Safety and Etiquette in Swing Dancing

At The Swing Era we believe everyone should have an enjoyable and safe experience while attending our classes and events. We strongly advise all our new and existing dancers to carefully read our Code of Conduct and Dance Etiquette below and we encourage everybody to implement these rules to create a safe dancing community.

The Swing Era has signed up to the S.T.E.P.S. code of conduct and related procedures. The following guidelines apply to all team members, contractors and attendees of its events.


This Code of Conduct is based on The Swing Era’s vision and the STEPS Code ( Safety, Trust, Engagement, Prevention, Support).

The following Code of Conduct applies to EVERYONE attending any of The Swing Era events, including members of staff, students, volunteers and visiting teachers:

  1. We will be NICE to everyone and treat all people with respect. We will not harass anyone. We will be kind to everyone and respect other people’s views and opinions and not engage in gossip. No one knows what is going on in each other’s lives so be kind and people will return the favour.
  1. We will NOT DISCRIMINATE according to sex, gender expression or sexual orientation, nor race, religion, or nationality. We will treat everyone equally, regardless of age, ability, physical appearance, lifestyle, dance experience or dance role.
  1. We will be INCLUSIVE and invite others to dance and we will be gracious if turned down. We may say no without giving a reason, but we will be polite when doing so. If we do promise to dance later on, we will honour that promise.
  1. We acknowledge that everyone has a different dance paths and we will respect that journey by being PATIENT with each other, understanding that we all learn at different speeds. We will NEVER give unsolicited feedback about the dance in any class or social event to other students or teachers, unless specifically asked to do so.
  1. We will attend classes and events with a positive, friendly, approachable and open attitude, ready to learn and have fun. We will be OPEN to feedback from our teachers about our development to ensure we will get the most out of our dance journey.
  1. We will be RESPONSIBLE for our own physical safety and that of others nearby. We will practice safe floor-craft and say sorry if we accidentally bump into another person. We will not give instruction or teach, nor perform aerials on the social dance floor. If we consume alcohol we will do so responsibly, and if we are drunk enough to pose a risk to ourselves or others, we will leave the dance floor and retire to the bar.
  1. We will take CARE of our own personal hygiene, and bring towels, spare clothing, extra deodorant and take a shower before class or event if necessary. We will make sure that we will wear fresh clothes to class (e.g. after coming straight from work). We will be considerate when choosing our clothing, footwear, and accessories and we will not wear anything that is potentially hazardous to ourselves or to others. We will not wear our clothes in an indecent way, which may be offensive to others.
  1. We will be RESPECTFUL and acknowledge that the personal boundaries of others may not be the same as our own. We will be mindful of the appropriateness of language that some may find offensive. We will not touch anyone without consent and we will apologise immediately if we unintentionally touch a person’s private areas.
  1. We UNDERSTAND that following the above guidelines ensures a better experience for everyone and that participating in any kind of verbal, physical or sexual harassment or abuse will have CONSEQUENCES. This may include, but is not limited to, being asked to leave without refund and exclusion from future classes and events.
  1. We, the organisers, PROMISE to treat any reports made, from dancers in our home scenes or elsewhere, with sensitivity and to keep all details as confidential as is possible (however, in the event of a police investigation, all information will become disclosable).

*We encourage anyone who has experienced or witnessed intimidating or inappropriate behaviour to tell an organiser.

At The Swing Era your suggested points of contact are

  • Martyn Nelson ([email protected] )
  • Suzanne Grubham ([email protected])
  • Kimberley Biddle ([email protected])
  • Shaz Aspinall ([email protected])
  • If you prefer to talk in person, or would prefer to speak to another member of staff, you are welcome to do so at any event throughout the year. Please also read our info leaflets provided at event entrances and toilets.

Safety People are available for discussion and reassurance, not just formal reports – please do tell us about your concerns, even small ones – we’re here for you! After discussing your concerns we will follow up on safety concerns via (confidential and anonymised) feedback or interventions with the person in question, depending on the nature of the safety risk. We strongly promote a healthy, open and safe environment.

Safety in Swing Dance organisers and teachers will happily provide support to anyone experiencing problematic behaviours in the Swing dance scene, not just our own dancers and students, see the entire Safety in Swing Dance website for more details.

