Floorcraft and the scariness of the Milonga

Introduction

There's a key skill of dancing Tango socially, which is almost never taught; it has to be learned through practice. And it can't be practiced at home either, it has to be done at a (relatively) busy Milonga. That skill is "floorcraft".

Floorcraft, put simply, is how you dance without crashing into people. Mainly, floorcraft is the way us leaders keep our partners safe. Obviously, as collisions can (at the least) disrupt the dance, and at the most can cause serious injuries, it's an important skill to learn.

Floorcraft is the leader's responsibility, as the leader determines the direction of the dance.

Floorcraft in Tango vs. Modern Jive

In a stationary dance like Modern Jive or salsa, you basically have "your spot" on the dance floor, and you simply need to keep an eye out on the surrounding couples, focussing on ensuring there's an empty space in the area where you intend to lead your partner into. There are other elements, of course, but those are mostly common sense; don't do big moves if you don't have the space, for example.

Floorcraft in Tango, is a completely different experience. Tango is a progressive dance - you move around the dance hall in an anticlockwise direction. So you have to do all the stuff you do in MJ, but whilst moving - generally - forwards. In addition, if you're dancing in close hold, most of the leader's right hand vision can be blocked by the follower's head. And your follower may well have her eyes closed. And just to pile on the pressure a bit more, the typical positioning makes it harder to move your head around as freely as you can in Modern Jive.

So dancing in a typical milonga can be like venturing onto on a multi-lane motorway when you're just learning to drive. in an unknown car, with unfamiliar controls, with a massive blind spot, with a neck brace restricting your movement further, and with the possibility of cars reversing in front of you with no warning.

Scary stuff.

Don't panic

The good news is, it's not complete chaos out there; in fact, despite the above, it's probably less dangerous Most leaders exercise a good level of floorcraft, are considerate of their partner and of other couples, and make allowances for beginners. Also, Tango movements, by and large, are not as fast or as large or as uncontrolled as movements in a typical Modern Jive dance. And you don't really need to worry about having a wide field of vision, as - by and large - most people don't charge at you from different directions.

And finally, lots of people manage to do it, in the same way that lots of people manage to drive every day without having accidents. It's just another skill, to be acquired and practiced and refined like any other.

The shoe thing

There is a caveat to the above "Don't panic" thing - shoes. Follower's shoes are usually gorgeous - lovely high heels, delicate patterns, a thing of beauty and a joy to behold. It's difficult not to see Tango shoes regularly and not be turned into an admirer of them. However, they're sharp. And, sometimes, they move at quite a speed; incautiously-performed leg flicks and kicks can therefore be quite dangerous. So that's something to watch out for.

Some floorcraft guidelines

Here are some general principles about floorcraft, which may help. As always with these things, these are not rules set in stone, they're just guidelines, which can be bent or broken once you've mastered the basics.

  • Don't step backwards: Pretty obvious really, but you can't usually see behind you. So unless you're really sure that there's no-one behind you, it's safest not to step backwards. Rocksteps are OK, but a large dramatic backstep is asking for trouble.

  • It's not a race: The object of the dance is to enjoy dancing, it's not to get around the floor in the fastest possible time. So if someone in front of you pauses, then you can pause also - it's an opportunity to enjoy sidesteps, rocksteps, turns and so on. In general, you're taking a risk with overtaking someone - OK, sometimes you have to overtake, but most of the time it's best to simply wait until some space opens up in front of you.

  • But don't stop: That said, the dance is progressive, and it is based around a walk. So gratuitous stopping-in-place is frowned-upon; you should keep the line of dance moving. Once there is space in front of you, you should move into it.

  • Keep to the outside lane: If you think about it, when progressing anti-clockwise, it's safest to ensure that you're on the outside lane; so you then only have to worry about the traffic on one side. Handily, this also minimises the blind spot I mentioned earlier - if you can't see to your right, it's not really a problem because no other dancers will be on your right. Although you still have to avoid stationary objects like pillars and chairs of course...

  • If you bump - apologise: Finally, with the best will in the world, collisions will still happen - it's life. If you cause a collision, you should apologise - either visually with eye contact or verbally - and make sure the bumpee is OK before carrying on. It's simple courtesy.

For more information:

Here are a couple more articles discussing floorcraft in Argentine Tango:

 - David Bailey