel like you will protect her, yet if here
you go violating her trust, how can she possibly have fun ? If you continually put a lady
in situations where she is out of control, you can not possibly win a womans
appreciation with this strategy. You are completely missing the whole point of the
mans role in dancing : women want to enjoy the ride and the slightest thought of
getting hurt ruins all the fun.
Dance at her level, not yours. She will thank you and give you the smile that you
Rule Three : Speed Kills !
The faster the music, the more careful the man has to be. When I do the ladys
part in dance class, occasionally a man will give me the correct lead, but too early or
too late. The lead only works if I am on a certain foot; delivering the lead ahead of time
throws me off balance. Since we never play the music too fast in class, I usually have
enough time to recover my balance despite the mistake. However at Practice Night,
especially when the music gets faster and the lady does not know the move is coming, moves
that worked in class have a bad habit of falling apart !
An experienced leader learns to sense what foot the lady is on. He learns not simply to
rely on the beat of the music to guess when to lead, but feels where his partner is in the
move as well. A dance lead is like a gentle form of judo. The man senses the ladys
momentum, then delivers a well-timed lead that reverses her momentum without her even
realizing what has happened. When this is done well, the lady smiles because it is fun to
change directions and be surprised.
However when the lead is wrong or delivered at the wrong time, then the lady loses her
balance. So much for that smile. Only experience and practice can teach a man to sense
what foot the woman is on, but some guys decide to lose their temper instead.
Sometimes the men get frustrated and blame the woman. If the move didn't work, it is
because the man didn't have a precise enough lead, the woman didn't have enough skill, or
perhaps the music was simply too fast for both of them.
No matter what the reason, at this point some men start to use more strength. This is what
I call the Karate Kid approach : breaking bricks and bludgeoning a woman into doing a
move. As I have said repeatedly, power has no place in dancing ! It makes no sense
to ever force a woman to move faster than she wants to. What is missing is the finesse of
a proper lead delivered at the right moment. Remember that word : finesse.
During my 201 Nights in a Row of Whip dancing, one of the most valuable things I learned
was that advanced patterns require a series of leads that need to be delivered at
rat-a-tat speed. Only practice can give a man the skill to deliver these quick, subtle
leads at precisely the right time for 6, 7, maybe 10 beats in a row. If a man has to think
about his lead, the time it takes to give a conscious command to your hands will often
delay the lead just enough to throw the lady off-balance. On tricky moves, repetition and
practice can give the man what is called "Muscle Memory" : a series of footwork
and leads linked together that occur without the man even needing to think about it.
Every dance has a speed where everything is comfortable. When the music gets much
faster, however, moves that worked at one speed have a bad habit of not working very well
at all at the higher speed. For one thing, the man has much less time to think about his
leads. Leads have to be delivered with lightning-precision.
If the man's muscle memory is weak, his leads may be delivered late or improperly, and the
woman may stumble. In addition, the womans skill may not be strong enough for a
higher speed. Even correctly-delivered leads may not be enough if the lady cant move
her feet fast enough.
Another thing men may not realize is that faster music
changes a move. The man may have been told this move takes 6 beats to complete. What he
wasnt told is the move takes 6 beats to complete at normal speeds, but might take 7
beats to complete at a faster speed. This also means he may need to learn a trick on how
to hold one extra beat since almost all patterns require an even number of beats to
When I was learning to dance, one of my worst sins was using more power to try to
"catch the train". I was dancing to a fast song and I realized if my partner
turned just a little faster we could catch the beat, so...Pow ! I would turn up the juice.
We would catch that beat, but the ladys eyes would be rolling in their sockets.
Even worse, not one woman ever thanked me. In all those years I never heard a woman say
as we walked back to our seats, "You know, Rick, that was a fast song. For a second I
thought on that one turn I wasnt going to make it. Fortunately out of nowhere you
sensed my dilemma and just beat the absolute stuffing out of me, but, damn, it was all
worth it just to catch that beat !".
How rude of those ungrateful wretches !
