Dance Etiquette: How to Be an Easy Dancer to Love

Why Talk about Dance Etiquette?

A dance class is a cooperative endeavor. For everyone to enjoy class and learn successfully, it helps to be in agreement on some basics of behavior. However, for those new to the class environment, it's common that some aspects of dance etiquette may take time to pick up on. By providing a bit of info in advance, we hope we can make it easier to get off to a smooth start.

It's to be expected that we'll all make mistakes at times. So remember to forgive your fellow dancers their missteps in class! It's almost guaranteed that sometimes they're forgiving yours.

As long as you maintain generous assumptions and a positive attitude toward those around you, and cultivate self-awareness, you'll be on the right track to being good company in a dance class.

Basic Courtesy

Be on time.

At some studios you may enter class no more than 10 minutes late. At others, anything goes. So it's good to check the policy for your class in advance. At most gyms, rules are loose, but being on time for warmup is encouraged to minimize risk of injury.

Sign in and pay before class.

It's important to sign in and pay before your class! When everyone doesn't do this in an organized fashion, it creates more headaches for the studio staff than you might realize.

Don’t bring food, gum, or beverages other than water into class.

This rule is pretty much universal, not only to keep things clean, but out of concern for maintaining the expensive floors installed in exercise studios. Eating in the lobby is usually fine.

Turn off your cell phone.

This is strictly enforced at most studios. At gyms, rules are looser. But generally, any audible ringtone will bring you negative attention.

Maintain good hygiene.

For those who are in any doubt:

See More: Basics of Dance Class Hygiene

Dancers, always be sure to start your first class of the day showered, wearing deodorant, and wearing a freshly laundered outfit. Mouthwash is also lovely! On behalf of your fellow dancers,

Please and Thank You.

Don’t curse.

Cursing in dance class should be a rare event. Once or twice on that day when the routine seems impossible isn't a big deal. Actually, it's usually pretty funny. Just make sure it's the exception.

Maintain a positive attitude.

If possible, keep a positive mindset in class. Ongoing, audible self-criticism is inappropriate.

See More: Most dance teachers are sensitive to energy.

One trait dance teachers tend to have in common is that they're aware of and highly attuned to the energy of the people around them. They may be bothered by low, draggy energy in their class, or tension between students (such as when people are jockeying for space).

So if you can, it's worth mustering some energy in class on a day when you may be feeling tired or crabby. This is noticed more than you might think, and very much appreciated!

That said, if you're in a bad mood or you've had a rough day, most teachers welcome you taking their class to de-stress! Just let go of negative energy as soon as you can once you get to the studio. After all, that's why you came!

Don’t leave and come back into your class.

This is a firm rule at most formal dance studios. If you wander out (say, because you're feeling frustrated, want to check your phone, see a friend in the hall, or want a water break when the teacher hasn't given one), you may not be permitted to rejoin the class.

At less formal studios, a rare and quick trip to the restroom is likely to be understood. Habitually coming in and out, however, would be disruptive. And regardless of why you left, refrain from asking the teacher to repeat what was taught while you were absent.

At gyms, just use your judgment. A quick dash to the water fountain should be fine.

Don’t leave early.

This is a firm rule at many dance studios. At less formal studios, occasional exceptions may be possible if you explain the situation before class. At the gym, it's up to you, but please remember that an unexplained departure may cause your teacher concern.

Showing Consideration for Your Instructor

Keep your teacher’s instructing space clear.

The rectangular area between the front row of students, the sides of the room, and the mirror is your teacher's instructing space. Please respect your teacher by not setting water bottles and other personal belongings along the front wall of the studio. We've seen instructors deeply upset by this. Think how you'd feel if someone placed obstacles in your dance space!

Some instructors will tolerate items being placed up by the mirror (particularly at gyms, where they have less authority). More often, they'll tell—not ask—people to move their stuff.

Respect your teacher’s personal space.

Leave some breathing room between your teacher and the front row of students. The instructor should be able to move forward and backward as they demonstrate the dance without running into anyone. If there's extra space at the front (or class is extremely crowded), the teacher will usually invite the class to move forward.

At the other extreme, when a small class clings to the back wall, it makes teachers uncomfortable. Don't leave your instructor all alone at the front of the room! Keep them company.

Don’t chew gum.

