Whiskey and swingouts go together like peanut butter and jelly. It’s no surprise that many dancers love the idea of having a dance at a bar. However the reality of the situation is many of these bar dances are short-lived, often because bars don’t make money on dance nights. I’d like to see more bar dances flourish, so I have written this guide targeted toward dancers who plan to attending them.

Meshiya Lake at the Spotted Cat
Meshiya Lake performing at the Spotted Cat in New Orleans

1. Spend as much as you would on non-dancing night out at a bar

Typically if you go to a bar or club it will cost you between $0-$10 dollars depending upon how posh it is for cover. On top of that you will be likely to have one to three drinks which will probably cost you $5-$10 each if you don’t go for anything particularly fancy. If there is no cover often there will be a tip jar or bucket for the DJ or band.

I would recommending bringing enough cash to buy a few drinks or food. In addition if there is not a cover fee, I would bring some extra cash on top of that to tip the DJ or band. Cash means you can tip the people providing music and all the money you spend goes to the bar. Credit/Debit is a no go because it means you can’t tip the people providing you music and the bar is losing part of the money to transaction fees.

Bar making a profit = you having a fun bar you can dance at.

2. Be even more conscious about floorcraft than usual

As mentioned in an earlier post, while individuals may be more understanding at swing dances in studios and ballrooms. In bars non-dancers are likely to be less understanding if you run into them, especially if you knock over their beer.

To again quote Peter Loggins from his blog post Back in New Orleans,

If you want to learn how to be an exhibition dancer, that’s good for you, but don’t be surprised when a big Jarhead beats the shit out you after you accidentally kick him. It might be fine to kick each other at dances, studio’s and festivals but in the real world all bets are off….

Err on the side of caution when you are dancing in a public space.

Example of Public Space: Happy Feet Monday at (Joe’s Bar & Grill, Burbank, CA) featuring John Reynolds’ N. Hollywood 4 and friends

3. Remember you are going to a bar not a dance studio. Act accordingly.

When was the last time your non-dancing friends said you were going to a bar and you brought along a water bottle and dance bag? That’s right you didn’t (unless if you were attending a dance after).

Things to bring:

  • Yourself
  • Your wallet with identification and cash inside

Things not to bring:

  • Water bottle
  • 3+ pairs of shoes
  • Dance bag
  • Raggity looking t-shirt from that exchange you attended
  • Floor wax (seriously don’t do this, venues get pissed if you do this without permission)

Anything Else?

I’ve written a previous post on what to do when attending an event with a live band, which is useful information if the bar has a band playing for you. A slight tangent but if you are at a bar with live music which hasn’t been advertised as a dance it is always polite to ask the band if it is okay to dance. Some musicians find it disrespectful and intrusive to non-dancers who are trying to listen to the band if you are blocking their view with dancing.

Lastly, common sense in normal life applies at bar dances as well. Know your limits drinking, if you are the type of person that your floorcraft becomes rubbish after 3 drinks, perhaps 2 is the right option. If you plan to dance a lot and drink, make sure to get some water so you don’t get dehydrated.  If you plan to drink have a safe way to get home.

If there are any nuggets of knowledge you would like to share or questions about dancing in bars you may have, feel free to leave a comment in the box below!

8 thoughts on “Attending Bar Dances: A Guide For Swing Dancers

  1. We teach at a bar (“Nick’s”)… At the beginning of every series, I send out an email to the beginners that says [among other things]:

    ** What do I do between the class and the dance?

    Nick’s features a restaurant with surprisingly good food, a diverse menu, and a fully-stocked bar. Oftentimes, beginner students will order an appetizer and/or beverage[*] after class, while we teach the Intermediate lesson. We do ask, however, that you keep the noise level under control while we’re teaching; that’s just good manners!

    * – Wait, you mean it’s okay to drink?!

    I often say, if you’re so inclined, it’s perfectly acceptable to have an “adult beverage” or two during the evening. You’re a grown-up now; it’s up to you to make grown-up decisions. In addition to helping support the establishment financially (don’t forget to tip the bartender/wait staff), in some cases a little “liquid encouragement” might help you overcome any anxiety or fears you may have about dancing, and help you relax and loosen up as well.

    Having said that, however, please don’t be “That Guy” [or Girl] who’s had six or seven…TEEN drinks. Then you THINK you’re a much better dancer than you really are! 😉

    And, as always, it should go without saying: if you do choose to drink, please do so responsibly. Don’t drink and drive, and because dancing can make you sweat, be sure to drink plenty of water, as well, to prevent dehydration – and a hangover!

    ** And speaking of H2O…

    Please note: Management at Nick’s has a No Outside Beverages policy, meaning you’re not allowed to bring in your own drinks – including water! I’m told it’s a violation of Health Department and Alcoholic Beverage Control regulations (not just an attempt to nickel and dime their customers…)

    At any rate, we’ve been asked — on numerous occasions — to remind folks of the rule, so please, respect the establishment’s hospitality and look at it as an opportunity to get to know [and tip!] the staff, instead.

    In addition, Nick’s is one of the few bars/restaurants I know of that actually sells Gatorade, which, after an hour or two of swing dancing, can be a refreshing alternative.

    1. Thanks for the reply! Regularly reminding your students is a great sustainable option for encouraging the culture you want for your dance at a bar.

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