The word “etiquette” is a rather old-fashioned word, usually conjuring up images of long, detailed lists of antiquated rules for behavior. And, indeed, there have been times in Western history when the list of rules were long, complicated and, quite frankly, ridiculous.
But what good etiquette, and it’s more common synonym “courtesy,” really boils down to is simply showing respect and care for those around you. The ability to both generously give and graciously receive courtesy is, unfortunately, a dying art form. But it’s not difficult to learn. Participating in ballroom dance lessons can greatly enhance one’s ability to master this crucial art.
Good Etiquette in Social Dancing
Although I have never seen an Arthur Murray instructor give a group class or even a private lesson explicitly on the rules of etiquette, courtesy is a skill inherent to the nature of ballroom dancing.
In ballroom dance training, the leads (typically the guys) are taught to take care of their partners, the basic element of common courtesy. He leads his follow (typically the lady) onto the floor and finds a starting place for them. He confidently guides his partner through the steps, taking care to not pull or push her, which could cause serious injury, and always being aware of where she is.
Because the follow is frequently moving backward, the responsibility generally falls on the lead to maneuver them away from possible collisions with other couples on the floor.
An advanced lead will also take care to note his partner’s level of skill and avoid leading her through steps that are beyond her current level of training, and he will never blame her for errors that might have been his own. When the dance is over, he thanks her for the dance and leads her off the floor.
Similarly, student’s training, to be follows, focuses on how to respond to their leads. She will attempt, to the best of her ability, to execute the movements her lead requests of her, graciously accepting her lead’s guidance.
While she might embellish a step with various styling elements, she will do so without disrupting the partnership. Advanced follows will also keep in mind their partner’s level of skill and avoid using styling, technique or embellishments that might surprise or throw off a newer lead. A courteous follow will never criticize her partner and will not blame her partner for her own missteps. When the dance is over, she thanks her partner for the dance and allows him to escort her off the floor.
The art of caring for and respecting the people around you is required for a really good dancing partnership.
And, after a while, this courtesy will soon spill over into your everyday life, just like your improved posture soon becomes noticeable to your non-dancing friends.
Whenever dancers go out socially together, a close observer will see that they are treating each other with “old-fashioned” courtesy: a door held open and accepted graciously, a woman escorted to her vehicle after dark, a shyer person noticed and included. The natural rhythms of etiquette found in dancing become natural life rhythms that smooth the way for social relationships both on and off the floor.