Given that gum is almost universally banned from dance studios, you'd think this would be a non-issue. But one instructor had feedback we can't resist sharing. So know that

  1. Gum isn't allowed in the studio in the first place,
  2. Some instructors find it rude if you stand there chewing gum while they're talking, and
  3. This is the part we consider priceless: Teachers don't like you to chew gum because it interferes with your ability to be expressive with your face while performing their choreography!

See More: Need some convincing?

Really, can you imagine trying to form a meaningful facial expression while your jaw is making chewing motions? If you need some convincing, try it in front of your mirror. (An actual bite of food or piece of gum helps as a prop . . . chewing air is just weird.)

Unless what you're expressing with your face is "yum" or "yuck" . . . we think not.

Don’t talk while your instructor is teaching.

Many teachers are really offended by this. So, please, don't chat while the teacher is speaking or demonstrating. And be aware that teachers usually can see and hear the people at the back of the room.

Talking before class or during water breaks is fine. Just be aware enough to quiet down when the teacher is ready to start.

Applaud if the instructor performs the dance for you.

If your teacher performs all or most of the routine full out, as an example for the class, it shows respect and appreciation to applaud!

Try to be understanding if your teacher doesn’t answer every question.

Teachers keenly desire to make the most of their limited class time, and try to move forward at the pace they believe best serves the class as a whole. It's common for teachers to be hesitant to spend time on questions.

Don’t film in class without the instructor’s permission.

Please don't casually whip out a camera and start taping during class! Unless you have standing permission from your instructor, it's important to ask first.

Some dance studios also have rules against audio taping or jotting down dance notes. So if you don't know your studio or instructor's policy, always get permission before recording a dance.

See More: Why is this such a big concern?

Their choreography is your dance teacher's intellectual property. In L.A., most dance instructors are professionals who have made choreographing (and teaching, performing, etc.) their life's work.

Outside professional studios, most people are unaware that theft of choreography is a serious issue. A surprising number of individuals copy others' choreography and pass it off as their own. So many instructors are extremely sensitive about anyone taping their dances.

See More: Cell phone use may be mistaken for videotaping.

If you're observing a class, be sensitive about using your phone. If you stand in front of a studio observation window reading your texts, you may appear to be surreptitiously filming the class, and could be confronted by a concerned instructor or studio staff member.

However, some teachers will gladly let you tape in class! Feelings on this vary quite a bit, so don't feel that you shouldn't ask.

Some teachers expect applause when they announce the end of the routine.

Some do, some don't. So if you're new, you may want to wait and follow your classmates' lead.

Applaud at the end of class.

It's traditional to applaud at the end of a dance class!

Follow appropriate dance etiquette even if your teacher is a personal friend.

When taking a friend's class, please treat them with the respect a teacher deserves. Not only will your friend probably appreciate it, but so will the rest of the class.

Showing Consideration for Your Fellow Dancers

Try to refrain from correcting your classmates.

In your desire to be helpful, be careful not to correct another student's movements, or critique their dancing! In dance class, only the teacher gives corrections.

In addition, in adult beginning hip-hop classes, especially at gyms, you may encounter a wide range of behavior. Do your best to roll with it, rather than attempt to instruct others on dance etiquette.

Let advanced students stand in front.

In dance class, more advanced students stand in front. Let them ahead of you at the beginning of class, even if you were there first.

Avoid taking a spot at the front of a dance class until you've taken it enough times to know you're consistently able to get the routine.

See More: Why? If I'm new, shouldn't I stand in front where I can see the teacher better?

In some fitness classes, it's a good idea for new students to take a spot up front and make sure they have a good view of the teacher. Dance class works the opposite way. Inexperienced students in back can watch the more advanced students in front of them if they're lost or can't see the teacher. If all the inexperienced students were in front, mass confusion could ensue.

The edges of the room may also be a good area for new students, as they won't be directly in the line of sight of someone watching the instructor.

In dance studios it's poor etiquette and often not permitted to take class above your level. Likewise, if you're at the low end of the skill level for a class, you're expected to be considerate of the more advanced dancers. Letting them in front is part of that.

However, if an advanced dancer arrives quite late to a full class, it's considerate for them to stand in back if necessary to avoid blocking the window of a dancer already there.

Try not to take your place too close to others.

Always try to find a spot where you have a space buffer on all sides. Lines should be staggered so that you're not standing right next to anyone else.

