10 DJ Tactics For When People Won't Dance

Empty dance floor

For good DJs, an empty dancefloor is not a problem, it's an enjoyable challenge of DJing.

Any experienced DJ, no matter how good or professional, has encountered dancefloors that just refuse to react as expected.

Sometimes, you're confronted with a crowd that it seems just won't dance, no matter how hard you try. It can be confusing to you how one night girls can be dancing on top of the bar gyrating to your tunes and giving you flirty smiles when the next week you seem to have weird, serious looking people and zero energy on the dancefloor, no matter what music you play.

It's not your fault!

First, understand that there are a number of different circumstances that can change the mood and feeling of your night unexpectedly. You as a DJ have to be ready for them and know how to react to this when it happens.

Events taking place in the town or city that you're playing at, door policy and even the weather can influence the crowd that turn up to your nights.

Just as a sudden surge in warm weather and sunshine makes people feel happy, energetic and horny, a blast of rain can do the opposite and take the mojo out of your night.

Big events in town related to fashion, sports or business may all mean you have to adapt to the crowd and go outside of your comfort zone to make people dance.

An overly zealous door policy can see the real party animals getting refused entry and your dancefloor filling up with people who don't seem to care about your music.

All this can be a challenge for your usually lively dancefloor! So what can you do about it as a DJ? Well, the first thing is to relax. There are a number of ways of dealing with the floor that won't dance, so there's no need to panic: as a DJ, you can try all of them. Here they are:

1. Have your secret weapon tunes ready

Katy Perry

Is Katy Perry your dirty DJ secret?

Create a list of tracks you can play as secret weapons. You should make a rule to only ever drop these when you have a really limp crowd or people who only dance to cheese. Make sure that around half of these are well-known favourites and the other half discreet dancefloor bombs that you've found yourself.

Don't ignore top 40 hits or old party hits because you don't like them. You may hate Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Wanna Have Fun or Katy Perry's latest chart hit but these tunes could spark life into a lame night for you.

If you really find it painful to play music that's considered cheesy, then find or make remixes of well-known hits to play instead. Justice's remix of the Britney Spears song Me Against The Music is a great example of where cool electro meets top forty hit. That way you can be cool and play to the top 40 crowd at the same time!

2. Find and know more music genres
To be able to react to different people you should be getting into different genres. Mastering one genre is fine but don't be a one trick pony. You really need to be a pro at knowing other genres too in case your crowd don't react quite as you like.

Organise your tunes so that you can flip to a different genre or sub-genre if your crowd aren't digging the music that you're blasting out.

Get to know and enjoy tunes of at least two or three other genres you are familiar with, identify the tracks people will dance to and try them out. You'll see this come in useful time and time again to wake up the energy on the floor.

3. Find tunes that you know girls dance to
When it comes to the dancefloor it's all about the girls. Why is this? Because when girls dance, not only do they look good but you'll see an army of boys follow them straight onto the floor to try to bust out a few hot moves.

These boys don't always care what music is playing, they'll just head to the floor when they see a hot girl dancing to try to cut some shapes and impress her.

Use your experience to make a list of proven girlie tunes, then release them when you feel the dancefloor needs a boost. You'll see those ladies liven up the dancefloor pretty quickly. Then watch the boys follow them blindly onto the floor, and chuckle to yourself.

4. Relax and become one of the crowd
All too often, we take ourselves a bit seriously as DJs. After all, aren't we there to play some cool trainspotter tunes that no one else has discovered? Don't you want to show that you know the best cool music around that no other DJ can get? You know, showcase some real hardcore DJ tunes with effects. Yeah!

DJ and crowd

Get out of your DJ box and mingle with the crowd. your enthusiasm and friendliness can be a vital ingredient in getting people relaxed and then dancing.

Well... yes and no. You can educate people and take them on an adventure of musical discovery. But what people really care about isn't you in your booth. It's them and their night out. That's right. All they want to do is enjoy themselves and have a good time.

Learn to relax when playing out and don't take yourself seriously. Enjoy playing out. Have a drink if it helps you get onto the same wavelength as the people there. Chat to some people near you, head out of your booth and mingle a bit. You'll feel better and less tense to be part of the crowd.