Fortunately, somewhere along the line it occurred to me to let the lady turn at the
speed she was comfortable at even if it added a beat or two to the pattern. I got a lot
more smiles after that insight, believe me.
In general, fast music causes accidents if the man isnt careful. Moves that work
at slower speeds may become risky as the tempo increases. Men like to try dancing to fast
music, but they forget that when they dance out of control it is usually their partner who
gets hurt. You need to factor her safety into the mix.
If you wish to dance to fast music, stick to moves that are within your ability to
Don't Be Dangerous !
Earlier in Rule 2 I discussed the need to "Be Gentle". Forgive me please as I
cover similar ideas again, but I can not emphasize enough times that women actually get
hurt sometimes when they dance. Bruises, bumps, and twinges they can live with. You might
be surprised to know that in my opinion women encounter more pain when they dance than men
do in an average pickup basketball game. In dancing, men jerk women's arms, squeeze their
hands, bop them in the head, step on their feet, knock them off balance, and muscle them
around. Fortunately however women are pretty good sports about it, especially if they
think the man is trying to get better. That hope of eventual improvement keeps the ladies
hanging in there.
Where women draw the line... and I agree with this position... is when they sense they
are in danger of actually getting hurt. Even if it doesn't happen, the fear of it
happening still spoils the moment. A woman can't have fun if she is worrying about getting
For example, sometimes men try acrobatic stunts without warning the woman. Or a man
might needlessly risk her safety by trying a dangerous acrobatic move when the floor is
One of the stupidest things men do is try moves they don't have a clue about without
warning the woman. This is the dance equivalent of letting a kid play with matches or
knives. I know of two occasions where women have been badly hurt by men trying moves they
copied from a more experienced dancer.
The first occasion was a Whip move called "Behind the Back" back in the 80s.
A man named Michael Miles saw a move on the dance floor that looked pretty flashy. Even
though he had only seen the move one time and without warning his partner, Judy Price, he
tried to repeat the move at regular speed. He nearly broke Judy's arm. No one had
explained to him that a woman's arm has to be straightened downwards before bringing it
back up. Furthermore there has to be proper spacing between bodies for the arm to raise
naturally. He came very close to dislocating her shoulder. I might add the maneuver he
actually did use is almost the equivalent of that wrestling trick you see in Police
episodes where the cop twists the bad guy's wrist, then shoves his hand way up his back
deep into his shoulder blade, then slams him face down on the hood of police car. What
Michael did was That Dangerous !!
The second occasion was a nasty little Western Swing move called the "Beaumont
Roll". Even when the woman knows the move is coming it is still tough to lead. An
unknown man saw me use the move with Sharon Crawford at Wild West back in the 80s. It
involves a judo-style wrist twist... the woman actually has to turn to avoid being hurt.
If she turns at the right instant, it doesn't hurt a bit. However if she is taken by
surprise, usually her momentum takes her past the point where she should begin her turn.
Now the pain in her wrist hurts a lot plus she usually loses her balance badly to the
point where the man needs to catch her. The move is That Dangerous ! So some idiot
sees me do it without realizing I verbally warned Sharon it was coming. He tries it with
some hapless victim and nearly kills her. I just happened to be watching. He picked her up
off the floor apologizing profusely. To his credit he helped her to her seat and sat with
her as she recovered. He realized he had foolishly risked the lady's safety.
All I want you the Reader to understand is that many advanced moves rely on
split-second timing. If the woman receives the lead even a fraction early or late, she can
easily be knocked off balance. As long as she isn't taken too much by surprise or she
isn't moving too fast, she won't be hurt. But once she has been hurt by you, she gets very
cautious. No woman wants to be hurt. As a result, many women start to back-lead.
Back-Leading can lead to even bigger problems.
Parallels to Back-Leading can be seen in sports. If a football Quarterback has been
blind-sided several times, he starts to look for the pass rushers instead of look for his
receivers. He starts to "dance" in the pocket and get happy feet trying to avoid
the danger. His effectiveness is obviously diminished.
