Etiquette guide

Welcome to CeilidhSoc! We want everyone to enjoy our dances as much as possible, so we’ve put together a few things that should help everyone, newbies and veterans alike, to stay safe, comfortable, and (most importantly) happy. A lot of it is common sense, and comes down to a basic sense of courtesy and politeness. However, there is also a lot to think about, especially if you’re new, so it may help to read this through before coming along so you know what you can expect of us and of other dancers.

New Dancers

 We are always really pleased when new people come to dance with us, whether you are new  just to CeilidhSoc or haven’t danced before at all. We want to make this space as welcoming as possible for everyone, especially our new members. It is absolutely normal not to know everything before you come in, and to need the occasional bit of help from the people around you. CeilidhSoc are a friendly bunch, and lots of us will be more than happy to give you a hand if you need one.

If you are not a new dancer, you will probably still remember what it was like when you started, so please be patient, kind, and encouraging whenever you can. We all have to start somewhere, and the folk dance world relies on those who have done things before to help those who have not.

Asking People To Dance

In general, anyone can ask anyone to dance, and anyone can (politely) refuse without being obliged to give any further reason (though you can if you want). The traditional image of people dancing in male-female couples, while perfectly valid, is far from the only option, and we want everyone to feel encouraged to dance with whoever they want, regardless of where or whether they identify with the traditional gender binary.

Any polite response is usually acceptable to turn someone down for a dance (including “no thank you”, “I’m sitting this one out”, “I’d rather not”, or “I’m waiting for someone else”). If you are worried about offending someone by saying no on a particular occasion, offering to find them later for a dance can be a good option, if you feel comfortable doing so. If you have a specific reason for not wanting to dance with someone, it can help to explain it (for example “you swing faster than I am comfortable with”), but there is no obligation to do so if you are not comfortable. You do not owe anyone a dance, or an explanation if you don’t want to dance with them.

The other side of this is that if you are asking someone to dance, and they say no, you might feel a bit stung. It happens, and everyone should feel comfortable to ask and answer as they please, so try not to take it personally. It is often quicker to move on and ask someone else than demand explanations, which may also make people more uncomfortable.

Dancing Considerately

The general rule here is “if in doubt, ask”. If someone has agreed to dance with you, it’s fair enough to expect them to be alright with the basic moves, such as holding hands, do-si-do, etc. For things like swinging, there are lots of different styles that people use, so it can be worth asking what their preferred style is. If you get caught with this question and don’t know if you have a preferred style (newbies and experienced dancers alike may not have given it a lot of thought!), just say so. Between you and your partner, you can work something out that works for both of you. If you really get stuck, a cross-hand hold is a fairly safe bet, especially in progressive dances where you don’t necessarily have the time to discuss it. Respecting people’s personal space boundaries, especially when they are not the same as your own, is vital to keeping everyone happy and comfortable.

If you are uncomfortable or in pain, please don’t feel like you have to suffer in silence. People can sometimes do the wrong thing without realising, and pointing it out gently to them can help, for example “my wrist hurts during the turn there, please can you not spin me?” On the flip side, don’t be offended if someone asks you to change something about how you are dancing: it is usually not personal, and in the end, dancing is much more fun when everyone is comfortable.

If you are someone who enjoys twirling their partner (or being twirled), it’s always worth asking your partner how they feel about that too. Being twirled unexpectedly or when it’s not wanted can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful.

Finally, do not simply rely on people telling you what is going on. If someone is uncomfortable, physically or otherwise, with something that has happened, this may prevent them from volunteering that information themselves. Watch out for body language and facial expressions – if someone is smiling and engaged, the likelihood is that everything is fine. Checking in occasionally and asking your partner if they are alright can really help too, both during and after the dance.

Helping and Correcting People

While sometimes a little help is appreciated from experienced dancers who are in a set with newer dancers, it is worth thinking about whether this is actually improving things for everyone or not.

The temptation to explain things after (or while) the caller has announced them can be strong, but be aware that this can sometimes cause more confusion, especially if lots of people are doing it. Generally, stick to one person giving instructions at any one time, and let the caller do their job. Our callers are all very experienced, and more than happy to re-run something if your set is struggling – just stick your hand up and ask. Try not to feel too embarrassed by doing this either, especially if you’re new – asking for help at the beginning can help prevent a mess in the middle of the dance that would ultimately make it less fun for everyone.

The other temptation is to correct someone who’s dancing with or near you. While sometimes this is helpful, be aware that extra information during a dance can be more confusing than helpful, and that it is very easy to feel criticised (especially when new). For some experienced dancers, this might feel a little strange, but it is better for the dance to go wrong than for people to feel like they aren’t good enough to be here. Physically pushing people or shouting at them is never, ever a good idea; a gesture, look, smile, or brief instruction will be much more encouraging, and often have a better effect.

Not all mistakes are mistakes, either! Sometimes, a couple will swap out of choice part way through a dance, or put in a variation. As long as it is not causing a problem to the rest of the set, there is no reason to ask them to do anything else.


CeilidhSoc’s ceilidhs are all called gender-free (see our policy for more details). This means that instead of using terms like “gents” and “ladies”, callers will address people in different ways, such as “the line facing the windows” or “the person on the right of the couple”. This might take some getting used to, but it’s often not as complicated when you’re actually following it!

Anyone can dance with anyone at our ceilidhs, and we want people to feel comfortable doing so. If you are used to more traditional gender roles in dance, this can take some adjustment, but it’s often easier than it sounds! If you see a same-sex-presenting couple, don’t assume that they would rather be dancing with someone presenting as the opposite sex (for example, splitting up a female couple if there are two unpartnered men wanting to dance). There are many reasons why people dance together, and it’s not a big deal (or, indeed, anyone else’s business) as far as we are concerned.


Ultimately, we are all here to dance and have fun, and these suggestions are intended as a way to make that easier for everyone. If you are generally polite, courteous, and patient with other dancers, you are unlikely to cause a problem.

If you have any questions about anything, feel free to contact the committee. If you have a problem with someone not following these guidelines, see our FAQs page on what to do if you have a complaint.

This etiquette guide is partially based on the amazing guide provided by The Round Dance Club in Cambridge, who in turn got theirs from the Cambridge Dancers’ Club. Thanks also to Jen and the good folk on the Double Progress Facebook group for their input and general awesomeness.

Charlotte Robinson

Inclusions Officer

September 2017