Is there a word or expression in English, which describes the situation, when you can't pass a stranger, who is walking towards you on the street, because you both start to step the same direction?

I'm pretty sure I've heard one once. As I remember, it was including "dancing" reference, but in more specific way.

  • It's an Alphonse-Gaston schtick. Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 11:02
  • 1
    I've heard it described as a "dance", but no real set phrase.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 11:50
  • Yeah, the only expression associated with the phenomenon is what one person says to the other, which is: "Care to dance?"
    – Oldbag
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 16:19
  • @StoneyB - Not exactly... but thanks for reminding me of that - it used to be one of my favorites.
    – Oldbag
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 16:21
  • @ Hot Licks i afraid, you can apply "dance" to many situations, but thanks for help anyway, as it reminded me that the expression i'm looking for was associated with dancing.
    – Aeternia
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 16:34

4 Answers 4


So after quite a search I found this one, which seems to match:

Sidewalk Salsa

When you walk up to someone on the sidewalk and you both try to move out of each other's way, and in doing so repeatedly move into each other's way. "Why are you late?" "I got stuck doing the sidewalk salsa."

[Urban Dictionary]


I believe you are looking for step-and-slide movement. It is mentioned as the reciprocal dance of two opposing pedestrians.

The term is coined by Wolff, M. in 1973 (Notes On The Behaviour Of Pedestrians, In: Peoples In Places: The Sociology Of The Familiar, pp 35-48, New York, Praeger.) and the behavior is studied by the sociologist Goffman also.

Goffman notes that sometimes the signs become confused, resulting in two opposing pedestrians coming into some sort of "reciprocal dance". Wolff (1973) is the first to describe the so-called step-and-slide movement.

This movement mostly occurs between members of equal gender and conveys that interacting pedestrians do not take a total detour or attempt to avoid physical contact at all cost. Neither of the pedestrians will move enough to guarantee contact avoidance or bumping into each other, unless the other pedestrian cooperates.

"Street Vending and the Use of Public Spaces in New York City" By Patricia Voltolini

The below excerpt explains the phenomenon from the viewpoint of cognitive science and the article calls this movement pedestrian jig1 also.

...cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz examines the special skill of the urban pedestrian: a deft and intuitive maneuver known as the “step-and-slide,” which turns out to be the secret to urban swarm management.

Horowitz breaks down this necessarily mundane yet infinitely curious move, which researchers identified after innumerable hours of watching people walk past one another in the street:

"If sidewalk traffic is dense and collision seems imminent, we pull this two-step pedestrian-dance move. While striding forward, the walker turns ever-so-slightly to the side, leading with his shoulder instead of his nose to turn the step into a side-step. We twist our torsos, pull in our bellies, and generally avoid all but the mildest brushes of other people (and if we do brush against someone else, we keep our hands close to our body and our faces turned away from one another."

"How to Do the “Step-and-Slide”: The Rules of Avoidance, Alignment, and Attraction for Deft Urban Walking" by Maria Popova / brainpickings.org

1 The Jig (Irish: port) is a form of lively folk dance in compound meter, as well as the accompanying dance tune. Wikipedia

  • I'm pretty sure I've never heard the term before. (But then I don't live in New York.)
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 17:07
  • It's a good answer, which introduce a very interesting urban society phenomenon. but isn't it slightly different example of "pedestrians` dancing", as it's implies crowded places? As the situation i ment happens on a deserted street as often, as on crowded one.
    – Aeternia
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 18:07
  • @Aeternia: It is more likely to happen in crowded places but you can easily apply to one-to-one situations in a deserted street.
    – ermanen
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 18:21
  • It's a walking variation of rock/ paper/ scissors game. If A and B each step to their right, or each step to their left, it works (both win). If one steps left or right and the other maintains course, it's a close call, but they can get past one another. If one steps to the left and the other to the right, it's a tie (an impasse) and they have to do over. Second try can also result in a tie. Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 10:32

A nerdy way to describe it as a form of livelock. The two actors are both trying to obtain a resource (namely, room to walk), and switching the resource they're trying to claim in such a way that they block each other from getting one, even though there's enough resources for both of them.

  • Interesting concept; please add attribution and a quote (you could add a little about related 'deadlock', how they differ, and where the word comes from). Commented Jun 3 at 18:02
  • @EdwinAshworth I'm not sure if I've ever actually seen this usage in the wild. Commented Jun 4 at 19:36
  • The Wikipedia article could be quoted. As it stands, it looks like this is your own invention, which would be off-topic on ELU. Commented Jun 7 at 18:49

I once encountered a list of coinages that combined two common phrases to create a novel phrase describing something else. I remembered two of them for a while, but now I remember only one, faux pas de deux. These phrases were invented, never in common use, but it's possible that you saw the same list.

If I recall correctly, the description mentioned not only stepping in the same direction but the common reaction of both correcting by stepping simultaneously in the other direction and then repeating back and forth a few times.

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