Floorcraft Again

17th December 2009

(More Next Steps articles.)

"First, do no harm.
Second, dance"
~ me

"The closest thing to playing Frogger in real life" - David Bailey


So how do you do floorcraft? And how do you practice it other than at a milonga?

Well it mainly involves asking yourself questions about your dancing.


  • How much space are you taking up right now?
  • How much space does you next step need to take up?
  • How much space is there at the moment?
  • How much space will there be if the people around you do XYZ?

It's a lot like driving really. You need a certain amount of space around you to be safe. If you want to drive somewhere there has to be space for your car to be in. Now unless you live in the middle of nowhere it's unlikely the roads will be completely empty.

So you have a space that you use and that moves along with you.


Tango is danced a step at a time.

I've always thought it must be easier to land a helicopter than an airplane. Think about it, with a plane you have to fly in a hundred miles an hour, have enough runway to land on, hit the runway at exactly the right angle and if you miss you have to go around for miles to try again. With a helicopter you can pause, nudge over a bit, no go back a bit, a bit more left, yup that's it. And you can land on tiny patch of ground.

Same thing in tango. If you dance in sequences, you're an airplane; your course is fixed, you can't maneuver, you can't adjust, and so floorcraft is much harder. If you dance one step at time, you're a helicopter; you can change direction, pause and pivot as much as you want.


Mark off an area two paces long by two paces wide. Practice dancing in it.


Dance either a sequence or some random moves. Stop at a random point. Now ask yourself:
  • How would you take a large (and quick) step forward from here?
  • How would you go left from here?
  • How would you go right from here?
  • How would you stay here for the next 15 seconds without freezing like a statue?
  • How would you pivot the follower to the left?
  • How would you pivot the follower to the right?
  • How would you rebound the follower?


Balance is very important. Think of the films when the helicopter's tail rotor is damaged. Not good. At the completion of each step you both need to be stable and in balance.


Practice the Basic 8 but stop after each step. Check that you're both balanced at each step.


"Always leave enough space to be able to drive around the car in front of you, especially when you stop" ~ New York advice on avoiding road rage and car-jackings.

It's very hard to reverse on a crowded dance-floor. What this means is that if you go right up behind someone, you're stuck there until they move on. Stay back a bit and you have considerably more options.


Dance around a room but come no nearer than 2 paces to the walls, chairs etc.


This means knowing:

  • What's going on around you
  • What you're doing
  • What and your partner can do next
  • What the people around you are likely to do next

Practice is for practices. There are a number of problems with practicing moves in milongas

It takes up your awareness if your thinking about it

It's much harder to change adapt the move to fit the circumstances


Sit back and watch the dancefloor. Ideally get comfy with a drink. It's a good idea to take off one of your shoes as this will stop (most) people asking you for a dance. But you can also use do this to pass the time when you're resting or just didn't get a dance.

Now, try and predict what will happen. Where are the dancers beginning to get to close and cause a log-jam. Where aren't the dancers progressing into space - what effect does that cause? Are there visible lanes? Are the considerate dancers repeatedly having to step into the middle to avoid collisions? How are different people dancing? Who would you like next to you? Who do you want to be far away from? Who's dancing with the music? Who's dancing with their partner? Who's practicing moves? Who's completely unaware of what's going on around them?

Once you understand what causes the problems - don't do them!


The dancefloor isn't really shared equally. Simply put it's not choreographed. Different people do different things to the same music. So the amount of space in any localized area ebbs and flows. That's fine. There's no need for us all to march in lockstep around the floor. What can cause problems is people joining an already crowded floor.

"I think part of the problem is that a lot of people just plunge onto the floor regardless of how busy it is. I know it sounds obvious but guys please don't do this." ~ Gamecat

One common misconception is "one more couple won't really make any difference to how crowded the dance floor is". Fair enough, if they chose where to enter it ie where there's space. If not, although they may not affect the overall floor, they can make their localised piece of it much more crowded.

The second one is trickier "Can I dance on a floor that crowded (including me in it?)". Strangely "Yes" is not a sufficient answer to do it. "Can the people in the area I'm about to join, dance in a floor that will become that crowded with me in it?" is a much more important question.

Mixing (styles)

As you gain more experience as a leader you start to recognize what the leaders around you are doing. If you see someone start a rebound for example, you pretty much know where the follower's going to go next. The more experience you gain, the more easily you can recognize the signs until it becomes virtually subconscious.

Unfortunately if someone is dancing in a completely foreign style, you have no frame of reference and this causes problems. There are a number of solutions to this. Firstly become more conversant with other styles. You don't need to learn Nuevo to gain a basic understanding of how it works. It probably only takes about an hour and half of dancing next to Nuevo dancers to get this. The same for the other styles of tango. But for many people that's an hour and a half they never do.

Likewise be aware of what's going on around you. If you are dancing in a style that different don't use the normal amount of space. Dance a bit smaller to create a buffer zone so you don't spook anyone.


Either go and watch or dance with people who's styles you're likely to encounter for a couple of hours.

Watching Youtube can also be helpful for understanding how people doing Show Tango on a social floor move.


Give beginners leeway. Whether it's the leader or the follower that's the beginner, they may take a backstep (or two) every few seconds (because that's what they've been taught), the leader may be so focused on leading he doesn't have any spare brain power for floorcraft. The follower may simply not be able to react fast enough to follow evasive moves led on her. And so forth

But by the same token, please don't abuse this. Dancing with beginners doesn't give you license to start going the wrong way around the floor or start doing crazy high boleos all over the place etc if you know better. Keep it simple, play nice.


The overall lack of floorcraft in London is a mystery to me. What's the point in learning back sacadas if the dancefloor is a warzone? Why learn 12 step sequences if you're going to be interrupted on the fourth step as you crash into another couple?

Simply put, good floorcraft pays huge dividends in tango. With floorcraft, posture, embrace, walking and musicality you can really dance tango. Without it, you're just exercising.

 - Christopher O'Shea, 17th December 2009

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