The Guide to Dance Body Language ‘Hints’ by Laura Riva

Social dancing is a language. We have our own set of cues and responses that people understand and respond to with various degrees of efficiency. There’s people who speak fluently, people who speak basic, conversational dance, and those who only know a few words.

Beyond the movements we use for actual steps, we have a second ‘hidden’ language. This language is what we use to communicate issues that we’re having with the other person’s dancing. This hidden language is sometimes MORE important than the ‘dance language’ itself.

This is meant to be a guide to some of the most common or most widely-understood hidden language cues that you should know for your social dancing:


Related to Connection:

Wiggling hands; shaking or pushing the fingers apart

  • What it means: “You’re gripping me too tightly or using thumbs. Please loosen your grip.”
  • More about it: This is a big one. I’ve met several dancers who use it as a sign that they need to re-grip or grip more tightly, rather than loosen. If you feel your partner forcing your hand apart or wiggling their hand around, it means you’re gripping too tightly.
    In really bad scenarios, your partner may ball their hand into a fist to prevent you from squeezing their fingers or their palm. Don’t let it get to that.

Pulling away from head-to-head contact (in close dances)

  • What it means: I don’t want that connection right now.
  • More about it: Sometimes, it’s because you dance too sensually in that hold. Other times, it can be related to personal bubble of your partner. However, it’s your responsibility to respect your partner’s request for more room. Remember: the less comfortable partner always sets the rules.

Hand pressing on the inside of the shoulder in close hold, or hips sticking out behind frame.

  • What it means: I want more room.
  • More about it: If your partner needs to push you away, you’re definitely insisting on being too close. They’re not comfortable, so give them room. Relax your hold and let them determine their comfortable distance. The less comfortable person always sets the distance.If hips are back outside their body, but you’re holding their upper body close, you need to give them more room. Relax your hold. Follows particularly are prone to this if they don’t want to push the lead away, but feel uncomfortable with the lower body proximity.

Gentle migration of the body towards closer hold

  • What it means: I want to get closer
  • More about it: Think magnets: if your partner is ‘magnetizing’ towards you, it means they’d like a closer hold. If they are resisting coming towards you, it means they do not. There is no arm pull necessary.
    If your partner wants to be close, they magnetize to your body. Your arms function as the frame that determines how close you want to allow the partner to come. Never use your arms to pull your partner in.


Continuing or Stopping Dances:

At the end of a song: connection is maintained; no indication of stopping

  • What it means: I’d like another, please.
  • More about it: If you also want another song, stay in the zone with your partner. If you’re ready to end, create the distance and thank them for the dance.

At the end of a song: create more space, turn the hold into a handshake or hug, and say ‘thank you’.

  • What it means: I want to take a break now.
  • More about it: If someone breaks the connection at the end of the song, it usually means they’re ready to take a break from your dance. Let them go as soon as you feel that resistance.


From Follows to Leads:

Resistance to a dip and/or tight grip on shoulders

  • What it means: “Don’t Dip Me”
  • More about it: You don’t know why, nor do you need to know why. Maybe you’re doing something wrong, maybe they don’t like dips. Maybe they’re injured. If you think it was a one-time thing, feel free to try again gently later. If you get the resistance a second time, let it go.
    DO NOT tell the follow you want them to dip. You’ll either get shot down, or an uncomfortable follow. If the follow didn’t do the dip because they didn’t know what it was, you shouldn’t be doing the dip.

Sudden hand on the back of the shoulder, or a sudden (out of character) backlead that feels like it’s preventing you from moving in a certain direction 

  • What it means: “You’re about to run into someone else”
  • More about it: This is when a follow is looking out for you. Look before you continue your lead. If they just saved you, thank the follow. It’s polite and shows respect for the fact that they had your back (literally).

A ‘drag’ feeling from your follow, even though they usually follow well

  • What it means: “You’re going too fast.”
  • More about it: This can apply to actually going faster than the rhythm, or you going too fast for the particular follow. Slow down; don’t keep trying to push the follow through it.

Complete rigidity in a usually smooth follow, OR a suddenly super-super light, disconnected connection

  • What it means: You’re being too rough.
  • More about it: These two opposites are reactions to the same problem. Basically, the follow can either protect themselves by trying to disconnect (go ‘super-light’) or by using their strength to hold on (go ‘rigid’). Both of them are signs that you need to adjust your lead-strength to a lower setting.

You try to lead something cool, and the follow completely disengages

  • What it means: I don’t [feel safe/don’t know/don’t want to do] that move.
  • More about it: If your lead doesn’t work, you can try again if you go gently and smoothly. If the follow still doesn’t get it, move on. More often than not, the follow is specifically not doing that move because they don’t want to do that move.
    Please never ‘tell’ them what you wanted – it just forces them to say either “sorry” or give you an explanation for why they didn’t follow your lead.


From Leads to Follows

A sudden ‘Freezing’ of the lead; a sudden stiff hold

  • What it means: “You’re about to hit or be hit. Don’t move.”
  • More about it: Sometimes, floorcraft doesn’t work out as well as we want. When you feel this type of sudden ‘stop’ to a lead (sometimes including extra hand grip), it means there’s likely another couple who is entering the ‘danger sphere’.
    Wait. Don’t second guess; stay still. The lead may move you out of a particular movement, abort, or wait a few seconds before continuing. This is them taking care of you.

A sudden lack of any lead, while you’re still dancing

  • What it means: “You’re not listening to me. I’m going to wait until you finish what you’re doing to dance again. “
  • More about it:  This is often used if you’re doing something that they cannot safely get you out of, and you are backleading. Many leads will just wait for you to clue in to the fact that you’re now dancing on your own. Once you realize they’re no longer with you, stop. Find the connection again.

The right arm in a close frame bumping your arm ‘up’ a little bit, or their frame is sinking.

  • What it means: Your arm is really heavy
  • More about it: If your arm is feeling heavy, it makes the lead’s arm exhausted. Before caving and totally removing their frame, they may try to indicate that you’re too heavy by trying to bump your arm upwards again. If that fails, they’ll probably drop their frame to keep from complete frame exhaustion. After all, follows are responsible for holding their own frame too!

You try to dip, but the lead is holding you too close to continue descent.

  • What it means: I don’t want you to dip more.
  • More about it: Perhaps they feel like they can’t hold you, or that there’s a danger from another couple. Whatever the reason, only dip as much as the room you have. After that point, they may not be able to hold you.


This list is not a complete list! Each dance has its own set of body language rules that dancers follow. But, these are the common ones that apply across most dances!


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