Folk Dance Etiquette

Because folk dancing is a social activity, it's important to keep in mind that what you do affects others. There are some basic "rules" of etiquette that are common throughout international folk dance groups. Some of these are common sense kinds of things, and some of them are more specific to folk dancing.

Below are several conventions and "unwritten rules" that are important to keep in mind as you dance. If you try to be aware of them, and of your own body and movements, it can make the dancing experience more enjoyable for everyone.

Pay the admission fee

We ask for only $5.00 admission for a wonderful evening of dance, including an hour of instruction. This is how we cover our rent and other operating expenses, and how we fund our special events. When you enter the studio please stop at the table and pay our "cash kid."

Hold hands gently and hold your own weight

This seems to be common sense. No one would intentionally grip hands too tightly or bear their weight down on a neighbor. However, when we concentrate on learning a new dance, or work hard at a difficult or strenuous step or sequence often our awareness of our own body space or relative movement lapses — we tend to tense up our muscles (including how we hold our hands and arms) and lose awareness of how much tension and pressure we are exerting on a neighbor in line. If arms are in a "W" hold, remember your left arm too and don't just focus on the right one. If you are in a pinky hold, don't tighten the grip to a painful level. If you are in a basket hold, don't pull down or forward inadvertently. And finally, if you are in a shoulder hold, don't rest your weight on your neighbors' shoulders!

Learning a dance

There are generally two different ways to learn new dances. The first is to attend teaching sessions where dances are broken down and explained in detail by an instructor with opportunity to practice and drill some of the more difficult pieces of a particular dance. The second way is to watch a new dance from behind the line and try to follow along. Find someone who knows the dance well and whose feet seem clear and easy for you to follow, and watch them as you try to follow from behind. It's important to try not to interfere, especially if the dance changes directions quickly. Usually the dancers toward the front of the line are pretty experienced and are good choices to stand behind. Once you think you have a feel for the dance, you can try joining on at the end of the line. Sometimes an experienced dancer will encourage you to get in line next to him or her and will be happy to "coach" you through — this is particularly true for many of the easier dances.

Joining a dance

Always feel free to join in for a dance you know or are familiar with. In general you should try to locate the end of the line, usually on the left-hand side, and join there. If you are unsure which side is the end, then ask before joining. If you choose to join the line of the dance, try to be aware of how you move in relation to the rest of the line — try to move as fast or as slow as the others, and try to keep the curve of the line uniform without moving too far forward (often this happens unawares when a dancer leans forward to try to watch someone's feet) or backward. If you find you have joined the line for a dance that is too difficult or complicated, then just politely bow out as soon as you realize it (and before you trip, step on, or injure yourself or someone else!). Never join at the front of an existing line. The first person in line is the "leader" of the dance, and is someone who knows it very well, and may even have been the individual who introduced the dance to the group. If you are invited to join next to someone already in line, feel free to do it. Try to be careful not to break into the line between two people who are talking or who have chosen to dance next to one another.

Direction of dance

Most folk dances move in a counter-clockwise direction, or toward the right. This is often referred to as "line of direction." Some dances don't move much at all or move into the center of a circle and back out again, and some move toward the left (or "reverse line of direction"). Before joining a dance, please be sure you know what direction it will be traveling in.

Dance shoes

We love our hardwood dance floor! Please help us keep it in great shape by bringing an extra pair of clean, dry, non-marking shoes to dance in. It helps keep dirt, grit and gravel from scratching and wearing down the floor. Many dancers choose shoes with smooth leather soles which are great for those turning dances. Others prefer running shoes or cross trainers for the support and cushioning they provide. Lately, more and more dancers are looking to dance sneakers for the best of both types of shoes. Whatever your preference is, please make sure the bottoms are dry and free of grit.

What to wear

Wear comfortable, cool and fresh clothing that allows you to move freely. Bring separate shoes to dance in as mentioned above. Some dances use a "belt hold" so a fairly sturdy, loose-fitting belt is a great accessory as you begin to learn some of the faster, more complicated dances. Try not to wear rings, watches or other jewelry that is sharp or large and might catch on or scratch the hands of others. Please use deodorant or come freshly showered, and please use mouthwash or breath mints if needed! "Bathe diligently, that the sweet aroma of soap and lotion may assail the nostrils of your associates. Similarly take care that the word of your mouth is not scented with strong smelling herbs, such as garlic, onion, or alcoholic beverages." Please do not use heavy perfumes or strong scents — some people have allergic reactions to them.

Be friendly

We are all here to have a good time! Let's not forget to say hello and be inclusive. The only reason people return week after week is because they had fun the time before. If you see people you don't know, introduce yourself. Wear a name tag every week — it's the best way to put names with faces.

Be polite

We should all be polite to one another and treat everyone in a respectful and courteous way. This includes saying "thank you" and "excuse me" when appropriate. But it also includes other things as well. If you turn down one partner for a particular dance, don't accept another later offer for the same dance. If you are in the studio but not participating in the teaching session, please be quiet and respectful of the teacher so that those who are there to learn do not have to struggle to hear and understand. Teachers need everyone's cooperation, not just that of the students.

Pay attention

Not only during the teaching session, but all the time. You will be amazed at how much you can learn by watching and listening. Our announcements are often regarding other events that may interest our dancers or upcoming special events sponsored by BIFD. Talking during announcements can be distracting to others and is disrespectful to those addressing the group.

Ask questions

When in doubt, ask questions! Any of the volunteer teachers or programmers will be able to answer your questions or direct you to someone who can. Don't forget that we were all beginners at one time, and we all felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of dances and their varying complexities. Don't expect to learn it all right away — give it time and things will progress more quickly than you can imagine. Before you know it you'll be one of the ones leading the line and welcoming new faces to our group!

Finally and most importantly......

Have fun!