Dance Essays - How to Ask and Be Asked


"Politely" is the obvious piece of advice on asking and being asked, but really this short piece is more about tactics.


How to get asked (advice for women)

Women prefer to be asked to dance, but often make it very difficult for the men who have to do the asking. Here are some things to bear in mind.

  • Sit where a chap can get to you easily, and where he has an escape route. Positioning yourself in the far corner of the room from everything may seem like a comfortable choice to you. From there, you can't be sneaked up upon, and can see everything. However, to ask you to dance, a man has to walk past everyone to get to you, and if you refuse, he has no escape route. He cannot pretend that he was on the way somewhere else, if where you are is not on the way to anywhere. He will have to swallow his pride and retreat in full view of all. Knowing this, a man will probably instead ask someone else, who is on the way to the bar, and not in view of everyone.
  • Look interested in the dance. At many dances, there are people who are just there to watch or listen. Even if a woman is interested in dancing, she may say something like "I'm sorry, I'm just here for the music" as an excuse to refuse a dance. Knowing this, men prefer to ask women who look genuinely interested in the dancing. Look at the dancing, and move about in a dance-like way as though the thoughts running through your mind are "I'd love to be dancing to this music. If only someone would ask me."
  • Be close to the dance floor. This makes you seem interested in the dance, and puts you in the view of the most keen men dancers, who will also be near the floor. These men can ask you because you are conveniently nearby, and will not have to explain to anyone why they targeted you. If you are a mile away from the floor, then a man would have to ignore lots of other women, walk past them, pick you out, and then lead you back past them as they look at you in jealous disgust. If you refused the dance, then these women could smile inwardly and be thinking things like "Ha! He deserved that!" This probably isn't actually what's going through their minds, of course, and will probably not happen, but if a man fears it might, then he'll ask someone nearer than you.
  • Break the ice earlier. It is much easier for a man to ask someone he already knows for a dance. Perhaps the evening started with a lesson, during which people swapped partners a lot. If so, this was a good opportunity for you to exchange just a few words with the chaps, and convince them that you are not a psycho-hose-beast. If you see a stranger looking around the room, and you are in plain sight of him, and he doesn't ask you, it is quite likely that he was looking around in the hope of seeing someone he knew.
  • Do not sit with a force of formidable chaperones. Many women choose to go to a dance with a group of friends. Often this group is all-female, and stays together for mutual protection. Six women, all sitting at one table, all unfamiliar, all facing inwards and talking to each other, is called a phalanx and is a very difficult formation for a chap to break. When a man walks over to ask one to dance, he first has to get their attention, and will often be greeted with fearful or hostile looks, and then he has to ask one to dance. This will involve apparently favouring one over the others, and this is a dangerous thing to have to do (see below). The only way to defend one woman or the group is to make sure that the man gets to dance with no one. The only other option is to abandon the singled-out prey to the mercies of the male intruder. Avoid this situation. If possible, go with just one or two friends, and perhaps a man or two, and sit in an open formation, facing the floor, and pay more attention to what's going on around you rather than entertaining each other.
  • Look happy. This is the most important thing of all. Men do not want to ask miserable women to dance. Unfortunately, you may be miserable because no one is asking you to dance, but if this is so, then you must put on a brave face. If the problem persists, ask someone to dance yourself.

Asking women to dance (advice for men)

Social dancing is almost impossible if people do not trust each other. A chap must do all he can to foster trust in his partners. This process does not start when the dance starts, but at the point when your partner first becomes aware of you.

