Contra Etiquette

CD*NY is an all inclusive dance community committed to providing a fun and safe environment for everyone. Please take a minute to look over the following suggestions to help everyone have a great time


Anyone may ask anyone to dance. At CD*NY, we generally change partners for each dance. So go ahead, ask someone new! We especially encourage folks to ask dancers who have been sitting out, and experienced dancers to ask new dancers, so that everyone gets a chance to dance and to learn the ropes.

When the caller asks for hands-­four and starts teaching the dance, give them your full attention.  Listen attentively to the caller and refrain from conversation. Talking over the walk­through is impolite to the caller, and is distracting to others in the hall who are trying to listen

Folks of any gender may dance either role, or both.  If you know how to dance one role and want to learn the other, plenty of folks in the hall will be happy to partner with you and help you out. It is polite to ask which role your partner would like to dance . If you would like to dance a specific role, you might say, for instance, “I’d like to follow, is that OK with you?”

Dance with whoever comes at you. Don’t assume which role someone is dancing based on their gender presentation. (If you meet a pair of unfamiliar dancers in line and they seem confused, you can nicely ask which role they are dancing and help them get back on track.)


You are always free to say no when someone asks you to dance.  You don’t have to give a reason; you can just say “No, thank you.” If you ask someone to dance and they say “No,” take it gracefully and move on. If someone has declined to dance with you, the etiquette in our community is not to ask that person again that same night. If they would like to dance with you, they can come ask you—it’s their turn to do the asking.

Communicate your needs to your partner so they know how to give you the most comfortable dance.  You can always speak up if a dancer is doing anything that makes you uncomfortable: for example, “Please swing slower,” or, “I’d like your hand a little higher.” If you feel especially uneasy or unable to communicate such an issue with your partner, please seek out a board member or the dance manager—we’re here to help!

Check in with your partner every now and then.  Everyone is different. We have different joints, we get dizzy from different things, we have different preferences, we are strong (or not) in different places, etc. Because of these differences, we can’t accurately guess how our dancing feels to our partners; the only way to know for sure is to ask

If you like to use flourishes ask your partner if they like being twirled before each dance. The same goes for dipping—always ask first!  Even if you have danced with someone on previous occasions, it is good to ask each time because they might have a new injury, for instance, of which you are unaware. Remember that every flourish is an invitation plus an acceptance; if you are attempting to flourish someone, it is your responsibility to pay attention to your follower’s responses, and only carry out flourishes if your partner accepts them. For instance, if you go to twirl someone and they tug their arm down, it means that they do not want to be twirled. If unsure, ask!

Respect people’s space.  If you like swinging in a close embrace (a close blues pivot), ask your partner if they too enjoy this before initiating such a swing.

Keep flirtation off the dance floor (unless you’re positive that it will be well received).  While flirtation is often part of social dancing, it can make dancers uncomfortable and is not an essential part contra dance. Please limit flirtation to dancers who are known to you and have returned your dance­related flirtatiousness in the past! (If you’re at all unsure, ask!)


Don’t fret if your hands-­four gets mixed up.  Smile and use clear gestures to help our new dancers (and everyone) through the dance. If you’re really mixed up, just take a beat to think about where you need to be to dance with the next couple, move there, and wait for them to come to you

Use gestures and physical demonstrations to show new dancers how something works, and keep verbal instructions to a minimum—it’s hard for newer dancers to listen to you, the caller, and the music all at the same time! (This goes for beginners’ lessons as well—the caller can’t teach if there are other people teaching from the floor at the same time.) If you notice that your partner or neighbors are struggling, try to get in position for the next move early so they know where they need to go next.

Experienced dancers are always welcome at beginners’ lessons to help show newcomers the ropes, so if you feel like showing up early, please do join us! It’s a great way to introduce new dancers to our community and help them pick up contra as quickly as possible.

Refrain from twirls, spins, and other flourishes with newer partners; fancy add­ons can be disorienting, and may slow the learning process for those newer to contra. Please make sure new dancers have a solid base for understanding contra dance before adding any extras. Please also refrain from flourishes during walkthroughs as it is confusing to newer dancers who are trying to learn the basic steps.


Please give care to your personal hygiene!  Shower, wear deodorant and make sure your breath is fresh. If you are prone to sweating, bring additional clean shirts to change into over the course of the evening. Please refrain from wearing perfume and cologne; when bodies heat up on the dance floor, fragrances are more rapidly dispersed and quickly become overpowering.

And finally: we are all constantly learning and evolving as dancers and members of the contra community. We can do this best if we have an open dialogue with each other about dancing!