How many songs should we dance with one partner in a social dance party?
Salsa & Bachata
In Salsa and Bachata parties, this is easy. It is very standard to change partners after one song. Generally, it’s unusual to dance more than one salsa or bachata song with the same partner. At these parties, people want to dance with many different partners. You might ask a person to dance one salsa and one bachata during a party, but unless the party is very small or you both have some special reason to dance more together, it’s not usual to dance more than one salsa and one bachata with any one partner in a party. If you repeatedly ask someone to dance in a salsa/bachata party, they may feel uncomfortable or annoyed. Be thoughtful and consider whether that person might want to dance with someone else or just take a break.
Zouk & Kizomba
This is a very common question people have when they start dancing Zouk. Although I will use a lot of words to spell things out clearly, it all comes down to
-Reading body language and social cues and
-Respecting your partner’s feelings and your own.
In Brazilian Zouk & Kizomba parties, the etiquette around this question depends a lot on the local scene. In some scenes, dancers usually dance one song and then change partners. If the music is played as individual songs, it’s more common to just dance one song. If there is a DJ mixing the songs together so that the music flows continuously, it’s more common to dance multiple songs together (we do this in Zouk in Taipei). But how many? When and how do we stop?
This is very subjective, and depending on the local scene and personal preferences, people will have a lot of different opinions, so * this is just my opinion * based on my observations dancing mostly in Asia and some in the US. I believe the guidelines I lay out will help you in any dance scene as they are based on respect and consent.
In a party where Zouk or Kizomba is mixed together-
If there is not that much time to dance then I might just dance one song at a time so I can dance with more people. Because I am a teacher and try to dance with a lot of students in our practica, I will often only dance one song, at least in the beginning. In parties, it depends a lot on the ratio of leaders to followers. Our local parties right now tend to have more followers so leaders often dance one to three songs. If I have a lot of time and there are not a lot of followers waiting for dances, I will generally dance two songs. If I feel we are having a very good dance and that my partner is also enjoying very much, I will dance more.
How to either stop dancing or make a consensual decision to continue dancing-
This is the part that gets very confusing. Think about this:
- If ONE person wants to stop, the dance should end
- BOTH people need to agree to continue dancing
So first, how to stop? Leaders and followers can end a dance in the same way:
Listen to the music and catch when it starts to change. There will either be some kind of transition where both songs are mixing or one song will totally end and another will end. In the transition, or just after the song ends, let the energy drain, relax your frame and body, and put your weight back onto both feet, and release your connection to your partner’s body. Do all of this gradually, but quickly enough that it’s clear to your partner that the energy has changed. This is a clear nonverbal sign that you would like to end the dance.
Then you simply look at the person and thank them. You can just smile or high 5 or hug, depending on your feeling and your sense of what the other person would like- you should be able to figure this out from the feeling of your dance together. If your dance was close and your partner seems comfortable and relaxed being close to you, you can probably hug them, but move slowly so if you misjudged they have time to move. If your dance had a lot of space, if you’re not familiar with the person, if they look anxious or uncomfortable, or if you just can’t tell what their feeling is, then just smile- don’t assume the other person wants to be hugged.
Second, how to continue a dance?
Again, always listen to the music and pay attention to when it starts to change. When the transition finishes or a new song starts, lower your energy and the tension in your body, but keep your frame and a gradual weight transfer. Don’t totally relax your body, don’t let all the energy out, just bring it down to a very low level where you can easily sense your partner’s energy. If you are the leader you can just do some very simple body movement or weight transfer. Observe your partner for a few moments.
Are they keeping some tension in their bodies? Are they keeping their frame and still following or leading your movement? Look at their expression. Do they look relaxed, comfortable, happy? Then there’s a good chance they’d like to continue dancing.
Did they let all the energy out of their bodies? Have they started releasing their connection to you? Are they not following the movement of your body any longer? Do they look uncomfortable or awkward or very stiff? Are they thanking you? These are all signs that they want to end the dance.
If the signs are pretty clear that they want to end, then you should end the dance, even if you would rather continue. If you ignore or miss the body language, stopping the dance will be more awkward. If you can start to read people’s feelings and intentions through body language and respect those without needing to be told verbally, your partners will feel more safe and comfortable with you.
If you want to continue but you can’t tell if they do, then you can ask them. Say something like, “Would you like to dance another song?” Ask in a way that respects the other person and makes them feel comfortable saying no. If they say no, don’t ask them why not. Just accept it gracefully and thank them for the dance.
If you’ve given a little space for your partner to let you know they want to stop, and the signs are pretty clear they want to continue then:
-As a leader, gradually ramp up the energy and get back into dancing. Check again after every song. As you become more familiar with particular people and with reading body language in general, you will be able to read the situation more quickly, but no matter how long you dance or how well you know the person, you should always make sure to respect them by reading the situation periodically and allowing them the chance to end the dance.
-As a follower, just keep your frame and re-engage your energy and your connection to your partner and start following when the leader starts leading again.
What if you want to end but your partner continues and doesn’t notice or care that you don’t want to continue? In that case, do the same as I described above to end the dance, but a little more quickly and firmly. If you disengage your frame and put your weight down and verbally thank them, it is clear to anyone that you are finished, and if you have no frame and don’t follow, there is no way to continue dancing with you.
If you want to end the dance, just end it! You are your own person and not a tool to be used for someone else’s enjoyment. Respect yourself and don’t just wait for the leader or follower to be done with you.
*Note- if your partner is a new dancer, they may have no idea how to end a dance or how to check for consent before continuing. In that case, if their intentions are not completely clear, it’s better to just ask them directly and to be very clear (and polite) when you want to end the dance. If you already know the etiquette, gently guide newer dancers into this pattern so it becomes ingrained in the culture.
What if someone only dances one song with you? Should you be upset? The issue of not getting enough dances could be a whole separate article, so here I will just address it shortly. There are lots of reasons to end a dance, and most of them are not about you. But as a beginner or in a scene with a very uneven ratio, you will probably have more experiences of short dances. Getting upset or offended will not get you more dances. Making someone feel guilty for not dancing with you enough will probably make them want to dance with you less. Work on your own dance diligently to improve your skills, and listen to a lot of music to absorb the rhythm into your body. Make sure you are clean and dressed within reason according to the cultural norms and follow the etiquette of your scene, treating everyone respectfully, asking for and accepting or rejecting dances gracefully. These are a few ways you can attract more dances.
I hope this has helped make some sense out of an often confusing situation. See you on the dance floor!