Further reading and support

What is Harassment? Read the Equality Act 2010

Contact the West Midlands Police for advise and support through their Advice Centre

Contact the local team of West Midlands Victim Support to get advise and support

Please also watch this brilliant video by SwingAUT

By Bobby White, Swungover.
(Additions in italics by Stephen Badham and Martyn Nelson)

Key message:

Respecting oneself, one’s dance partner, and others on the floor.
On Asking Someone to Dance:
Ask another person to swing dance by simply using polite words.
Eg: “Would you like to dance?” “Care to dance?” “May I have this dance?”
Try to avoid:
Extending your hand to someone, silently, and expecting them to jump at the chance to dance with you.
Grabbing someone and pulling them onto the floor.

Try to dance with a wide range of people at different ability levels, even if you don’t know them

Everyone is allowed and welcome to ask anyone else they wish to dance.
If you are not asked, do not take it personally.
Be proactive and ask people to dance.
This is a great way to ensure you dance all night and meet people.
You are allowed to reject dances.
If your explanation is that you are tired, the song is not to your liking, or that you are conversing with a friend, your potential partner will probably be pleased to know why.
Though you are not obliged to have a dance with that person at a later point in the night, if you do wish to have one, you may add “Please find me again” or “I will find you later.”
If you do add those phrases, mean it, and act accordingly.
If you do not wish to dance with a person who asks you, then you should reject that dance, and no further explanation is necessary. (Unless you desire to elaborate, of course.) This matter is perhaps controversial, but consider this instance:
Let’s say you are asked to dance by a person who makes you uncomfortable because of the way they touch you or look at you, or because you feel they will somehow get you injured on the dance floor. You decide to reject the dance. Since you have only been dancing a few months and are new to the scene, you desire to be polite and, so as not to hurt their feelings, add “I’m sitting this one out.”
First off, they will probably ask again, later, and so you are simply prolonging the problem rather than solving it. Secondly, your personal safety — whether physical or mental — is much more important than social graces. The rejected partner may ask why, in which case you have the opportunity to give them honest feedback on their behavior. “Well, to be honest, in the past…” (Depending on the behavior, you may want to give them feedback on it regardless of whether they ask for it or not.)
When you ask someone to dance or they ask you, walk together with them onto the dance floor. If it is too crowded to do so, gesture to the spot you wish to dance in.

As Swing is a very social dance, with lots of people asking each other to dance on and off the floor, you don’t have to walk someone off of the dance floor (unless you want to). But exchange a cordial “thanks” before departing.

Sometimes, those who are not welcoming to you are shy; sometimes they are arrogant. Sometimes the shy ones will come out of their shell with time or poking. Sometimes the arrogant ones will realize they are being arrogant. Sometimes their behavior will change; sometimes it won’t.

How many times should you dance with the same person?

In general the rule in Europe is to dance with the same person for two songs. In America, the culture is for one song.

The simple answer is that it’s up to you and your partner. If you want a second or third dance, simply ask. If you only want one dance, it’s find to reject a second dance.

On Appearance & Odours

We do not live in a time where people are likely to tell you to your face that you smell bad or that you have reached a level of sweat that is abhorrent to the general touch. Therefore, people must learn to police themselves:

Between dances, touch your own shirt sleeve if you are a leader, or the back of your shirt if you are a follower. If you find you gross, others probably will too.

Avoid wearing clothing that shows a lot of bare skin — leaders, especially make sure the shoulders are covered, and followers, especially make sure the back is covered. Those places are, after all, where our partners put their hands. And even though sweaty fabric can be gross, it is generally much more pleasing to put a hand on than sweaty skin.

Your hair-cut may be likely to fling sweat on your partner. Sometimes even into their mouths. Or, if it’s very long, it may whip them as you turn. If your hair cut is susceptible to these, use sweat towels or hair bands accordingly.

If you sweat through shirts or other tops, bring a fresh change of clothes. You may want to bring extra for the car ride home.

Pay special attention to the effect your state will have on others. If you are sweaty and your partner is not, perhaps ask them to dance once you have changed.

As far as odour goes, give yourself a smell test before leaving the house. Before a dance night, bathing, adding plenty of strong deodorant and antiperspirant, and wearing clean clothes is most of the battle.
Often there are people (and perhaps even entire dance cultures or communities) who don’t mind dancing completely soaked, and may even feel that dancing regardless of sweat adds something visceral to the experience — so, in this matter, try to gauge your audience and act accordingly.
On Crowded Dance Floors

Control your energy and adapt to the size of the space and the number of people around you.

Choose moves and variations wisely on crowded floors. Favour moves and variations you do well — it’s probably not the time to try the new “widow-maker” move you’ve thought about possibly working on at some point.