Or a baseball slugger who gets hit in the head with a pitch starts to bail out at the
plate. He is so worried about getting hit again he flinches instead of remaining calm and
watching the pitch. Any coach will recognize this bad habit quickly, but curing it is
Back-Leading is where a woman anticipates a move and goes to the spot without it really
being led properly. This is a pretty good trick when the woman is experienced and the man
is a weak leader who doesn't know many moves. I tell my women in class that a woman should
try to follow a man a couple times until she sees what his style is. If he doesn't lead
well, then she should try to cover for him. Unfortunately this trick mostly works only
with Beginner men.
The problem of Back-Leading comes when the man starts to use more power in his lead at
the same time the moves get more complex. Now it becomes easier for the woman to guess
wrong at the same time as his power is great enough to knock her badly out of control. All
I can say is back-leading can be dangerous if the man has a strong lead - she is taking a
It might help if both the man and the woman remember I said earlier that
"Leading" is supposed to be a form of "Gentle Judo". The art of Judo
uses an attacker's momentum to the defender's advantage. In dancing, a good lead creates a
woman's momentum, then a sudden lead change will change the direction of her momentum. At
its best, Leading can create patterns the woman has never seen before. Even though she
doesn't know where she is going, if she "Follows" well, she can be successful
anyway if she has confidence in her partner and lets him guide her.
However in back-leading, the woman puts herself deliberately into a pattern. If she
guesses wrong, she is likely to be on the wrong foot when the judo-style lead kicks in. If
she had been on the correct foot, she would have spun beautifully and enjoyed herself. Now
because she has put herself out of position, she stumbles. If the lead is powerful, she
can easily fall.
The man should not be blamed all the time. This is an example of someone else suddenly
grabbing the steering wheel which of course is how accidents happen. On the other hand, if
he has hurt the woman several times recently, you can assume he created a climate of fear
which led to her gun-shy behavior.
Let me give you guys some advice (isn't that what this article is about ?). I lead very
well. It is my profession. You wouldn't pay me to give you any dance tips if my women
stumbled at the same frequency as your women. Well, here we go.
I am a strong leader. When women trust me, I give them quick, definite pulls, pushes,
and nudges that instantly change their momentum. One reason they trust me when we
dance is they know I am in control. They know even if they make a mistake I have the
ability to rescue them in one way or another. Plus they know I won't hurt their feelings
if they mess up. As a result, they relax and let me drive.
However I am experienced enough to know when a woman is back-leading. I also know she
is in more danger if I use my strong leads. When I sense a woman is back-leading, I switch
to less force and less complicated moves. We may not be as flashy, but usually the woman
doesn't care. If she is back-leading, she is saying to me, "I just want to dance
without getting hurt". Fine. I accept that.
When I was younger, we did what I wanted. Now that I am older, I just want to make sure
she is still smiling when the dance is over. I have the strength and the skill to lead
women through complicated patterns at great speeds, but I now know it will jar her bones
and rattle her nerves even if she trusts me. As a result, my showoff moments are limited
to only the most skilled and trusting of the women I dance with.
Competition Dancing, Performing, and Exhibitions are
places where people try the most complex patterns. However these complex patterns are
rehearsed plus the woman knows when they are coming. Then the judges wink and pretend
those patterns are "leadable". Oh sure.
Unfortunately Social Dancing, i.e. dancing with people you
may or may not know very well, requires moves that can be led and followed. Obviously
women are happier when they are not afraid of being hurt and feel safer when they know the
patterns that are being led.
No one likes to be out of control. You men would be shocked
at how terrifying it is to be out of control in a difficult pattern. One woman described
to me her loss of balance in a dance mistake felt similar to a time when her car did a 360
degree spin after hitting a patch of ice. As a result, a man should be very cautious in
his approach to leading advanced moves. Remember the man'sgoal should be to win her
confidence and her smile. If she can't trust a man on the dance floor, she isn't going to
trust him very much off it either. Then he has missed the whole point of dancing which is
to show women he is not only fun to be with, but also safe - the whole package.
Look out for the girls on the dance floor and you will be
On Page 4 of Advice to Men, we cover 4 more
of the Do and Don'ts of Social Dancing.
Click here for Page 4.