Very often, as soon as you relax you'll find yourself automatically playing tunes that people dance to instead of ones that you thought you "should" play.

5. Think positively
Without trying to sound like a sales guru trainer, you have to be able to react positively as a DJ.

Being very positive really does help you when DJing as you'll need to constantly boost yourself if the night isn't going as well as planned. Moaning that your crowd are a bunch of losers when they don't react to what you play won't help you at all and it certainly won't make them dance!

If they're looking like they just came from a funeral when you drop your peak time hits just smile, be cool and tell yourself you're going to turn it around. My DJ sets became better when I started to think this way.

You need to develop a reflex reaction to negative situations on the floor. Tell yourself that everything is going to go well and you'll find the music that makes them dance no matter what's happening.

6. Look at your dancefloor
Looking at who is out to have a good time tonight helps you gauge the atmosphere and get a feel for the kind of music they may like. Are your crowd more black, white, Asian or Latin?

Without generalising about their music tastes, the way people look can help you get an idea of what will make them dance. Are there more boys or girls? Straight or gay? Drunk or high?

Using your common sense to make decisions about what tunes to play, try them out and keep looking up at them from time to time to get a feel for how it's going.

7. Take a request


You may not like to take requests, but they can be just the thing if you need to get the dancefloor going in a hurry.

We all know DJs who refuse to take any requests but you should think about being open to listening to what people say if no one seems to be enjoying themselves. If you have a group of seven pretty girls who promise to dance if you play Basement Jaxx, then why not play it?

You can be sure it'll get some others on the floor too once a group starts to dance. Their request might be what you need to open up a bit and get the musical juices flowing.

8. Play out as often as possible
As a general rule, playing anywhere from the local hairdresser to the coolest club in town to the old people's home around the corner will help to expand your musical knowledge and develop your DJ intuition. So go ahead, programme your friend's party playlist, play out anywhere and observe how people react in certain situations.

You'll learn much more about how music makes people react according to their mood, persona and the time of night or day.

9. Invite your friends along
If you're not already doing this, then you should be. Make sure you do more than create a simple event on Facebook. Many people receive several Facebook event invitations per day and pay little attention to them. Be better than this and send only personal notes to more influential, musically minded friends of yours and those who know a few people who like a night out. People react far better to a personal message.

Invite plenty of girls that you know who are likely to enjoy the night. Rotate your groups of friends to keep them fresh so you invite new ones each time you play.

In smaller venues, having your loyal group of dancing friends present can save your life for getting people on the floor.

10. Start dancing yourself
If the crowd really do seem to be a lame bunch and refuse to move any parts of their body no matter what dancefloor bombs you drop, then start dancing away yourself in your booth. After all, you've done all you can, so you may as well just enjoy yourself!

Grab a drink, put on some great tunes and dance away to them.

The DJ's energy is infectious and for some people; just seeing you enjoy yourself will make them want to have a good time.


Making people feel good and getting them dance is what makes you successful as a DJ. Nothing else is more important.

Preparing and knowing your music well and being ready to play outside of your comfort zone is great preparation for being able to react and adapt to a crowd.

If you've got your music organised and you know it well, then you should be able to relax, enjoy your mix, try out different tunes and make the girls dance. If you find out things don't go as well as expected, the job is to get into the minds of your crowd and you'll be able to get them warmed up and dancing in no time, whoever they are.

• Matt is a DJ living in Paris, France. He's one half of electro duo Sao Paulo Punks and runs a DJ blog too.

What's your tactic when people won't dance? Have you ever had a crowd who wouldn't dance no matter what you did? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Good tips! You're dead right about having different genres with you. A while ago I DJ'd at a bar on a Saturday night, warming up and was playing some deep house. Not many people were around. Then I happened to play a track that had a latin feel to it. All of a sudden this groups of guys and girls started dancing and loved the track. Suddenly I was flicking through my bag looking for anything remotely latin sounding to keep them there!
    It turns out the bar hosts a regular latin/salsa kind of night on Fridays and these guys were regulars. Normally I wouldn't play anything with a latin feel but it allowed me to get the dance floor started on this occasion.

    • Had something similar a number of times too. At least once, it's taken a latino music request from someone to bump me out of my "I should be playing this because it's indie/electro night" syndrome.

