(Contrary to popular belief, goldfish do have a pretty decent memory, as proven by the Norse gods of myth busting. So if this article sucks, you can at least tell yourself you learnt something today. But I digress.)
Without further ado, here they are: the Jazz Monkey’s Ten Commandments of the social dance floor.
10- Thou shalt learn the rules
Every floor has its own set of rules.
Progressive dances – tango or fox-trot, for example – have what we call a line of dance which runs counter-clockwise around the edge of the floor – sometimes there’s even “lanes” for fast-moving and slow-moving couples. If you’re a Lindy Hopper amongst ballroom dancers, and a jazzy quickstep comes on, be sure to “make the Lindy” (as swing dancers say) in the middle of the floor, otherwise you’ll be unwittingly branded as the asshole who’s causing collisions all over the place like a coked-up Ferrari driver burning donuts in the middle of the freeway.
Conversely, if you want to get your fox-trot on but everyone else dances swing, don’t be a cancerous dickhead: expect that you might not even have a line of dance. There’s other people around and they need space too.
West Coast Swing floors sometimes have a preferred direction for their slots, and just installing your fat ass at a perpendicular angle like a clueless dick will make people flip the fuck out and body-roll you off the floor like the miscreant that you are.
There are also subtle social rules everywhere. In some places for example, it’s almost inevitably the guys asking the girls to dance; in others, it’s considered impolite to only dance one song with someone.
And in pretty much all instances, it’s viewed as a Kanye-level rudeness to leave your partner like a prick in the middle of the floor while you go on the prowl looking for someone else. Especially for gents, it’s the norm to escort your partner back to where you started.
The ideal thing is to have a regular tell you about these codes of conduct. Barring that, try to observe and learn. You can choose to apply them or not, but at least you’ll have the option of consciously acting like a prick instead of being an ignorant one.
Speaking of ignorance…
9- Thou shalt apologize when bumping into a neighbor
A surprising number of people consider drunkenly crashing into another couple as just “par for the game”, and gleefully overlook a brush-up as some Matrix glitch that happened in another dimension.
Whether or not the other couple was in the wrong, it’s just good manners to say “Oops, sorry!” if you just ripped their scrotum in half with your 6-inch heel. Would you not apologize for bumping into someone on the subway? Do you feel so strongly about your floor space that you won’t even acknowledge the possibility that someone might have busted your imaginary bubble with no maligned intention? Do you go around flipping the bird like a crazy bag lady every time someone accidentally touches your forearm?
Short of building a fence around you, there’s not much you can do to avoid hits: make them a little less unpleasant by at least being civil about them.
8- Thou shalt stow away your gadgetry
If this was an actual sin, Mephistopheles himself would have ripped dance floors apart all over the world, risen amongst flames and brimstone from his kingdom of despair to choke helpless nerds with his powerful, manly hands, and cast them down to Hell for an eternity of cleaning Adolf Hitler’s anal leakage.
As I touched upon in another article, smartphones are just another way for your lazy, insecure ass to delay existing. How many times do you whip out your phone during a dance night to “just look at the time”, only to get sucked into your notifications, your emails, your text messages?
Soon enough, dance events become this surreal thing where everyone sits around staring at bits of plastic, reading stuff about people who aren’t there. And someone occasionally gets up to dance.
It fucking sucks.
I got two words for you: embrace and engage. Embrace the situation, engage the people. Put your phone on vibrate – or, if you really feel freaky, plane mode – , and enjoy existing in that place, at that moment.
7- Thou shalt not use floor-altering substances
If you put wax under your shoes, or powder on the floor, you’re an egotistical fart stain in humanity’s underwear. I will find you, befriend you, introduce you to your future wife, be the best man at your wedding, put out good words to your boss, help you renovate your roof, cheer your shitty pitching at softball games, visit you with a case of beer in times of trouble, share your room at the nursing home… And one day you’re gonna wake up, open the curtains and I, your life-long best friend, will be eating your grand-children on the front lawn.
That’s how much I hate floor molesters.
All this stuff leaves residue – and taped-up soles are even worse: the tape rolls up, leaving sticky clumps of shit everywhere. People just minding their own business will at some point hit your fucking ice skating ring of a spot, or your gluey flytrap, fall on their asses and break something, and it’s going to be your goddamn fault. You’re robbing folks from their god-given right to not skate all over the fucking place like morons. Congratulations! You’ve become the Stalin of the floor.
