What to Expect at a Swing Dance

You might wonder what to expect when social dancing, so here are some tips/pointers we've put together (we hope) to assuage your anxiety. As always, let us know if you have more questions!

What is the point of going out dancing?
The whole point of taking classes, or to actually attend a swing dance, is to go out and have fun! Sure classes talk about technique and give you some moves, but that's just to give you more tools and things to try. Don't worry about something awkward happening, that just gives you more things to laugh off. Don't be afraid to try something goofy. Listen and enjoy the music. Chat and dance with new people. Everyone else is there for entertainment and socializing just like you. Basic Rule #1: Go out and have fun!
Who does the asking for a dance?
Although people imagine that it was traditional for males to "ask" for dances, but this is actually inaccurate. In the swing dance scene it is normal and expected for anyone to ask anyone, regardless of gender. In fact if people see you sitting out for long periods of time they may just assume you don't feel like dancing and will politely leave you alone. Isn't that nice of them? Basic Rule #2: if you want to dance, you ask people to dance.
No one has asked me to dance yet, am I doing something wrong?
You can make it easier to catch people to ask, or get asked yourself. We recommend staying close to the dance floor and make eye contact when people approach. If you are up bouncing and dancing to the music (even just practicing Charleston or solo dancing), you'll tend to attract more attention of potential dance partners. Then again they may assume you want to just solo dance, reading minds is so tricky! So if you aren't getting asked to dance the obvious follow up question is "Have you asked people to dance?" No matter who you are, experienced or not and regardless of what role you are dancing, it is ok to ask people to dance. It's pretty common for people in the swing dance scene to have a default answer of 'yes'. Of course everyone has a right to say no for whatever reason. Typically people will only say no to a dance if they need a break because they are tired from recently dancing or if they've already promised to dance with someone the next song. So the most obvious way to let people know you want to dance is to simply ask them to dance with you.
Is it ok to tell people I am a beginner dancer?
You shouldn't feel that you have to say anything about it but yes, it is ok to tell someone you've asked to dance that you are just starting out. In fact, many people enjoy dancing with newer dancers because they have a fresh energy and enthusiasm about the dance. Remember: everyone started out at the beginning, no matter how great they appear today, and everyone remembers that it's hard to put yourself out there when you're just starting out. Give yourself a hand for sticking with social dancing, because we assure you it will be worth it once you become more comfortable on the social dance floor!
Should I apologize every time I make a mistake?
You don't have to feel obligated to apologize to your partner for every little part of the dance that doesn't go exactly as planned - it is often better to focus on moving on and just keep dancing! However when you bump in to other couples (it happens to everyone) it is common courtesy to check in and make sure everyone is alright. If someone is hurt it is expected to pause and give assistance regardless of who is at fault. Even for minor bumps a simple sorry to give acknowledgement to the other person is considered a polite way (not necessarily indicating blame) to indicate that you don't want to run in to each other.
Is it bad to chew gum while dancing?
Not at all - in fact, many people become aware of their breath and other elements of personal hygiene through dancing! We recommend mints rather than gum, as gum can get accidentally swallowed during a dance or otherwise pose as a hazard.
What should I wear - are there any unspoken "norms" about what to wear at dances?
You should always feel comfortable to wear nearly anything you'd like. For a common weekly swing dance you will likely see jeans & t-shirts during the winter or anytime of the year. In the summer you may see more skirts/dresses for the women. Unfortunately for the guys there aren't many options as the social norm is that it is rare to wear shorts (outdoor dances are an exception), and sleeveless is pretty much frowned on (oddly women can get away with sleeveless sometimes). To deal with the accumulation of sweat it is very common to have multiple shirt changes throughout the night. For nights that are more special (band, a special weekend event, etc), some people may choose to dress up more but it is always a personal decision. In general, swing dancers are a pretty casual crowd, and feeling comfortable enough to dance is given more priority. That said, if you like dressing up the scene is pretty welcoming of that whether it is a special night or not. As always, feel free to be yourself and be comfortable!
It seems like they all know each other, what if I don't feel comfortable asking?
Overall the swing dance scene is pretty friendly (remember that it's typical for people to automatically say yes when asked to dance). When people arrive at a dance they tend to first greet (and then ask to dance) the people they know either from their classes or from previous dances. They aren't trying to avoid you because you are new or inexperienced, they just don't want to be rude to people who already know them. If you are fairly new then your 'greet people you know' list runs out quickly and you'll be sitting a long time if you wait for everyone to finish catching the people they already know. Remember, sitting out for a extended period of time is an indicator to others that you probably don't want to dance. So get up and move to the music, have fun, and feel free to ask people to dance.