  2. All great tips, thanks so much Matt! One thing I've been trying to work on is getting out and mingling in the crowd. With my style of mixing, I feel as though I constantly have to be behind the decks fiddling with the music, choosing a next song, building tension etc. etc. Should I instead throw on a pre-recorded mix during the slower hours of the night and interact with the crowd then? I want to do everything I can to get them on my side!

    • Glad if you find it useful :-)
      I would say never play recorded mixes ever.

      Instead, when your jangly nerves eventually calm down, when you're starting to get into the "meaty" part of the night, you feel that people are loosening up and you are well organised enough to have your next 3 tracks lined up (with 2 or 3 alternatives in case you change at the last moment)then you can bust one into the dancefloor and do a few stage dives 😉

  3. The Prodigy - Smack my bitch up

  4. This is the topic that separates the men from the boys. My favorite part about djing is getting the party started. I think alot of djs fail by 1) not being patient and 2) getting frantic. They see an empty floor and get stressed out, then they get frantic and throw every hit they can at the crowd. Crowds can feel it when you are frantic. Settle down, devise a plan, set the pace and the dance floor will quickly grow.

    • Phil Morse says:

      I've always preferred warm up sets too, for much the same reasons.

      • dj distraction says:

        Totally agree on "set the pace" and "warm up set".
        I organized my songs using iTunes and even within my group of Big Tunes, there are some tunes that I sub-group as Warm Up Tunes. This is different from the normal warm up tunes (you know, the deeper tunes), just to make people talk, enjoy the night and have some drinks.
        When I see them foot tapping, or starting to move their head or any part of the body in tempo with the tune I'm playing, then I start playing these big tunes' warm up.
        Then after that, guaranteed, somebody (normally girls) will start dancing. That's the time I play my secret weapon tunes, the floor fillers.

        This is true for both cheesy/commercial kind of crowd and the upper class socialite here. In the country where I live most people love top 40 or commercial tunes, can't blame them, that's what they always hear, radio, TV, etc.
        But the warm up -> big tunes' warm -> big tunes, set works also for higher class socialite, it's just that I have separate sets for cheesy clubers and Ibiza-type of clubers (the kids of the rich people here).

  5. I just hosted a house party in which I dj'ed. Even though it wasn't the first time I've dj'ed with public, it was the first time I had loads of people constantly dancing to what I played. I intended the night to be an exclusively EDM party and that's how I promoted it.

    Anyway, I wanted to play mostly electro house stuff which I knew only 5% of the people would know. After the dance floor settled in when the first drinks started making effect, the crowd was dancing to pretty much anything I'd throw but you could still tell when they were really enjoying it and when they were dancing just because. So after a while I decided to play a few remixes of top 40 tunes every now and then to keep the dance floor alive and happy. In the end I played mostly electro house remixes of top 40 songs and had as much fun as the crowd did. I even dropped Rebbecca Black's Friday lol.

    In conclusion, I finally experienced what I've been reading for a few months regarding dance floor behavior and realized it was totally worth it. So thanks a lot to Digital Dj Tips for getting me started on the right foot!

    • I had a similar experience at a recent gig, electro remixes of top 40 songs really saved my night. I have one question, how did you play "Friday"? I wanted to play it at my gig (I thought it would be funny as hell), but I couldn't find a way to work it into my set. Did you play the original, or a remix?

      • Yup! I found a remix online.. there's tons of them so it's quite easy to find one of your taste, even on youtube. There's even a dubstep version of it based on Skrillex and Benny Bennassi's "Cinema".


  6. Tried to help a DJ out this weekend using tip number 2 - it's been said on here before to try and keep a bunch of different music on handy.. sometimes the crowds just not feeling the club beats and it's time to throw a little Latin music or a group dance. Went from a dead dance floor at the bar to a bunch of people trying to dance Merengue.

