English Dance Etiquette

The Lawrence English Dance is an inclusive dance community committed to providing a fun and safe environment for everyone. Please take a minute to look over the following suggestions to help everyone have a great time.


Anyone may ask anyone to dance. We generally change partners for each dance. So go ahead, ask someone new! We especially encourage folks to ask dancers who have been sitting out, and experienced dancers to ask new dancers, so that everyone gets a chance to dance and to learn the ropes. We find that changing partners adds to the sense of community while sticking with a single partner for multiple dances signals exclusion to other dancers.

When the caller asks for hands-­four and starts teaching the dance, give them your full attention.  Listen attentively to the caller and refrain from conversation. Talking over the walk­through is impolite to the caller, and is distracting to others in the hall who are trying to listen. Find partners and form sets as quickly as possible at the beginning of each dance, so the dances can be efficiently taught.

Folks of any gender may dance either role, or both.  If you know how to dance one role and want to learn the other, plenty of folks in the hall will be happy to partner with you and help you out. It is polite to ask which role your partner would prefer. If you would like to dance a specific role, you might say, for instance, “I’d like to follow, is that OK with you?” if you’re just learning, we suggest you stick with a single role (your choice) for a while, as there are slight differences between roles that may disorient you.

Dance with whoever comes at you. Don’t assume which role someone is dancing based on their gender presentation. (If you meet a pair of unfamiliar dancers in line and they seem confused, you can nicely ask which role they are dancing and help them get back on track.)


You are always free to say no when someone asks you to dance.  You don’t have to give a reason, you can just say, “No, thank you.” If you ask someone to dance and they say “No,” take it gracefully and move on. If someone has declined to dance with you, the etiquette in our community is not to ask that person again that same afternoon. If they would like to dance with you, they can come ask you—it’s their turn to do the asking.

Communicate your needs to your partner so they know how to give you the most comfortable dance.  You can always speak up if a dancer is doing anything that makes you uncomfortable: for example, “Please swing slower,” or, “I’d like your hand a little higher.” If you feel especially uneasy or unable to communicate such an issue with your partner, please seek out a board member or the dance manager—we’re here to help! If you’re not sure who to approach, ask the caller (between dances!) to help identify a board member.

Check in with your partner every now and then.  Everyone is different. We have different joints, we get dizzy from different things, we have different preferences, we are strong (or not) in different places, etc. Because of these differences, we can’t accurately guess how our dancing feels to our partners; the only way to know for sure is to ask.

Respect people’s space.  If you like dancing in a close embrace (a close blues pivot during a waltz, for example), ask your partner if they too enjoy this before initiating such a swing. Don’t assume permission – instead, ask explicit permission.

Keep flirtation off the dance floor (unless you’re positive that it will be well received).  While flirtation is often part of social dancing, it can make dancers uncomfortable and is not an essential part of English dance. Please limit flirtation to dancers who are known to you and have returned your dance­-related flirtation in the past! (If you’re at all unsure, ask!)

Beware of false intimacy. Because dance puts us in close physical contact with other people, it can be easy to assume an intimacy that isn’t real. It is best to treat other dancers with the utmost politeness at all times. You needn’t assume a formal manner, but if you have any doubt at all, a formal manner is never wrong.


Don’t fret if your set gets mixed up.  Smile and use clear gestures to help our new dancers (and everyone) through the dance. Avoid verbal instructions – consider the caller and band as having a monopoly on the audio. Avoid pushing or shoving (but a gentle tug can be okay if the dancer is nearby and needs to move toward you). If you’re really mixed up, just take a beat to think about where you need to be to dance with the next couple, move there, and wait for them to come to you

Use gestures and physical demonstrations to show new dancers how something works, and keep verbal instructions to a minimum—it’s hard for newer dancers to listen to you, the caller, and the music all at the same time! (This goes for beginners’ lessons as well—the caller can’t teach if there are other people teaching from the floor at the same time.) If you notice that your partner or neighbors are struggling, try to get in position for the next move early so they know where they need to go next.

