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Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.

Tips for Folk Dancers
By Vonnie Brown, 1977

Vonnie Brown


The purpose of "Tips for Folk Dancers" is to provide guidelines for those interested in improving their folk dance etiquette and skills. It is not the author's intention that these tips are definitive rules that should be imposed upon all groups or all dancers in every dancing situation, for certainly there are exceptions to every rule. Rather, the intention is to provide a guide that will hopefully improve the learning environment, and assist the individual and the group to function efficiently. Folk dance groups should accept or reject the ideas presented in accordance with their individual philosophy.

The folk dance movement in the United States is far removed from the village in the Balkans, and it is unrealistic to think that we are one and the same in dance or any other way. Even the villagers, however, have the same rules that govern their dance, so a code of etiquette is perhaps not as alien to the dance as some people wish to believe.

The following tips were collected over the years from observing the behavior of folk dancers across the nation. They were not drawn from the writer's experience with any specific group.


  1. Join a belt line only if you are wearing a belt.
  2. When joining a line, do not join "ahead" of the leader.
  3. When joining a line, join between two dancers who invite you to join them because sometimes the "second leader" is at the other end.
  4. Generally, it is best never to join in near the head of the line (between the first five to six dancers in the line).
  5. Lead the line only if you know the dance well.
  6. Avoid breaking into a line when the dance is obviously difficult and you do not know the dance.
  7. Refrain from breaking into a fast-whirling circle dance.
  8. Avoid breaking into a line between two people who are friends and who had obviously planned to dance next to each other.
  9. When leading, do not change variations so rapidly that the rest of the line has difficulty following.
  10. Do not dominate leading the line; give others a chance to lead.
  11. Introduce new steps and variations only when you are leading the line.
  12. When holding the arms in "W" position (holding the arms forward at shoulder height, elbows bent) or "V" position (holding the arms comfortably down at the sides), keep a comfortable distance between yourself and adjacent dancers. Do not spread so far apart that the "W" or "V" positions formed by the arms is lost.
  13. Pay attention to correct arm position. If a dance is to be done in "T" (shoulder hold) position, then use a "T" position rather than a "W" hold, a "V" hold, a belt hold, basket hold, or whatever. It is very distracting, for example, to be in a line in which the dancer on your right is holding your shoulder and the dancer on your left is using a belt hold.
  14. In dances where the arms are held down in "V" position and swing back and forth rhythmically from the shoulders, keep the arms straight with some tension, and do not let the elbows bend.
  15. When holding the arms in a "W" or "T" position, support your own weight rather than resting you weight on the arms or shoulders of adjacent dancers.
  16. When using the shoulder hold or belt hold do not bend the elbows; keep the arms straight but not rigid.
  17. For belt dances, wear a strong, durable leather belt buckled loosely at the waist (but not too loose). The belt should be of sufficient width so that adjacent dancers can secure a firm grip. Avoid very narrow belts, rope-like belts, and lightweight belts.
  18. Do not cross your own arms in the front basket hold.
  19. Pay attention to which direction your body should face at different points in the line of direction if you are supposed to be facing center.
  20. Be aware of your spatial relationship to others in the line. Work to keep your line straight by not dancing forward or backward of adjacent dancers.
  21. Do your part in keeping the "circle" a "circle."
  22. Make a point of knowing which dances are supposed to serpentine and which are not, and lead the line accordingly. In most dances, you do not turn the circle "inside out."
  23. Be attentive to approaching ethnic styling and avoid adding your own "personal styling touch" to the dance.
  24. Once you know the steps, do not assume that you "have" the dance and can therefore ignore styling and any further practice.
  25. Be attentive to ethnic styling but not to the point of becoming a "snobbish" purist.
  26. Do not become so intent on "proper styling" that you sacrifice the sprit of dancing.
  27. When one more dancer is needed to complete a set or formation, willingly step in to fill the empty position (provided you know the dance, of course).
  28. If there is an obvious shortage of men for a couple dance, and you as a male choose to sit out even though you know the dance, do not count on being too popular with the women.
  29. Avoid making a habbit of correcting your partner.
  30. Be careful so that you do not become one of those who sit on the sidelines and criticize the skills of those dancing.
  31. Avoid correcting and criticizing your fellow dancers in their execution of a dance, especially if you do not know the dance yourself.
  32. Avoid correcting and criticizing your fellow dancers, especially if they are better dancers than you.
  33. Avoid being cynical and making fun of those dancers that perhaps you do not like but the others obviously enjoy.
  34. Avoid talking to others when the teacher is talking and teaching.
  35. When the teacher says, "Watch, I'll demonstrate," do just that – watch and do not do the steps along with the teacher.
  36. On a reteach or review of a dance, those experts who sit out and feel they do not need any more practice are usually the ones who do.
  37. Avoid interrupting the teacher by asking a lot of unnecessary questions, particularly if the questions are asked primarily for the purpose of drawing personal attention.
  38. In most cases, if you know the dance being taught, keep that bit of information to yourself and avoid offering suggestions and corrections to others on how the dance should or should not be done (unless, of course, your help is solicited).
  39. Generally refrain from offering suggestions to the teacher on how he or she should teach a particular step or dance.
  40. If you learned a dance a bit differently from the way it is presented being taught, do not immediately assume that the teacher is wrong and you are correct.
  41. Do not expect a "private" lesson during a group class.
  42. If you come in late for the teaching, do not expect to be briefed on the material you missed.
  43. At least always "try" to do the dances being taught. You never learn by giving up, nor do you become more popular with your peers.
  44. Avoid frequently sitting out during the teaching because soon you will be sitting out for the dancing.
  45. If you come to folk dancing, and you are well and able, come to dance.
  46. Avoid making a pest of yourself by correcting the teacher at every opportune moment for individual instruction and attention.
  47. Avoid asking your teacher whether he or she could take "just a minute" to teach you a dance that perhaps took them hours, days, or weeks to learn.
  48. In most cases, it is best not to record a teacher or performer without asking the teacher's permission to do so.
  49. Avoid handling the sound equipment unless you have special permission to do so. Usually, the sound equipment area is off limits to dancers.
  50. Do not offer your suggestions and advice unless you are ready to volunteer your services for putting these suggestions and advice into action.
  51. Assert leadership but don't boss.
  52. Remember that the person is more important than how well he or she dances.

Used with permission of the author.
Printed in Baton Rouge Folk Dance Scene, July-August 1975.