Dance Etiquette for Dummies

Stretch - Phone Dancer
Don’t pay more attention to your phone than your technique!

You may not know it, but there’s an art taking a dance class—and it’s not just in doing the steps.  In each  genre there are certain unspoken rules of do’s and don’ts.  Break the unspoken rules of dance etiquette and you’ll stand out for all the wrong reasons.

(Many of these rules apply outside of dance, too.  Just last week I was next to someone in yoga who was checking his phone in the middle of downward dog).

In this world where we have so many distractions, we also need a time to devote our whole attention span for an hour or two.  The key to getting the most out of a dance class is about being tuned into the moment and focusing on what’s inside…not the distractions on the outside.


  • Turn your phone off.  What if there’s a major disaster in the middle of class?  What if someone just liked your status?  Chances are your phone updates can wait.  And I don’t just mean turning it to silent—turn it off.  Don’t check it during breaks, don’t glance at it during warm ups.  Besides, then you can feel extra popular when you get out of class and see the build-up of notifications. 
  • You can look, but not judge.  I love watching other people mess up in dance class—because I’m usually doing the exact same thing.  When I see someone figure out how to correct a mistake in their form, or do a move that much better, you learn from them.  But there’s a fine line between constructively pinpointing improvement points, and making yourself feel superior because someone fell out of a turn.  Class is about making mistakes and learning from them—be respectful and remember that someone not getting a combo right doesn’t make you a better dancer. 
  • Keep the chatter to a minimum. It’s hard when you finally get to see a bunch of your friends, but make sure that your conversations don’t distract from the class, and never speak in the middle of a dance combination.  Feel free to cheer when someone knocks a combination out of the park, though! 
  • Be aware of your personal space bubble.  Sometimes you’ll be crammed into a packed class with barely enough room to lift your hands above your head.  Always, always, always be aware of the space around you.  It’s expected that your space bubble will bump into a few others, but try send your awesome extension into your neighbor’s nose.
Stretch - Room for Everyone!
See? There’s plenty of room for everybody!
  • Remember what your mother taught you.  It’s a good practice to always thank your teacher at the end of the class.  It’s a tough life to be a good dance teacher—often full of long days, whiney students, and sweaty studios, and a genuine acknowledgement at the end of the day can remind them just how much we need them.  

What are your dance class pet peeves?  Feel free to chime in on our Facebook, Twitter, or below in the comments about what dance etiquette is important to you!

An Open Letter to Accompanists

Dear Accompanists of the World,

Last week, I posted an article about the many days of the year that celebrate some form of dancing—ballet, hip hop, ballroom, and many more.  However, there is one important element of dance who needs to be appreciated, and yet is constantly ignored as a background player: you, the accompanist.

You are the forgotten heroes of the dance and performance world.  Rehearsals are useless without you, classes are dull.  But you do so much more than that.

You play just a hair slower when you see that we’re having problems with a fast combination, but not enough that the teacher will catch you doing it.  You subtly emphasize the melody when I’m behind.  You wink at me after I get called out by the choreographer for messing up the steps.

For me, a good accompanist is the reason that gets me out of bed for a 9am ballet class.  You’re the reason I hold my developee just a little higher, that balance just a fraction longer.  You pull that extra oomph out of me when I think I have no more to give.

When I was nine years old, I wanted to quit ballet.  Ballet can be a boring exercise, particularly because it is so dependent on strengthening tiny muscles and holding frankly absurd positions for painful minutes, and after six years of being told to turn my feet in unnatural directions, I was tapped out.

My mother, in her infinite wisdom and apathy for my suffering, refused to let me quit.  I spent another three years going to dance out of duty.  In fact, my mom ended up putting me in a summer workshop where I took dance for six hours a day (there’s a reason we don’t complain to my mom), but it was this workshop that changed my view of dance.

I didn’t notice at first that they had brought in a new accompanist for this workshop.  To me, accompanists played the same classical airs, but seemed to run the melodies through a filter that made everything seem like a dirge playing in half time.  They seemed less like humans, and more like animated metrenomes.

And then she started playing.

