If you are interrupting a conversation to ask someone to dance, you should at least apologize to both people for interrupting the conversation. Unfortunately, even this simple courtesy can't be found in many dancers.
A general rule is that one should always say yes (once per evening at least) when one is asked to dance (this is true whether a leader asks a follower or a follower asks a leader.) Exception: if one has reason to believe that person would hurt you or if one is in an unusually fragile state due to injury recovery. If you find yourself in a painful situation, don't be afraid to stop and say something like "I am sorry but some of your moves are aggravating a past injury and so I will have to sit the rest of this dance out." Nobody should, out of politeness, risk injury. If a man leads you badly - especially when he tries to do something that endangers or hurts you - you can:
1) Subtly refuse to follow... don't pull away, just backlead or do something very different from what he's expecting.
2) Boldly refuse to follow... let go! Become physically detached from him and tell him (out loud) that it hurt!
Smart guys will at least realize that they've done something wrong and will get the idea after this happens once or twice Dumb or uncaring guys aren't going to get the idea, but you'll know to stay away from them in the future. Don't feel that you have to get through the dance with them.
What are the consequences of saying yes and do you accept those? I have danced with a few ladies who said yes and then intentionally showed little or no interest in dancing or were rude in other ways. I would have prefered them to have simply said "no thanks" if they were not really interested in dancing with me.
Men and women are both allowed to refuse a dance and "sit one out". If they do, the rules of etiquette say that they must sit it out completely, regardless of who asks them to dance. Exception: a woman (or man!) trying to shake someone who is hitting-on/pawing her should be free to ignore the cad and immediately go find someone else with whom to dance. Why let a bozo spoil a nice evening of dancing?
If you have trouble telling people that you don't wish to dance with them, try this rejection line: "I'd love to, but I think I'm going to mingle--there are many people I haven't danced with yet. Perhaps we can get in another before the end of the evening?" [The second sentence/question is optional]
On rules of etiquette... Social dancing is as friendly a place as you make it, but it's not slavery. You aren't a paid taxi dancer, required to dance with whomever. Sitting out dances, just because someone you don't want to dance with asked you first, is not what you paid your money at the door for. Dance with whom you want to. That said... Remember that you may have to ask (beg, plead) to get the person you turned down (and maybe his friends also) to dance with you in the future. Maybe he won't have fun, will stop dancing, won't tell his friends how much fun it is, all your favorite dance places will go out of business, you won't have anywhere to dance, etc., etc. Aside from good manners, there *are* other reasons to be polite. Many beginners who later become good dancers remember who was courteous and who was not.
Looking at yourself in the mirror is definitely not correct behavior at a social dance. When you practice, especially by yourself, looking in the mirror can be helpful. Looking when you are socially dancing with a partner can be rude.
When you've finished dancing, always thank your partner first, thank them for asking you to dance if that was the case, and mention something that was inspiring if that emotion was tweaked.
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This file is part of the lead/follow FAQ list. These are articles compiled from the newsgroup rec.arts.dance by Mark Balzer. Html-isation by Victor Eijkhout, victor at eijkhout dot net. See also the Rec Arts Dance FAQ list Copyright 1996/7/8/9 lies with the compiler, the maintainer and the contributors of various parts.
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