Alright, here’s my footsies speech. I wrote this for my local smash group, and now I’m passing it on to you.
A lot of beginners when they learn to dash dance, don’t really know what dash dancing is for. They just do it because they know it’s tech and makes you unpredictable, then they get scraped because nobody’s going to respect someone who just DDs in place. Dash dancing really starts to work for you when you learn how to use your dash purposefully. You gotta understand that dash dancing isn’t just moving back and forth to be less predictable, it’s about your character having a certain range of space on the ground that they can move at maximum speed through, capable of weaving around attacks, and as long as you keep turning back at the periphery of this range, you can keep weave around anything. It’s helpful to be familiar with all the movement states in Melee, I might cover those in a different guide.
The first component of this is whiff punishing. When someone attacks you, and it misses, there is a period where that attack must recover. Dashes in Smash Bros are so fast that they can get in on people during that period, and usually grab them (depends on the character). So what you can do is, if someone comes at you with an attack, you can stand within that attack’s range, dash out of the range, let the attack whiff (miss you), and dash back in to grab them. This is the basic whiff punish.
You can whiff punish grabs, dash attacks, SHFFLs (on almost all characters), most tilts, most smash attacks, and a lot of other options, as long as you have enough space to move back, then forward, to hit your opponent when they miss. Because whiff punishes work on so many things, they’re extremely useful. They can beat out a lot of air and special move options too, forcing the opponent to respect whiff punishes on the ground.
Your other two footsie options are Pokes, and “Going Deep”. Pokes are moves you throw out to prevent your opponent from moving in on you. Poking too close to an opponent can lead to getting shield grabbed, so you want to poke at max range, while still hitting them. You want to throw pokes into the space your opponent is about to move into. Pokes are almost always fast startup moves with fast recovery and decent range, so Ftilts and Dtilts on many characters apply, as well as many character’s SHFFLs. Pokes get beaten by whiff punishes, unless they connect with either the opponent’s body or their shield.
Pokes can be beaten by other pokes, these are called counter pokes. Like a SHFFL will beat a dtilt frequently, and many ftilts or utilts can beat SHFFLs, but dtilts can go under those or outspeed them, beating those out. Poking before your opponent does will also beat their poke. Again, these options vary by character.
“Going Deep” is the equivalent to Throwing in Street Fighter, the idea is that when your opponent is non-commital, trying to bait something from you to whiff punish. If you go deep, then they need to poke you to force you out, or they get hit. Many attacks are great for this, especially because you can run cancel when you go outside your dash dance range. Dash attacks work for this on many characters as well. The idea is to overlap the space they’re going to dash in with a hitbox.
Pokes < Whiff Punishes < Going Deep (< Pokes again)
So you have this counter triangle, Pokes stop your opponent from moving in on you, going deep. Whiff punishes will beat pokes by avoiding getting hit, and retaliating. Going deep will beat noncommittal dash dancing, so it beats whiff punishes. Of course, poking to keep people out of your space can itself be whiff punished, so you can move into people’s space then out of it to bait a poke, and whiff punish that poke. Moving in is pressure, moving out is bait.
The goal is to watch what your opponent is doing, because you get to see what they’re about to do based on the way they move before they do it, then make a read, and try to beat whichever one of these three options they attempt, and convert that into a punish ideally. Figure out which of these three they’re relying on the most, and try to focus on the options that beat their particular play style, as well as read which option they’re going to go for right here and now.
All of these things open you up to risk, none of them are perfectly safe. Everything counts as a commitment in its own way. If you get scared, then you’re not going to make yourself safer by overly committing to any one option. Victory depends on your ability to figure out your opponent’s patterns while they simultaneously try to figure out yours, and both of you adjust on the fly based on what you just saw your opponent do. But this isn’t perfect rock paper scissors, you get hints based on what your opponent does before they actually commit.
So have some fun, change up your patterns, and figure out what theirs are before they catch on to you.
SSBMtutorials by Kira did a video on this topic and has a similar basis to mine with different terms.