Everything About How to Invite to a Dance

Inviting to Dance

I know of one dance that is quite different from what I am going to talk about here - tango. In tango traditionally you invite using the "Cabeceo". The translation is "nod of the head", and it is a non-verbal invitation to dance.

This is an excerpt from one of my books - "The Secrets of Social Dance - How to Become a Popular Dancer" which you can find on Amazon as ebook and paperback.

Basically, it works like this: The man looks at the woman, and when she meets his gaze, he nods with his head to indicate he wants to dance. If she accepts, she will move towards him, they meet and dance. If she doesn't accept, she will look away. In addition, a similar Cabeceo is also used between leads when entering the dance floor. You "ask" a dancing lead with a cabeceo if it is ok to enter the dance floor. If you get the Cabeceo back, you may enter. Another detail from tango is what is called a "Mirada" from a follow to a lead. In a way, it is like asking someone to dance, or rather showing that you are available to dance. It is looking at a lead and indicating "You may invite me". Just like the move I mentioned in the last section, but more subtle.

In most other social dances, asking someone to dance works in less sophisticated/more relaxed ways, depending on how you want to see it.

First of all, asking someone to dance is a question.
There should be options. Even though I believe that we should mostly say yes to invitations, we can never assume that we will get a yes. We can never take a yes for granted. There are valid reasons to say no.

This means we have to make sure it is intended as a question. And accompanying the question, we also usually offer our hand as a gesture.

  • Would you like to dance?
  • Would you like to dance with me?
  • Are you free to dance?
  • Do you dance?
  • Dance?

It can be pretty short, but always meant as a question. "Let's dance?" can feel a bit less like a question, but it is still a pretty standard way to invite, especially among dancers who know each other well. However, no matter how we state it, we always need to wait for the reply. No assuming. It is not ok to "ask" and then grab the arm, dragging them onto the floor.

Especially if you are in some way interrupting something, like a conversation or other activity, it can also be nice to add "Excuse me…" before your question.

As it is a social environment, you will get to know some people better. Over time, inviting someone you know to dance can become pretty casual. You have passed the formal stage, and you are now pretty informal. Then it can even be enough with a look from afar and some gesture that you want to dance. Getting a smile or a nod back can be enough to have that settled. No matter how some people regret this development and prefer the formal ways, this is how it works on many dance floors between dancers who know each other well.

Giving a Yes

Giving a yes is pretty straightforward. You just say "yes", "Yes, I'd love to", "Yes, let's dance" or something similar. Adding a smile now is excellent. It is never very inspiring to invite someone and get a yes, but with a stone face, as if they would have to perform some tedious task. So, try a smile.

And if you want to dance but just want to finish something quickly, be clear about it. Tell them, "yes, but I need 10 seconds to do…" And then finish it and go dance.

Getting a Yes

All good! You're in! You got a yes! So, what now? Well, at least in opposite-sex couples, the man usually leads the woman onto the floor, trying to find a good spot to dance. We will come back to more details on floorcraft later, but just a few quick pointers already here: 

  • Take your partner's hand and go towards the spot you have chosen for the start of the dance.
  • Make sure you are looking forward - never walk backwards onto a dance floor.
  • The best is to walk next to her. If it is very crowded, make sure your partner keeps up with you. Don't drag her onto the floor, or between couples so close she is at risk or has to let go of the hand. Stay safe and keep her safe.

Getting a No

It is never fun to get a no, but it happens. We all get it from time to time.

Someone is engaged in conversation. Someone is just about to leave. Someone has to go to the bathroom or rest their feet. There can be many reasons for it. But in general, I would say it is not worth thinking about it.

If you get a no, the best course of action is just to smile, accept the answer, maybe say "no problem" or "maybe later" and move on. It is not a big deal. It is most likely not about you, especially not if you follow what is written in this book.

If you really want to dance with this person, you can try to ask again later, but wait a bit. Let them do what they need to do. It doesn't make sense to ask just five minutes later.

If you would get a second no, maybe you can hold back a bit. If it isn't about you, and they want to dance with you, but there were some specific reasons to say no, then maybe it is their job to ask the next time. If they don't want to dance, they already said no twice. So, maybe don't push it.

Reasons You Get a No

There can be a million reasons you get a no on the dance floor. Usually, it has nothing to do with you. There is some other reason behind it:

  • They are too tired and need a break.
  • They are in pain - feet, hands, arms.
  • They are on their way home.
  • They need to go to the bathroom.
  • They need to eat something.
  • They are in the middle of something.
  • They don't like the music at all. 

These are all things we cannot do anything about. We just have to accept them. It also means that next time we might be in better luck.