  • Be confident, or at least look it. If you look hesitant about asking a woman, and she picks up on this, then this will not make her trust you. She might think that you are hesitating because you are a jittery unpredictable type. She might think that you are in two minds about whether she is attractive enough to be worth asking. She might think that you are hesitating because you need to go to the loo. She might think that you are afraid, because you don't consider yourself a very good dancer. Any of these things will put her off, and she will be difficult to dance with if she doesn't have trust in you. In fact, of course, she is probably thinking none of these things, and just wants to have a nice dance with whoever asks her. Look happy and confident, walk unhesitatingly over to her and ask her straightforwardly.
  • Breaking the Phalanx

    If confronted with a phalanx (see above), there are a few tactics that might work to break the formation.
  • Go for the straggler. While it is true that women tend to go to the loo in groups, you will probably find that if you wait long enough, you will be able to encounter one when she is away from the pack. She will panic if she thinks that you have waited for this moment to pounce, however, so you must make it seem that you encounter her as part of an unplanned sequence of events.
  • Group attack. I recall a night when three beautiful girls sat at a dance with their three tough-looking non-dancing boyfriends. All night they sat there unasked. Eventually I steeled myself, and asked the girl on one end. Instantly, seeing their opportunity, two other guys who had had their eyes on these women as well, moved in, and all three girls were being asked simultaneously. This should have worked, but the girls all looked fearfully to their boyfriends, who looked grim, but raised no objections. It was clear that the girls wanted to dance, but feared to show disloyalty to their men. Despite this anecdote, I think that if handled well, a group attack should sometimes succeed.
  • Heroic attack against the odds. Sometimes, you just have to go in alone. Looking confident, being polite, and a certain amount of charm will all help you, but will do you no good at all if you break the Golden Rule: never never ask the prettiest girl first. In any group of women, there will be variance in attractiveness, and the women will have a pretty shrewd idea of the hierarchy. If you ask the prettiest first, then she will probably refuse. She will do this for a few reasons. First, she might fear that you are only asking her because she's the prettiest. Second, she might like to turn you down just to show off her status as the prettiest. Third, she might want to make a show of niceness to her friends by staying loyally with them and not going off to have a great time without them just because she's the prettiest. She knows that they may all hate her for doing this and for being the prettiest. Once the prettiest has refused you, the others will all look upon you as a loser, and someone who has just insulted them all by calling them ugly (you called them ugly by asking the prettiest to dance first). They will not want to be second choice. Once the second has refused you, the third is even more likely to refuse you. Once they all have refused you, you cannot ask any of them again. Instead, you should ask one who is close to the norm of the group, but in the lower half of the hierarchy (the third prettiest of four, for example). This will make you seem normal and friendly, the girl you asked will be delighted and likely to accept, and all the others will be trying to work out why you asked her and not them. You should dance with the least attractive before dancing with the prettiest, as this will make you seem a nice and sociable fun guy to the whole group. It is my experience that once I have danced with all of a group except the prettiest, then either she asks me, or her friends, with slightly worried and puzzled looks on their faces, insist that I dance with her.
  • Exploit the gap. If somehow you manage to break a phalanx and dance with one of its members, you must exploit the gap immediately. If you go off and dance with other women, the formation will probably close up again, and you will have missed your chance. Once you have danced with the first of the group, you have a ticket in to the rest of the group. As you leave the floor, ask your partner if she thinks that any of her friends would like a dance. She will probably help you ask the next in the group. Assuming that she had a pleasant dance with you, she will be happy to recommend the experience to the others, and keen to be entertained by watching them dance with you.

How to refuse cruelly

Unless you really intend to be cruel, this is how not to refuse a dance. I include it here so that people can avoid doing this accidentally. This happened to me, and though I saw the funny side at the time and got an anecdote out of it, I wouldn't want it to become commonplace.

I was at a salsa dance, and walked up to a woman and asked her to dance. She wasn't facing me at first, and so had to turn to see me. She said one word: "No." You may feel that this is hardly devastating, but her timing was. You see, she did not say the word after a long pause. That would have been easy to take, because a long pause would have suggested that she was seriously considering saying yes, but that for some reason was reluctantly forced to refuse on further reflection. She did not say no immediately either. That would have been easy to take also, because an immediate answer would have suggested that my identity and qualities were not part of her decision to refuse, and that had anyone at all asked her to dance then the answer would have been the same. Instead, she turned, looked at me for one second and then said "No." That one second was just long enough to make it clear that she was taking into account my appearance before she made her decision, but short enough to make it clear that having seen me, her decision was an easy one. Somewhat deflating.

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