Tips for Your First Social Dance (RSCDS style)

Asking a partner to dance:

  • To ask someone to dance, say “Would you like to dance?” or “May I have this dance?” Extend a friendly hand and meet your potential partner’s eye. Once your partner agrees to dance with you, it’s polite to ask which side they’d like to dance on.
  • Don’t be afraid to be the one asking someone else to dance. Men can ask women, women can ask men, women can ask women, and men can ask men.
  • If you’d like to be asked to dance, don’t cluster and chatter with your friends. Instead, keep your body language open and make eye contact and smile as other dancers approach.
  • If you’re experienced, look for newer dancers to ask; if you’re inexperienced, look for someone skilled who will help you level up. Try to dance with different partners throughout the night, both old friends and visitors you’ve never met.
  • It is frowned upon to say no when someone asks you to dance unless you’re sitting out that dance. But if someone happens to say no to you, know the rudeness is their problem and not yours.
  • Even if you came with a partner, only dance one or two dances with that person (often the first dance, a favorite elsewhere in the set, and the last waltz). In most areas, it’s frowned upon to pre-book many (or any) dances ahead.

Forming sets:

  • Sets should form after the dance is announced or music begins. Clear the floor when no dance is in progress.
  • Join lines at the end, not the middle or top, to avoid disrupting other couples. Don’t walk through lines when finding your place on the floor.
  • Throughout the night, be sure to dance in different sets and different parts of the dance floor. It’s frowned upon to always rush to be the couple closest to the music (although if you’re inexperienced, that area is likely better than the bottom, where more tentative dancers tend to congregate).
  • The top couple counts off sets before dancing begins. Remain stationary in lines while sets form for easy counting. Ladies waiting for their partners should move to the gentlemen’s side for ease of counting. If there aren’t enough couples to form the final set, the top couple will raise the appropriate number of fingers to ask for more couples. If you’ve chosen to sit out this dance because it’s too hard for you, don’t feel pressured into dancing to make up the final set.


  • Remain quiet and listen during recaps (talk-throughs), even if you know the dance. If there’s a walk-through, be assertive and ask to be placed first to try out the dance if you’re feeling uncertain of your skills. It’s also handy to tell your partner you feel uncertain so they can cue you if you look confused. Alternatively, especially if there’s no walk-through, you can ask the set if they mind placing you at the bottom so you can watch the dance a few times before you become the active couple.
  • Dancing stops immediately if someone is injured. Otherwise, partners dance the full dance together once accepted. Do not leave your set!
  • Use eye contact throughout the dance to get cues from other dances if you’re uncertain. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner, “What’s next?!”
  • If the dance falls apart, don’t rush through past figures and try to catch up. If possible, don’t stop dancing either. Instead, figure out where you should be at a certain point in the music by watching other dancers, then start from that position. In general, when you make a mistake, a good rule of thumb is: Better never than late!
  • Be alert throughout the dance, being ready to step up or down as a supporting couple and to assist elderly or less experienced dancers. Adjust your dancing as needed to ensure everyone in your set enjoys themselves, prioritizing safety. Give cues as necessary to keep the set dancing (eye contact or gestures are better than verbal cues for many), but don’t assume one mistake means your partner needs a constant stream of commentary. We all mess up!
  • Maintain a pleasant, friendly, and inclusive atmosphere through mixing, smiling, and good spirits.
  • Most importantly — have fun!

(With thanks to a variety of sources from whom these tips were drawn.)