Rules of Road Important on the Dance Floor : Observing correct etiquette helps to ensure that everyone, including you, has a good time.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

True or false dance floor etiquette quiz:

1. A gentleman should dance with his right hand clutching his partner's bottom.

2. Cigarette ashes or beer are great ways to make the dance floor slicker.

3. Two-step and East Coast swing are indoor contact sports.

4. During fast line dances you have the right to steam roll anyone in your way.

5. If a couple strays too close to another couple on the dance floor, it's OK for the man to jab the other guy in the back with his elbow.

6. To learn a line dance, shadow someone's moves while bouncing off fellow dancers until you get it, the same way you'd play a pinball machine.

If you answered true to any of the above, you're guilty of poor dance floor etiquette. Despite what you see in many country dance clubs these days, the floor should not resemble Times Square on New Year's Eve. And practitioners of line dances, two-step and swing should not swarm the floor at one time.

In this respect, folks could learn a lot from Chuck, my plumber. "In Texas and Denver they have signs up: 'If you're slow, move to the inside or leave the floor.' And if you don't know you're slow, they have bouncers who will tell you."

The concept may not seem important. But wait until you're part of a crowd packed front to back. Each line of dancers has linked arms, the whole crowd is traveling around to a fast 10-step, and someone gets out of sync. Or watch the crowd during a fast walking wazzi or Kentucky chug. You can tell the novice by the way he swims upstream--and up the heels of fellow dancers--every time the herd suddenly changes direction.

Most new country dancers aren't aggressive, boorish knotheads. Chances are, they just don't know the rules. And rules are especially important because most floors in area clubs are small--so small that if you cussed the cat, you'd get fur in your mouth. And nothing puts a burr under my saddle quicker than playing bumper cars on the dance floor; if my legs get tangled with somebody else, we'd better be engaged.

Everybody has different opinions and expectations. But most people agree dance floor etiquette begins with common sense and courtesy. Before each lesson, instructor Cliff Cox used to tell his students, "If you're not havin' fun--go bowling." But there's more to it than the right attitude. And a few clubs, like Denim & Diamonds in Woodland Hills, even distribute flyers that explain their dance floor etiquette.

During group or line dances such as the tush push, dancers must make room for people who know the steps. When the floor is shared by people doing different dances, swingers and line dancers belong in the center--but not usually at the same time. And partners engaged in progressive dances, including two-step, waltz, schottische and polka, should travel counterclockwise around the dance floor with the fastest couples using the outermost lane. In addition, couples doing such country dances have the right of way on that outside track. And nothing or no one should impede the flow.

To keep things moving, deejay Rick Borja, "beat mixes" up to five two-steps in a row at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks. "Mixing the CDs provides smooth transitions between songs without a drop in energy. But I start slow and increase the speed of each two-step. That discourages the tendency for dancers to want off the floor when a song is done," said Borja.

But if couples start to disperse as the pace picks up, Borja quickly reminds them to clear the dance floor or claim the inside track of the "Borderline" painted on the floor.

Indeed, couples are expected to dance at the speed of traffic so they aren't weaving through people recklessly. And the man--who always leads--progresses clockwise in line of dance even as he and his partner are spinning. He never risks trampling the couple behind him by stopping or dancing backward.

And you should never take a cigarette or drink on the floor.

You will see several types of dancers coexisting on some local dance floors. But Borja said their club policy doesn't generally permit line dancers on the floor when couples are two-stepping or when they might be sitting ducks.

"Just a couple weeks ago the floor was filled with line dancers doing tumble weed," Borja said. "And I had to ask a couple doing West Coast swing at the edge to come off the floor. Otherwise, when the line dancers turn, run and slide, the couple was right in the impact area against the railed wall."

"As a dancer myself, I remind the crowd of dance floor etiquette. And the security guards enforce it for the safety and dancing pleasure of everyone."

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