  7. Really good advice about knowing different genres. The more educated you are about different styles of music, the more you will begin to see genres along a gradient, bleeding into each other, rather than as islands unto themselves. For example, a lot of modern dance pop, r&b, and indie dance all share a common influence in disco (and to some extend 80's synth pop). Learning how to tease out the different musical influences in a track will help you learn how to create really sick multi-genre playlists that will satisfy just about everyone in the crowd. You'll also begin to realize that you can make a track have a different vibe and feel by recontextualizing it. For example, if I throw on Shakira "She Wolf" between something by Black Eyed Peas and Katy Perry, it's gonna come across as cheesy and top-40ish. However, if you listen to the drum production in that track, it also sounds like a lot of modern indie dance tracks also influenced by disco and has a completely different feel when you play it between something like Scissor Sisters and Hercules & Love Affair.

  8. great article!!!! nº 10 is my fav hahaha and i'm shure that will be the one i'll do most... 😀

  9. Squarecell says:

    My secret weapon = Fatman Scoop.

  10. Sometimes, I use ABBA's "Dancing Queen" to get the ladies dancing. Or "Mickey" by Toni Basil. Or "Let Me Clear My Throat" by DJ Kool. Women of all ages dance to those songs. Usually, I can get away that because mostly I work in bars. Heck, man, I even put on that bird song. That one that goes, "Bird, bird, bird, bird, bird, what you know about the bird?" I agree that sometimes it's just the venue: drinks too high, the place attracts pretentious types, the place has a bad reputation, etc. Most of the times, I listen to what the women request. Nice blog, Matt.

  11. Nice article. I'm from Portugal, and I think that the two cheesiest countries in Europe are Portugal and France, so I know what Matt is talking about.

    It's a little hard for most of you to know what I'm talking about, because I think Portugal and France have an whole higher level of cheese, but just so you guys know what I'm talking about, this was a 1# top hit for months in both countries: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1xwtv2HRyc

    I play regularly in various locations. Sometimes the dancefloor is filled with people that just want to listen to that kind of trash and refuse to dance anything else.

    I do know that they want to hear that particular music, and that it would be a bomb on the dancefloor, but that's where I draw my line.
    I refuse to play something that I find embarassing for me, both personally and professionaly.

    Now, the I usually see it, is if you can't fight them, join them. However, this particular track, I'm simply unable to play. I find it to be embarassing, especially when my friends are around.

    The way I manage to get the dancefloor going is by working around it. Playing cheesy stuff, that I know they'll like, but with enough quality to be acceptable (by my standards). I manage to work for hours with the dancefloor having fun without having to touch the cheesiest stuff around, playing old hits and managing to fit in new house hits without having a dancefloor collapse. It's all a matter of reading the dancefloor properly.

    With these kind of dancefloors, you must keep an eye on them at all times, to see how they react to each and every song you play. Mostly because these kind of cheesy dancefloors are very hostile to anything that it's out of their musical taste, and the dancefloor can get empty really fast. So, always have a backup music lined up if you see an hostile reaction, and be sure to play it quickly.

    I do would like to know how you guys deal with these kind of ultra cheesy dancefloors.

    • Totally agree. Just because a song is popular doesn't mean it's bad. It's all about separating the wheat from the chaff. Some songs are popular because they're legitimately good songs, and some songs are popular because they're riding some new gimmick or trend. I take a similar approach to Top 40 - I guess I'd call it "tasteful" pop 40. Odds are, if there is some popular song that you dislike, there are probably a lot of other people who dislike it too. (i.e. http://www.phrequency.com/blog/music/The_Lou_Bega_Awards.html)

      • dennis parrott says:

        OH MY GAWD!! I have found my twin brothers thanks to you!

        The guys who wrote that Lou Bega Awards stuff are amazing!! Blunt force music reviews...yeah!

        Thanks for that Frank!! His screed about Katy Perry is hilarious! (...but if the girlies wanna dance to Katy, I'll still play it...)

        I'll be bookmarking that site!!

    • DJ That Asshole says:

      "I do know that they want to hear that particular music, and that it would be a bomb on the dancefloor, but that’s where I draw my line.
      I refuse to play something that I find embarassing for me, both personally and professionaly."

      Dude. Seriously?! That's kinda lame. Not even kinda lame. When I was watching Carson Daly in high school, I wondered how that guy could deal with playing neverending trails of stuff he couldn't possibly enjoy. Years later, I saw him say something to the effect of, "If I'm a bartender I don't have to like Jack & Coke. I have to know how to make Jack & Cokes for everyone who has money in their hands asking for Jack & Cokes." Thanks for the tip on that song! What about it is trashy? A lot of island music runs on that same beat. Have you ever been to a soca club? It's entirely different from any club experience I've ever had, and at the same time it had a lot of the same elements/conventions. The way DJs work crowds there is surreal.

