I'm going to be very blunt and share with you the details on parties.
A “Dance”, also known as a “social” or “party” or “freestyle”, is a social event consisting of DJ’d or live music and open dancing. It can be held in a variety of venues: studios, clubs, halls, cultural centers, hotels. A dance is usually advertised to offer a certain dance style or mix of styles: Swing, Swing/Salsa, Salsa, Ballroom/Latin/Swing, etc. Most dances follow a formula: a mini drop-in dance lesson is offered at the beginning, then the dance floor opens to everyone and goes 'til late. Sometimes dance demos are performed by the feature instructor or a variety of invited performers. Sometimes a licensed bar is available.
Most studios which offer lessons also offer dances on a weekly or monthly basis. Sometimes, DJ’s or dance enthusiasts host their own dance and hire instructors in to teach the mini-lesson. A mini-lesson is a great no-pressure place to “try it out” if you’ve never done it before.
There is a unique culture surrounding social dances. When you first walk into a social dance, you will discover:
Most obvious: everyone’s sober (usually).
In our culture these days, it is common for people to need “liquid courage” to get out on the dance floor. But social dancers don’t need it – they draw on their own confidence they gained from taking lessons. This is refreshing, for reason #2.
It’s not a pick-up joint.
Although many social dancers are “single and might be looking”, they are primarily there to DANCE. Social dancing is playful and flirty, but only till the song’s over. If you meet someone interesting, you can always have a conversation with them off the floor. But the dancing is the priority. Extra-curricular physical contact is NOT assumed: it is reserved for good friends or significant others.
Couples enjoy freedom.
Social dancing is about meeting people. It’s about developing your skills so that you can dance with anyone, anywhere, anytime. It’s not about clinging to your significant other all night. Couples who take lessons together may arrive at a dance together, but they will split up and dance with different people for a bunch of songs, then reconvene and dance together once or twice before splitting off again. It may seem different at first to watch your significant other in the arms of someone else, but remember #2, and you’ll soon get used to it. After all, they’re still going home with YOU.
Social dancing is based on improvisation.
It is not about choreography to memorize. It’s about taking what you know and applying it on the fly. Like playing a sport, you can know how to do all the skills, but you never know how the game is going to play out. Social dancing is a conversation. It’s more about the interaction between you and your partner than the perfect execution of a bunch of flashy moves.
In West Coast Swing, it is considered perfectly normal for men to dance with men and women with women.
Because of the nature of the lead/follow relationship in this dance, it is more common to see two people of the same sex dancing together. Sexual orientation is irrelevant. It is also a very good idea as a student to learn the opposite role – it makes you a more balanced dancer and gives you a better understanding of being a more responsive partner.
Dancers of all levels mix.
Beginners dance with advanced dancers, and instructors dance with newcomers, and intermediate dancers dance with Pros, etc. You may think, “Oh, I’m not good enough to dance with HER!” This statement is ridiculous in the social dance community. Everyone was a beginner once, and they probably still would be if they hadn’t stepped out of their comfort zone and “danced up”. Yes, it can be intimidating, but remember good dancers are just people. They probably suck at something you’re good at, so get over it and dance with them. On the rare occasion that you ask someone to dance and they give you “attitude”, don’t ask them anymore. They’re not worth it.
Good hygiene is necessary, good looks are not.
You will notice that some of the less attractive people seem to be magnetic – they are constantly being asked to dance. You might also notice some of the more attractive people being wallflowers. This is because unlike the bar scene, looks don’t mean much. How you move your body is a much more valued asset. An average Joe can sweep a woman off her feet and have her come back for more. An average Jane can be a mouse at work but a sexy, coordinated phenomenon on the dance floor. It all balances out.
On the same note - be clean but avoid Cologne and parfume because more often than not, people are sensitive if not allergic to certain kinds of olfactory stimuli. Your partner will be six inches from your face sometimes, so be considerate.