She didn’t play Bach.  She didn’t play Rachmaninoff.  She played Harry Potter.  And how she played it.  It wasn’t just about plunking out the notes, but making music.  She didn’t look down on us because this was just another Saturday morning ballet class full of twelve-year-olds, but a special concert that only we got to hear.

For the first time in ballet class in years, I wanted to dance.  I wanted to dance well enough to fit that music, and I’ve been working towards it ever since.

When an accompanist plays well, they become another character in the dance that you can interact with.  They add more flavor to the piece, and dancer and musician can feed off of each other creating a symphony of music and dance together.  Great accompanists are great musicians who truly see that all the world is a stage and hold nothing back, even in rehearsals.

I cannot thank you enough for the hours of sweaty rehearsals, repetitive numbers, and the infinite patience and skill you bring to each and every occasion. There’s not an accompanist appreciation day—yet—but I think you all deserve our respect and gratitude for inspiring us to become skilled, versatile performers.



Mark Your Calendar for Dance Holidays in 2014

I recently had to compile a list of weird holidays for work, and I found all sorts of unexpected days.  I figured if they have a Plan Your Epitaph Day, there’s bound to be some amazing dance holidays.

As usual, I was right.

Ballet Heart

February 7 – Ballet Day 

Get your tutu on!  Every day should be a ballet day, but February 7th is the time of year when you put a bit more oopmh into your plies!

March 20-April 13 – National Cherry Blossom Festival

You might think that a Cherry Blossom Festival would be a traditional Japanese celebration–and you’d be half right.  This festival takes place every year in Washington, DC to commemorate the gift of cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki from Tokyo back in 1912.  The relationship between the United States and Japan was just beginning to blossom at that time, and each year Americans and visitors alike appreciate traditional dancing, singing, and even kimono fashion shows.  This is a clip of one of the dancers rocking it out old school style.

April 29International Dance Day 

International Dance Day—not to be confused with National Dance Day–celebrates the unifying abilities of dance and its ability to connect people across cultures, borders, and even language barriers.  You don’t have to be a professional dancer to appreciate the universality of dance!

May 1 – May Day

Back in the day, the May Day was a pagan celebration of the beginning of summer.  While the exact traditions for May Day vary based on time and country, the May Pole is one of the most recognizable remnants of the festival.  The dances involved with the may pole are as diverse as the celebrations, but most versions involve patterns that weave the streamers into a braid.

May 14th – National Dance Like a Chicken Day

No explanation needed for this one, but in case you need a visual…

May 25 – National Tap Dance Day

Who says the government doesn’t appreciate dance?  Congress voted to make National Tap Dance Day on legendary tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s birthday.  While it’s nice to have a day dedicated to tap, I think we need to take it a bit farther and have competitive large group tap numbers, like England apparently does…

July 26th – National Dance Day

So You Think You Can Dance and the Dizzy Feet Foundation team up to present National Dance Day–a special day that inspires movement and creativity among amateurs and professionals alike!  National Dance Day is a relatively new holiday, starting in 2010 when Nigel Lythgoe, co-founder of the Dizzy Feet Foundation, started the day to promote dance as a healthy way to combat obesity, relieve stress, and explore creativity!

August 24 – World Hip Hop Day

August 24 is World Hip Hop Day–a time where artists and amateurs come together to explore the power of hip hop.  Dancers show off their moves at block parties, on stage, and in the streets.

September 19th-28 – National Ballroom Dance Week

National Ballroom Dancing week is a time to share the knowledge and fun of ballroom dancing with the public.

Oct 31-Nov 2 – Day of the Dead 

The Day of the Dead is a traditional day to honor and remember the dead, and is observed in Mexico, South America, and parts of Europe.  Scholars believe that it can trace its roots back to Aztec traditions, though it has evolved over time.  The living bring gifts of food and goods to the graves of their loved ones.  Some traditional dances include shell costumes that make noise enough to wake the dead!


November 29th – Square Dance Day

November 29th is the one day of the year that’s okay to be a square.



Dec. 11 – National Day of Tango (Argentina)

The U.S. hasn’t caught on yet, but Argentina proudly dedicates December 11 to tango.  Tango originated in South America in 1890s, and went from village dance to one of the most well-known types of dance seen on stages and in spy movies alike.