Look before you send your partner there.
Look where your partner is sending you.
Both partners should be prepared to pull themselves in, pull their partner in, or redirect their direction to prevent danger.
Check around you before kicking, or swinging arms in the air. Be especially careful about what, or who, might be behind you.
Acknowledge when you have collided with someone, try to make quick eye contact to assess the damage, and, if everyone seems fine and unhurt, offer a simple apology. Often you don’t even have to stop dancing to do this.

A further explanation: “Sorry!” upon the occasion of a dance floor collision does not necessarily mean “I’m at fault.” Often it means “Somehow we collided, but everyone seems fine and, well of course it happens, and I apologize if I was the one at fault.” But “Sorry!” is easier to say in the middle of a swingout.

However, if a collision you were involved in has caused another person to stop dancing, then stop your own dancing and check in to make sure everything is alright. If the collision was your fault, (1) figure out what you did wrong, (2) apologise and try to make amends, and (3) concentrate on changing your behavior so that it doesn’t happen again.

If another couple collided with you and one of them obviously hurt you or your partner and did not acknowledge it, diplomatically mention it to them (possibly waiting until the end of the song depending on the situation). They need to be aware that they did something that caused harm and didn’t know it.

On Birthday Jams and Jam Circles

A birthday jam is when a person with a birthday gets in a circle and gets new partners throughout a song. The goal of birthday jams is to give the person having a birthday a chance to shine and have partner after partner have a brief moment dancing with them. It is not the point of a birthday dance for people to fight over the birthday person or to try to “snatch” them away from other partners so much that it starts to look like a game where the goal is to try to steal as many times as you can.

It is also not the point for the birthday person to only dance with a couple of people. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to join birthday jams. And yes, that means you, beginner dancer.

In birthday and other “steal” jams, give the previous partner a couple phrases before you cut in, and take a couple phrases yourself before passing the partner onto the next. If people try to butt in before you have a chance to finish your turn, don’t try to fight them, which often involves dragging the birthday partner around the floor — let them break in. It’s not worth the trouble. You can have your very own birthday dance with that person after the jam.

A jam circle is when everyone stands in a circle and claps as dancers take turns going into the middle and exhibiting their dancing. Everyone is allowed into a jam circle. And yes, that means you, beginner dancer. If you’ve got a cool move, or just really, really like the song and want to show that, or just learned a swingout and want to show that you did — it’s whatever you want to express.

A few tips on jam circles:

Make sure to give the previous couple a good twenty or thirty seconds before coming on, or until they clearly make an exit. If someone was obviously itching to go before you desired to enter the jam, allow them the chance. Otherwise, you will often have to establish your turn by simply charging out into the jam — don’t expect to wait for an empty floor or an invitation. Take a couple phrases if it’s a busy jam, or a chorus if there’s not a lot of people wanting to enter. Leave them wanting more.
Save all your air steps (aerials) for jams. There is almost never an appropriate time for a dancer to throw an air step while on a social dance floor.
On Dancing to Live Bands

Simple: Clap after every song. (Since we dance so much to recorded music, it can be easy to forget to clap when live musicians are tiring themselves out for our enjoyment on the stage.)

Clap a whole lot if you liked it.
Often, people respect the musicians not only by clapping, but by dressing up in nice clothes for the night’s dancing.
Don’t be afraid to yell or holler when they do something that really inspires you or moves you. They’ll love it, because yelling and hollering at jazz musicians is Old School, and something they’re not going to get from their next wedding gig.


Consuming alcohol at a dance can mean you relax and enjoy yourself just that little bit more. However, make sure you are in control of yourself and move to the bar if you want to make drinking your main activity of the night.

If someone comments on your level of ‘merriness’ it’s probably a good time to have a coffee and a sit down, away from the dance floor.

Giving feedback, or teaching on the social floor

Generally speaking, this is a massive no-no. Giving unsolicited feedback to your partner is not a good idea, unless they are doing something that hurts you, or makes you uncomfortable. Even then, give this feedback politely and diplomatically.

If someone asks for feedback on their dancing, then go ahead! However, it might be a good idea to find a quiet corner to talk things through.

Teaching someone on a social dance floor is disruptive to the flow of a night of dancing, and can be construed as rude and arrogant. The same goes for classes; leave the teaching to the teachers. They have all the relevant knowledge and insurance to impart good dance practice. If you would like to teach someone a new move, schedule some practice time with them away from the social dance floor.


These are just some of the most common ways we approach etiquette in the modern swing dance world. And, again, remember our overall important swing rule: There are many different ways to do it. You may have a very good reason for not following some of the above advice.

As long as you conduct yourself in ways that respect yourself, your dance partner, and others on the floor, you’ve got the idea.

It is also a good idea to read through, and acknowledge, the Safety In Swing guidelines as found here:

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