Experienced dancers are always welcome at beginners’ lessons to help show newcomers the ropes, so if you feel like showing up early, please do join us! It’s a great way to introduce new dancers to our community and help them pick up English dance as quickly as possible.

Refrain from twirls, spins, and other flourishes. While common in contra dances, flourishes are less welcome at English dances as they can be disorienting.


Please give care to your personal hygiene!  Shower, wear deodorant and make sure your breath is fresh. If you are prone to sweating, bring additional clean shirts to change into over the course of the event. Please refrain from wearing perfume and cologne. When bodies heat up on the dance floor, fragrances are more rapidly dispersed and quickly become overpowering.

And finally: we are all constantly learning and evolving as dancers and members of the English dance community. We can do this best if we have an open dialogue with each other about dancing!


We’re here to have fun. Feel free to smile, it’s rather natural and signals enjoyment. Don’t demand that others smile, as they may be focusing on the dance.

We all get confused. Really, it’s okay to have a momentary lapse. We all do. When this happens to you, keep your feet moving and your eyes open, and you will likely very quickly find where the dance wants you to be. Experienced dancers are not perfect, they just have more practice finding where they need to be after a momentary lapse.

How best to offer help. When you see others experiencing confusion, give them the space and time to get where they need to be without feeling compelled to physically or verbally help them, unless they’ve asked for help. If this sounds unhelpful, we ask that you trust that it is, indeed, helpful.

Honor your fellow dancers. The golden rule is a great guide, especially when supplemented with clear communication. Dance is a great place to practice setting boundaries, asking for permission, and being gracious if someone says “no” to a request.

Honor the caller. Being quiet and attentive during walkthroughs helps both the caller and your fellow dancers. If you have a question about the figure, wait a moment to see if the answer becomes apparent as the walkthrough continues. If not, raise your hand and clearly ask. If you want to offer feedback to the caller, please do so after the dance.

Honor the band. Our musicians spend much time and effort preparing for the dances. Please honor them with your attention and your applause. If you can afford to pay more than the minimum admission fee, it is most welcome.

Honor the hall. Please treat the facility with respect, as your actions reflect on our relationship to the owners: If you make a mess, clean it. If you move something, put it back. If you turn it on, turn it off. If you unlock it, relock it. If you break something, admit it. If there is a problem beyond your control, please report it to a board member.

Welcome Policy

During each dance session, we encourage callers to welcome all dancers with the following:

Welcome! Here at the Lawrence English Dance, we want four things for you this afternoon:

We want you to feel happy.

We want you to feel safe.

We want you to feel comfortable.

And we want you to feel welcome!

If any of these things don't happen for you, for any reason, I'd like to point out the folks you can talk to. Board members, please raise your hands and wave. . .

(Take a moment to point these folks out)

These are the people you can speak to if you have any questions or concerns. And, of course, you can always speak with me, your caller, at the break or after the dance. Speaking of dancing....let's dance!"

Note: the welcome above should NOT be part of the regular announcements but rather set apart as a very short and specific welcome moment.

Harassment Policy

The Lawrence English Dance does not condone or permit any behaviors at its events that intentionally harm, intimidate, or harass any participant physically, sexually, or emotionally. Furthermore, sexually suggestive, lewd, or indecent behavior on or off the dance floor, is not acceptable.

Eye contact and flirtation are part of the fun of dancing, but only if the parties have explicitly consented to such games. The same behavior would be considered harassment absent such consent, or if the attentions continue after the person to which the attentions are directed indicates that such attentions are unwanted.

Anyone who feels harassed, intimidated, or threatened is encouraged to let the offender know that he/she is making him/her uncomfortable, and/or report it to one of the organizers or board members.


Much of the etiquette material above is adapted from the Contra Etiquette page of the Contra Dance New York (CD*NY) website: http://cdny.org/what-is-contra/contra-etiquette/

The “Welcome” announcement with its four stated goals is adapted from Lauren Peckman’s welcome text.

The sexual harassment policy is adapted from the Lawrence Barn Dance Association’s policies.