Duke Diva and I went to the park Saturday evening for Tango in the Park. It was Argentine Tango with some random Latin dancing thrown into the mix. Before it got started, there was a short class to give people some very basic info on how to tango.
Those not already coupled up were asked to come to the center of the pavilion so they could find other non-paired up partners. I asked the guy standing next to me if he wanted to be my partner.
He said "OK."
PK: "Well, we should move to the side so that they will not think we are still looking for partners."
AND HE WALKED OFF! To the other side of the pavilion. To find another dance partner. I cannot really verbalize how offensive this was to me. I've been called very bad names and that didn't bother me. This... this bothered me. Someone told me that they heard him say he wanted to find someone who could dance, which caused me to yell something not-safe-for-work. I know I don't look like the petite little thing he wound up dancing with but... uh... I can dance.
So, I wished him bad dance karma for breaking the social dance rules. "May you not dance the rest of the night. If you do happen to convince some girl to dance with you, may she step on your feet for 2 minutes straight."
Duke Diva pointed him out to me as the class moved on. He moved like Frankenstein.
So, as the Big Band Dances in the Park weekly free music/dance thing gets underway in June here in Nashville, here are some general social dance event rules.
1) Never decline an opportunity to dance. It is only 3 minutes. It isn't an engagement. It isn't a date. Don't think of it as such. Just let go of the puffy hearts and stars now.
Also, it is socially acceptable for either gender to ask for a dance. While it is still largely the man's responsibility, if there is a gent that you want to dance with, lady, go ask him.
2a) If you must decline an invitation to dance (say you are resting after a particularly fast cha-cha), do NOT dance that song. Keep your rear in your seat, go get something to drink, or go to the bathroom. Do not dance for the duration of that song. If you want to be really polite, offer to dance with them on a future song. "No, I'm taking a break but would you like to dance the next song?"
The only possible exception I would personally allow for this is your significant other/spouse or competitive dance partner. I'm not sure I would dance with my instructor if I declined a dance and he came up and asked me to dance.
2b) Now, if he is a bad leader (meaning you get walked into multiple people or you can't figure out what in the world he's trying to get you to do) or you need to perform constant hand checks because he is touching you inappropriately, or she is leering at you, decline all future dances with a "no, thank you." and leave it at that. If you are at a dance studio, find out who their instructor is and talk to that person. If you are the park or a random social dance event, and they get pushy as to why you won't dance with them, you can say "I don't like the way your hold me/look at me" or whatever it is.
3) Use Altoids/breath strips/mints/gum. No one wants to know you had tuna for lunch. (PK's note: I was in a group class with a guy who reeked of tuna. Every time I rotated around to him, I would barely breathe. It was AWFUL! You don't want your partner passing out because they refuse to breathe around you because you stink. That's very bad.)
4) Use perfume/aftershave. Don't swim in it but please try to smell good. At the very least, shower and use deoderant before dancing. If you have a tendancy to get really sweaty during exercise, bring a clean shirt to change into after a while. And bring a towel to wipe your hands/arms/face off.
5) Don't correct/teach/criticize on the dance floor. If they are bad, you never have to dance with them again (see 2b). If they are hurting you, gently say "that hurts!" or "you are pinching me!"
If something goes wrong, just assume it was your fault even if you know it wasn't. Say "Sorry" and move on. That is assuming that they noticed something is wrong. If they don't notice, don't bring it up.
6) Dance with many different people. That's why it's called "social" dancing. Don't dance with just the person you came with.
7) Smile and have fun!
I know it seems like a lot to remember but it is just common sense. Be polite and treat others how you would like to be treated. For the experienced dancer out there, you were a beginner once. Remember how you felt at your first social dance event - nervous and confused. Someone took the time to talk and dance with you early on so that you would get better. Have the occasional dance with someone new. It won't kill you.
For the beginner, don't be afraid to ask questions. If you see that awesome couple out on the floor and then sitting down at a table, I'm sure they would love to chat with you about dancing.
A near thesis on dance etiquette can be found here. More tips from one of the Harvard Ballroom Clubs and from Street Swing.