Don’t endanger those around you – especially your partners – by altering the fabric of reality. As Buddha said, “it is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles, so stop peeing on everyone’s bagels”.
Start adapting yourself instead: get better shoes, or, if you’re on a budget, get your shoes better – a shoemaker will put a suede or leather sole on your favorite pair of sneakers in no time. Adapt your dancing too: if you can’t slide, do something else.
6- Thou shalt actually ask for a dance
Don’t be that person:
I know of many reasons why you wouldn’t speak (loud music, congenital shyness, semen is blocking your airways), and none of them is a good enough excuse for you to look like an uncivilized caveman demanding some Doritos: a person deserves the genuine effort of a few words. Something as simple as “Wanna dance?” will entirely suffice.
And please, for the love of holy baby Jesus cooing in a manger, make sure a person actually wants to dance before just grabbing any random extremity and yanking them on to the floor.
Actually, you know what? If someone comes to you and extends their hand without saying a word, maybe they’re looking for something. Feel free to casually drop a pencil, an apple or twenty-five cents in their palm – anything short of your own feces… But only because I doubt you would just have them handy for such occasions.
5- Thou shalt be properly groomed
We hear this one a lot but it’s still, like, so lacking.
Personal hygiene varies wildly from person to person, but trust me: you’re better off assuming you smell like a skunk’s bleeding anus after a night of hockey, tacos and binge drinking because, even though your brain knows your odor, your nose itself is not exactly the best judge of what is pleasant to others. You could be cruising around thinking you’re a handsomely fragranced flower for a long while before some dude tells you your breath reminds him of how he spent his childhood locked in a funeral house’s basement. And then he’ll start sobbing uncontrollably. Do you want to be there when that happens?
Of course you don’t.
Shower, put on deodorant, bring a few t-shirts, brush your teeth, bring a towel or twelve, carry mints or gum…
Everyone sweats, don’t be embarrassed: just make sure you don’t ensconce your partners in it. Which reminds me: No fucking tank tops or wifebeaters. For leaders, it’s unpleasant to clumsily navigate around a follower’s sweaty armpits; for followers, it’s equally distressing to have to touch a lead’s hairy, moist, pasty-white excuse of a bicep.
Okay FINE. Girls can wear tank tops, but I stand by it for the guys.
Ah, fuck it.
4- Thou shalt not give lessons on the social floor
There are few things more cringe-worthy than seeing someone “teaching” smack dab in the middle of the dance floor. “Teaching” during a social dance is like an octopus with a monocle on a bus ride to Detroit: it just doesn’t belong there.
For one, the teaching…
…is most of the times inaccurate, awkward and uncalled for.
Unless the person specifically asked you, there is absolutely zero fucking chance in Valhalla’s celestial Port-A-Potty that you’ll “offer advice” and not look like a pus-leaking testicular wart – if not to your future “student”, then sure as fuck to the other dancers. Fascinating statistic that I in no way pulled out of my ass: 63% of all the slow, discouraged head-shaking done at dance events is a direct consequence of witnessing “teaching” on the dance floor.
If the conditions of the person asking for advice and you wanting to “teach” them are somehow miraculously met, please proceed off the floor.
Because it’s a dance floor.
Not a “teach” floor.
3- Thou shalt freestyle appropriately
It’s already pretty terrorizing to dance with an advanced lead or follow. If you’re with someone below your level and go out there hell-bent on cramming your thirty-six footwork variations in one song, don’t ask why your partner sports the expression of someone zipping through a 10-loop roller coaster with a malfunctioning belt and a belly full of expired Hamburger Helper.
I’m not saying you should dance the Zombie Hop and go through the same three moves over and over again, but try to meet your partner in between. Dancing with someone implies having fun with them: not “despite” them.
It goes for beginners too: styling absolutely has its place on the dance floor, regardless of your level – and trying is the first step towards succeeding… But not at the expense of partnership or basic safety.
So focusing on your partnership, instead of where to plug that cool move you just learnt in a workshop, can totally make a difference between a boring dance and a great one.
2- Thou shalt be truthful (more or less)
If someone asks you for a dance, and you answer “sure thing, but later” while absolutely not meaning it, guess what you won?