      My Will Not Play List is really short and nothing is off limits under the correct context. I have been in a frat party where this shit made about 400 drunks jump the fuck off because I spent some time teasing it in the previous song:

      The people who paid me to work their party asked me to do it. I didn't turn my nose up the first time but puzzled, responded with "Sure, in a little while." When they asked me twice I threw it on next. Guess what? It isn't something I'll do every time I work (or even many times), but in the right context most anything is appropriate. If your attitude is that you're above playing certain things, then you need to find whatever niche is appropriate and work the hell out of that for as long as you can. In the meantime, I'm happy to figure out a way to make the crowd I'm given have a good night. That's what they're paying me to do.

      There's no song I won't play if I've got it and the right person is asking. If you put enough cash in my hand, I'll play "Don't Take The Girl" even in the bar. Otherwise, the answer's no unless it's your wedding/party (in which case, it's your party and you can listen to crybaby shit if you want to (2x).)

    • +1 (being from portugal i surely feel what you're saying)

  12. What is also true is that you can play one cheesemeister of a tune just to GET them dancing. Then once they are loosened up you can follow up with other tunes and just drop the odd cheese bomb occasionally.

  13. Great stuff and very true.

    I also think though that DJs, promoters, and especially managers/owners need to understand that not every event/venue/night is about dancing.

    Case in point, I played a few times for some cocktail lounges and European-style cafes...mainly deep jazzy/soulful house. My role was more or less "background".

    Once in a while I'd get a manager or someone freaking out because no one's dancing, despite the place is packed, alcohol is being sold like water, and no one's leaving. He's making big money, but doesn't seem to understand that the night and his venue isn't about dancing, but mingling and drinking. Even many times I'd lower the main volume so I'm not drowning out the conversation. You'd be surprised how much patrons liked that.

    I've had other DJs think I'm nuts, but they're only used to the logic of "fist-pumping", "music blasting", and people going nuts until morning...not a cocktail socializing thing. I roll my eyes even more at managers/owners who don't seem to get that...and they'll even book a DJ who is more about dancing, and wonder why their venue gets labeled "lame" very quickly and the crowd leaves.

    I've been in too many spots with little to no dancefloor, and the venue seems a bit more elegant than a big dance club, but yet DJs, managers, and even promoters don't seem to "get it" that they're not building the right atmosphere by blasting big hits and anthems as if it were a big dance club.

    The tips here are pure gold, and apply to most instances...but I also think people need to accept that some nights/venues/events are not about dancing, and the DJ should realize and adapt to it...rather than fight it.

    • Sometimes people just want to hear the music. It was a night many patrons kept requesting rock music, patrons who bought high-priced beer and tipped hugely. And they stayed a long time, too. Yet, some "expert" insisted I play hip-hop to hype the party up. On this night, the patrons didn't want to "hype" the party up. They just wanted to listen to music. When I did play hip-hop, the "expert" left.

    • You are absolutely right.

      When we stress because no one's dancing is, you should also realise that you cannot make something what it isn't.

      That's just as important for DJs to know too. Some places, you should just imagine you're DJing at home to your friends instead of straining to make'em groove.

      I wrote this all about those situations when you're the DJ and you're there for people to dance. Not every single situation is like that though.

      • I would honestly go clubbing more if these "upscale spots" with little to no dancefloor would run themselves like lounges as opposed to just a drive to get people to buy bottles and hear blasting big room music all night.

        I don't know why so many seem to think it has to be "hype up the party" music with $300 bottles of vodka. Now when I go out I'll hit up the actual lounges that don't even have DJs.

        I still think lounges with DJs as the background/atmosphere and volumes low enough to allow conversation would be a wonderful thing.

        • I'm with you on that D-Jam. I much prefer a lounge environment that has music at a reasonable level. I play a few venues like that and I often go walking around to hear what it sounds like in the place.

    • Love this D-Jam and you're dead right. I DJ at a club where I sometimes warm up for live bands. It's a pretty intimate venue where people mingle at the bar and mind-bending volume levels are simply not appropriate.