Be careful not to stand directly behind someone during warmup. During the learning portion of class, when you want to see yourself in the mirror, you'll be tempted to push into the space of the person next to you.

Also, be on the lookout for classmates behind you! Once someone else has taken their place, it's inconsiderate to select a spot directly in front of them, blocking their view.

Try to preserve people’s windows.

Be aware of the people behind you, including those who arrive after you, and try to position yourself so all of you can see yourselves in the mirror. Keep an eye out during class, as people often shift around a little within their spots.

Don’t move around during class trying to find a better spot.

Once you have a spot, it's yours for the duration of class. It may not be ideal, but try to work with it. Often shifting around a little within your spot will help you see the teacher or find a window. Don't move around the studio trying to find a bigger space or a better view of the instructor.

When someone leaves their spot during class, for instance to get water, their spot is not up for grabs! If the class practices the dance while someone is off the floor, it's okay to take advantage of the extra space if you're already next to it. But always let the spot's owner return!

On the other hand, if a dancer leaves their spot before class starts, however briefly, and someone walks in and unknowingly stands there, the spot now belongs to the newcomer. Don't try to reclaim a spot from someone who took it innocently.

Watch your space when dancing.

Be aware of others' dance space while practicing and performing the routine. Avoid penetrating the line of dancers in front of you, and try not to crowd them. If you're unsure if you're too close, you may wish to check your space buffer with the person in front of you against the space left by more experienced dancers.

During the learning portion of class, if it's very crowded, you may need to mark the footwork in order to avoid colliding with others. Under overcrowded conditions, don't make large arm gestures, kicks, and so on just because the choreography calls for them. Dancers are expected to restrain their movements as much as necessary for safety, without being asked.

Try to avoid stopping unexpectedly.

When you don't know where to go, it may feel natural to stop moving until you do. But it can be quite jarring and unexpected to another dancer who's headed toward you. So when lost, try to follow along in the right direction, even if you're not doing the moves.

Be cautious in marking among people who are standing still.

If you practice the routine or otherwise perform dance moves among classmates who are standing, always take responsibility for where you are in relation to others! If you "need to" violate your neighbor's personal space in order to complete your movements, stop.

Perform in only your group.

Some dancers' enthusiasm for performing tempts them to look for extra space on the floor when it's another group's turn to dance. Taking turns shows consideration for your classmates.

Applaud for your classmates when they perform.

Remember to applaud for your fellow students when they finish the routine! People forget more often than you might think, so don't look to others' behavior as your guide. It's always a good thing to support your fellow dancers!

At professional studios, students may to be called out to provide an example during class as well as at the end. Always clap for anyone who dances! It's appropriate to do so before they dance, as a show of support, and especially after they dance!

During groups, don’t mark too close to people or in a distracting way.

Following along and marking while another group is on the floor is probably fine if you see others doing it. (In some classes, the teacher expects everyone to watch and support their classmates!) Just be courteous, and try not to interfere with or distract performers or spectators.

See More: How can a marker be considerate of others?

It's ideal to stay at least 5 feet from the dancers, and use small marking gestures. If the dance moves around a lot, just mimic the footwork with baby steps. And if the routine moves a lot in one direction, stand in a part of the room where the performers won't be coming toward you.

If there aren't a lot of people on the back wall, it's important not to stand in back and mark on the shoulder of a specific dancer in a small group. Especially novice markers are likely to miss some moves and start and stop abruptly during the dance. A highly visible marker can easily throw off someone who's performing.

It's also important to be considerate of people watching their classmates perform. It's a marker's responsibility not to bump into spectators or block their view. If others are nearby, stay in place and keep your marking small.

As a general rule, if it's not completely clear that you're marking and not dancing in the group that's on the floor, (1) you're too close to the performers and (2) your movements are too large.

It’s considerate to clear the floor to the front and sides.

At very formal dance studios, after performing in a group, you're expected to move off the floor to the front or side—not walk backward through the group that's taking the floor! We're not sure you'll see this observed much, but be aware that this tradition exists. If you see others in your class following it, do likewise!

After groups, return to your original spot if others do.

After groups, most classes finish with everyone performing the dance together again. This almost always means you should return to your original spot. If everyone else does and you don't, you're crowding someone else out of theirs.

Rarely, a class doesn't return to its original spots after groups. The group that just performed stays on the floor and everyone else moves forward to fill in the gaps. That's fine when it happens. Just be aware and roll with whatever the class is doing.