Believe it or not, a simple “no, thank you” accompanied by a genuine smile is sufficient. Contrarily to a common notion, no one is entitled to detailed information about your reasons – who wants to hear about someone’s impending explosive diarrhea?
Honesty is not always the best policy.
I know a popular advice is “you should always, always, always say not now, but I’ll catch you later, and then remember to go back to the person and ask them to dance. Teehee!”
I only have one answer to that: This is not My Fucking Little Pony here.
While in an ideal world of public park-prancing unicorns singing the entire Queen repertoire and fluffy kittens farting cures for cancer we would all be getting along, the harsh reality is that some people won’t want to interact with certain people. And they shouldn’t have to be crucified for it: just because someone shares a hobby with you doesn’t mean you want to hold their hand.
Now, it’s great if you feel the magic of community building vibrate in your very being – and, if you’re a teacher, inviting tons of people to dance is a sacred part of your job. It’s also true that if everyone danced with everyone, holy shit, jubilation-boners would pop up far and wide. But not everyone is built from that sacred firewood, and not everyone should be expected to always dance with whoever asks them. Just be marginally honest about it – starting with being honest with yourself – and stop making it so fucking awkward out there.
On the other hand, if you’re on the receiving end of a refusal, accept it gracefully; and if it’s something that you feel happens suspiciously often, ask yourself if you’re not breaking the first Commandment of them all…
1- Thou shalt not be a fucking creeper
The world is full of creeps. Agressive creeps, leering creeps, touchy-feely creeps…
One popular complaint about creepers is that they have wandering hands and, seriously, fucking ew. It’s not “flirting” if you’re rubbing your filthy parts all over an unwilling person: it’s fucking harrasment, you dumbass. Other creeptitudes include ogling; monopolizing someone’s attention; giving unwanted surprise massages; wearing masks made from the skins of your enemies.
All dance scenes have a creeper (mostly dudes, but chicks are not immune to it either), so check yourself: do you often find people desperately looking around for a diversion when you’ve been talking about your love of roadkill taxidermy for 15 minutes? Do they mysteriously flock to the bar as you start ostensibly looking around for a partner? Most importantly, did you read the first sentence of this paragraph and thought “Ah! That’s not true: my scene doesn’t have a creep” ?
In a pre-Signs Shyamalanesque twist, this might mean you are the creep.
And while every scene should totally have a Clint Eastwood clone to handle those delicate situations with intelligence and sensibility…
…the truth is dancers are usually too mild-mannered to let the creepers know about their behaviour, resorting instead to burrow everyone in a grotesque passive-agressive vicious cycle of isolating an individual who has, more often than not, no idea what’s wrong.
Those who simply don’t know can thankfully be cured by information, but then there’s the A-type creepers: they know their attitude is inappropriate, but don’t give a drunken, half-hearted, shitty local punk concert bathroom finger fuck about it.
“People should like me for who I am”, they say.
Let’s address these peeps for a brief moment.
I’m sorry, are you the long-lost prince of the Assfartian empire? Fuck. This. Shit. It might come as a shock but the world doesn’t owe you anything just for existing: you have to contribute to the world to be a part of it. The sooner you realize this, the better your life will be – and not only on the dance floor. If “being who you are” makes people uncomfortable and empties the room quicker than you can say “aw man this fucking asshole’s here again” then, you know, maybe it’s just not worth it.
There is such a thing as becoming an awesome person; there is such a thing as blossoming into an improved you: don’t give up on yourself. Don’t be content with mediocrity. Think of it as moving out of your shitty spider-infested swamp hut and in a nice, clean, almost spider-free apartment. Also that apartment contains the supermodel/actor of your fancy.
My personal choice?
I’m glad you asked, Rhetorical Internet Interlocutor: it would be Benedict Cumberbatch, of course. I can’t resist his charisma, his accent, or the cute way his nose wrinkles slightly when he smiles. And those dimples! Who wouldn’t want to spend their days gently licking those dimples?
…Alright… Um… I guess that was pretty creepy.
(Note: At a reader’s request, the 10 Commandments are now also available sans swearing in the PG Version, where all swear words have been replaced with “boink”.)
When not fancying himself in a bitching red robe flowing in the wind and a foot-long wizard beard, Zack can be found at Swing ConneXion.
All true fans should also check out the actual stone tablet of the 10 Commandments of the Dance Floor:
Other articles for your reading pleasure:
|5 Realizations You Need To Make About Dance Teachers