      I opened for a swing band a week ago and played it pretty cool - the fact that I got some jivers out on the floor to some well-chosen rock 'n' roll was just a bonus.

  14. Bruno Banks says:

    Great article Matt - I remember going to one of your Sao Paulo Punks sets and indeed it was a bit of a struggle to get the floor moving while you guys mixed in an off-the-wall track that got the peeps onto the floor. BTW you guys gonna be doing another set anytime soon?

  15. Harry K. says:

    May I suggest the use of a Mic to try to talk the unwilling dancers into dancing? I've seen a DJ (though at a VideoCast) use his Mic in order to cheer up the crowd and I thought this could actually work during a set in front of a crowd!

    PS: I'm new here, so Hi! :)

  16. I don't think that this is good.
    If you are a DJ who plays at a club night mainly playing electro house. What the hell should it bring you to play music that you hate and that doesnt fit the whole idea of the evening.

    I was clubbing last week and its just the city... 'One' Michael Woods (No Access) , My Feelings For You, Deadmau5 (Ghosts N Stuff), Animal Rights, Cirez D (Full Stop)... nothing, the most i could count was maybe 3 people with their hands in the air

    • DJ That Asshole says:

      I'm not trying to be belligerent here, I'm not sure what you're asking.

      If your crowd is not feeling the music you're playing, the root fix is either change the music you're playing or play a crowd that likes your music. Unless this is your house party, democracy/plutocracy/hegemony rules at a place where you show up with music.

      Shit, I don't know maybe this is huge club level DJ zen work and I'm telling you bad things. I don't know how reading your crowd with a thin veneer of disdain is going to help you connect with them any better. Someone telling me my music sucks and playing nothing I like is not going to convince me any of their stuff is awesome because they've already convinced me they're kind of a dick. You can be diplomatic. I tell people their music sucks with backhanded remarks if I think it sucks (and "Mr. Hit That Hoe" is a fucking awful song) but I'll still play it if the crowd's feeling it. My personal tastes inform my job rather than limit what I do. Jack & Coke, dude.

  17. BelgianJungleSound says:

    After my first proper dj gig, I can tell you playing drum & bass / dubstep (no matter how much I love those 2 genres) at a frat party is not a good idea. Luckily I wasn't the one playing dnb 😛

  18. If you really want to pack a dancefloor you should sit in a chair, pump your fist, and whistle real loud. Take it from this guy.

  19. I've heard people say this as they leave the dance floor..."What is that? I don't know that song. I can't dance to that." Just what I've observed. I have observed instrumentals that get people dancing even if they don't know who it is, but once you add lyrics it all changes to "Who is that and can I dance to it?" Bottom line...people are more inclined to dance to what they are familiar with or basic open beats that don't have lyrics beat into their heads. This is just my observation from the last wedding I went to.

  20. This is brilliant - and as I'm DJing a long private party tomorrow night, I'm taking in all the advice.

    In VDJ a few months ago, I created a virtual folder that I called "Get Out of Jail". Not only does it contain the sort of tunes you're talking about to re-energise dancers, but just looking at the name of it makes me smile and I can throw myself into lifting the energy.

    Wish me luck for tomorrow guys!

  21. Being "in the business" since the sixties has given me more experience than most. First Women just like to move while men do not like to look stupid in front of others. A woman will dance with just about anyone no matter how bad they may dance an lie rather than hurt someone's feelings but not hesitate to talk about them behind their back! Men are not stupid and are put off to dancing by this. When given the opportunity men are more attracted to "structured" dances like Swing, Latin (ChaCha) and others than risking looking bad "flailing their arms and legs about" like children. Since, for many decades, I have taught Couples to dance, I have found that it is easier to teach a man to dance than it is to teach a woman, you see Men know they can't dance and Women think they can! LOL This is not bad it just is! Men would rather learn using a system that allows privacy and promotes quality. Women prefer to be told what and how to dance even if it is bad, trusting anyone who claims to be an expert. Like it or not that is just the way it is. You have permission to show my web site but be forewarned, it is intended for instructors not amateurs. Don't forget to learn Dance floor etiquette and enjoy your dancing. Thank you - The Original Digital DJ (from the late 1960's)

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