But if it is about you, these are some of the more common reasons: 

  • You smell bad.
  • You don't adapt to the level of your partner.
  • You do tricks on the social floor.
  • You don't listen enough to the music.
  • You hurt your partner in some way.
  • They don't feel safe with you on the dance floor.
  • You are a creep.

If it is any of these reasons, go through this book (paperback or ebook) from time to time and make adjustments to make sure you are no longer doing whatever it was that was getting you a no.

Giving a No

In general, we shouldn't say no. But there are times when we need to. We are already on our way home. Our feet hurt. We are tired. We need to go to the bathroom. We have just met this old-time friend we haven't seen in a long time, and we want to catch up.

If we need to say no, the best way to do it is to also give the reason why. People understand. Just smile, say "no, thanks", and provide the reason.

But avoid inventing reasons. I think it has happened to most of us that we get a no, and then 30 seconds later we see that person dancing with someone else. It doesn't feel right. Everyone has their reasons. Maybe they were waiting for this dance for a long time. So, it can be understandable. But it is always nicer to treat people the way we would like to be treated ourselves.

And if you would like to dance a bit later but need some rest or need to do something first, it is always nice to say so. Just make sure you attempt living up to it. Try to find that dancer again when you are ready to dance.

Avoiding a Dance

We should always try to say yes. And we should try to dance with everyone. But there is also a harsh reality. There is always that someone.

So yes, here they are, the dirty little secrets on how to avoid a dance with someone we really don't want to dance with:

  • If you need to move past them, walk fast. Make it more difficult to stop you or to start the invitation.
  • Try to avoid eye contact. When we have eye contact, it is so much easier to approach or start the invitation.
  • And if you notice or someone tells you that there is an invitation "incoming", try to invite someone fast. But do it before it is noticeable that you are trying to avoid that person. If you are too late or would have to do it in a visibly hurried or unnatural way, accept your fate and take the dance.

Invitation Smarts

When inviting someone to dance, if you want to maximize your chances of getting a yes, there are some things you should try to do before. First of all, make a last sweat and breath check, so you are fresh. Use your towel. Then: 

  • Check where they are. Are they on the dance floor? Or are they out in the lobby? Are they in the bar, taking a break? The closer to the dance floor they are, the more available they are, the more likely you are to get a yes.
  • Check what they are doing. Are they engaged in conversation? Do they look super tired? Are they writing something on their phone? Is the girl sitting down taking her shoes off? Is he cuddling with his girlfriend? Another lousy moment to invite is before a couple has even finished saying thank you for the previous dance, like knocking on the shoulder and asking for the next dance. Or if they have just found a partner and they are going to the floor, and you ask for the next dance, like an in advance booking. Or asking someone who is already having a great time laughing with a group of friends. The busier or more engaged in something they seem to be, the less likely they will say yes. And even if they do, they might not feel that you invited them in an empathic way.
  • The highest probability for a yes is when you invite someone who is standing alone, at the very edge of the dance floor, maybe already moving to the music, and not doing anything else.
  • Try to always come from the front when you invite, or if it is not possible, maybe from the side. If I could choose, I would not have anyone coming from behind to ask. I can't quite describe it, but it doesn't feel right.
  • Don't try to cut ahead of anyone else that is already on the way to invite. Don't run to ask someone.
  • Ask a specific person. Don't go up to a group of people asking if "anyone wants to dance?". That way, no one feels selected; no one feels special. You haven't directed the question to anyone, and no one feels the responsibility to answer.
  • And this last one is my personal opinion. If you invite one person and they say no, don't ask their friend. The friend would feel like a second choice. I am not sure I would like to feel like that. Better to just move on, wait a little bit, find someone else who seems eager to dance and invite them.

The Worst Invitation I Ever Got

The worst "invitation" I ever got was when I was standing facing away from the dance floor. It was a woman who came up from behind and just grabbed my arm. When I turned around, she had already turned to the floor, so I couldn't see her face even, until a few meters away when we were already on the floor. She turned towards me, and I stopped and had to tell her that that wasn't the right way to invite someone. After that, I accepted the dance, but I have to admit I couldn't enjoy it. She had given such a terrible first impression. When we finished, I told her again that she really has to learn how to invite. She said she was sorry and that she was so afraid someone else would "steal you" so she had to do it.

Always try to invite in a nice way. Respect consent, always!

The question of when to invite comes down quite a lot to just common sense. Be smart, be sensitive, and it will usually work out. If someone looks exhausted, drying their sweat with a towel, maybe wait just a bit to let them catch their breath.

That's it! I hope you liked this post. Feel free to share, and if you found it valuable, there is much more like this in my book (paperback or ebook). 

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