Now, at LaB (the weekly Philly dance), we often give a little demo at the end of the novice class about how to ask people to dance. Here are some of the ways to avoid:
1. The Panhandler: no words, thrusting your hand into your target's space and waiting expectantly- usually the eyebrows are also up.
-Why it's no good: there's no polite way to say no thank you in your own terms. Should the other person push your hand away? That would seem terribly rude. Also, like I said in the description, you're invading their space before you've made a social contract.
-But what if... there's a language barrier? Attain eye contact, motion to the dance floor, and make it clear that it's a question. There's much better body language than "gimme".
2. The Tap-In: from behind, tapping the person on the shoulder. Especially when your target is being sought by another dancer who seems to be using eye contact. Touched'em first! Possession is 9/10ths, loser!
-Why it's no good: humans are super-visual creatures. We use our eyes and non-verbal visual cues to communicate. Which means you don't give the person a chance to seek you out, or avoid you. This way of asking makes for a lot of awkwardness.
-But what if... you're asking someone you're intimidated by? Glad you asked! Practice asking on people who don't scare you. I'll tell you a secret- I don't usually ask people I'm intimidated by. Too much stress! I look for people who seem fun and approachable, or look left out, or who I already know. Sometimes those "scary" people ask me, and then I'm flattered, and have more fun that I would if I'd stressed myself out working my way up to dance with them. True story.
3. The Tag Champion: also from behind, making a leaping grab for the nearest available body part of the target, and grabbing hold. Tag! You have to dance with me!
-Why it's no good: agreeing to dance should be consensual. This isn't a competition, where the first one to touch a person wins. It's a decision to make art together for 3-6 minutes. Don't you want them to say yes by choice?
-But what if... there are a zillion other people lunging after your target? Pick a better target! Everyone wants to get to dance, and aggressive dance-seeking is an arms race- aggression is leading to aggression. If everyone backs off, we can be a lot more civil.
4. The Scavenger: there are a few versions of this:
-The Moment-Crasher- asking a person to dance when they haven't finished their post-dance moment with their previous partner. Let it settle, folks.
-The Hide-and-Seeker- asking people who are not in the dance hall, or (in the case of one very large room) are way back from the dance floor, often deep in conversation.
-Why they're no good: the body language of these people says, "I'm not looking to dance with you right now," but you're not reading it. No one likes turning people down, but everyone needs to rest, or wants to enjoy a moment (or multiple songs) with an old friend/new dance partner/potential flirtation/dance crush/whatever. Even if they dance with you, some part of them is unhappy about it.
-But what if... there's no one left to dance with? If there's really, truly no one else you could dance with, take a break! Wipe the sweat off, go cool down, get a drink, or (my personal favorite) watch other people dance! Enjoy your three minutes of chill time.
5. The Pushy Salesman: you've made your move, acquired your target and you've... been turned down. Never one to take no for an answer, you argue, beg, plead, and attempt to convince your target that they should dance with you.
-Why they're no good: turning someone down for a dance is hard- as hard as asking someone to dance. Fact is, no one likes to be disliked. So chances are that you're making someone feel uncomfortable, and they're probably resenting you.
-But what if... you really wanted to dance with that person? Then ask for a rain check! Cheerfully say something like, "Maybe later," and let it go.
Enough of the bad ways. What's a good way to ask people to dance? Simple- they same way you'd start a conversation.
1. Get within a reasonable distance, and within sight range.
2. Make eye contact. Make mutual eye contact.
3. Ask the other person to dance.
4. Accept their answer graciously. Whatever it may be.
Notice the themes here: what I'm saying, really, is let people turn you down. That's contrary to what we normally teach. Normally, we teach, "never turn someone down without a really good reason." But from the other side, read people- if they look sweaty and exhausted, and are beelining for the bar/bathroom/fan, think twice before you tackle them. If someone looks like they're eagerly approaching another dancer, don't intercept. Be less aggressive, and let's ramp-down the arms race. Stop and look around for people who look like they want to be asked to dance, and enjoy the results!
ps- don't forget- Be happy with this happy puppy!