More Floorcraft

Original: 22nd April 2009

Revised: 28th January 2011

"Confidence is a virtue - overconfidence is something else entirely" ~ Cable

OK, let's start with the basics. You have to progress around the dancefloor in an anti-clockwise direction.

Um... actually... no. That may be basic but it's not the place to start.

Rule No 1: "Do no harm"

Remember it's your decision to get onto and remain on a dancefloor.

Asimov's First Law, in Tango terms, applies here:
A tango dancer may not injure another dancer, or, through inaction, allow a dancer to come to harm.

This means that sometimes you simply get off the dance floor. I do not understand why leaders continue to dance up to the point where their follower gets hit.

If you're a kindly person it's clearly a bad idea. If you're an evil lunatic, I still doubt you'll find you follower being hit enhances the dance in anyway whatsoever, and will in fact mess it up considerably - so presumably "enlightened self-interest" would apply.

Apparently not.

Asimov's Second Law in Tango terms is:
A dancer must obey the orders given them by their partner, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

If the follower is indicating she doesn't want to go where you're leading her, or that you shouldn't step back etc, then you need a *really* good reason to disobey.

And for completion, Asimov's Third Law, in Tango terms, is:
A dancer must protect their own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law

Sometimes you get to dance with idiots. Walk away after the first dance, forget the tanda. Remember you have the option to walk away during the first dance. The question asked was "Would you like to dance?" not "Would you like to be injured / get me injured?". I go to tango to dance, not to fight.

Rule 2: Neutralise the threat

The safest ways to do this are distance and obstacles.

If someone's dancing like a lunatic, if I can get to the opposite side of the dancefloor, I've made it significantly harder for them to hit me. However it can still be done with big fast steps and sheer madness.

Obstacles are another matter. Yes, other couples count as obstacles.

Rule 3: What's the most stupid thing they could do now?

"What kind of places do you dance at?!" ~ Amir Giles

It is possible to dance tango in very small spaces with others close by. As long as they behave sensibly. Consider how the different ranges around you.

What would they have to do to get from where they are to hit you? If they start doing it, get out of there. Remember you need a certain amount of time to react, not to mention somewhere to go to (it helps if you and your partner are on the correct foot too). If they're too close for you to be able to react and you're not confident they're dancing sensibly, get some more space between you.

Rule 4: Birds of a feather

You can create an oasis of floorcraft by dancing next to others who also have good floorcraft. Because you know they're dancing sensibly you effectively shield each other.


There's a concept in argentine tango called "lanes". It's a good sensible concept. Sadly almost no-one in London seems to use it.

In theory there are lanes on the dance floor akin to a motorway, getting progressively faster as you move towards the walls. In theory the motorway idea of leaving a 2 second gap between you and the couple in front of you applies. Bear in mind that unlike a motorway they may actually reverse! Ideally stay in one lane and don't overtake.

However there are a number of complications with this. A lot of people think of dancing in terms of moves and sequences, usually broken into one of two groups, "stationary" and "progressing". So what tends to happen is that one couple do a progressing sequence, moving forward and creating space behind them. Then they stop and do a stationary sequence.

Instead of the whole room moving as one, what happens in practice is what you get at traffic lights; the first car moves, there's a pause, then the next car moves and so on. If you're far enough away from the lights this time delay can actually mean that you end up moving when the lights have gone back to being red again!

Bear in mind that a milonga is circular. So the first couple forward movement eventually cascades down to the couple who's in front of them. Which allows the first couple to move forward again and so on.

There's a number of flaws in this.

Firstly most people's progression sequences cover distance fast. It's weird on motorway when the variable spped limit signs tell you to slow down and that in doing so you'll actually get where you're going faster because everything will flow more smoothly. Go slow to get there faster? You'll see it on long motorway drives though. Over and over you drive past the same impatient driver who keeps tearing past everyone only to get stuck in traffic further down.

Secondly the lane system works much better if there isn't a massive speed difference at any point between the lanes. It's a very different experience being passed by someone who's simply going a bit faster than you and gradually goes by, than being overtaken by someone who's just put their foot down to get past.

A way to take advantage of this is to use small steps. It's like the people who simply continuously drive at low speeds in traffic queues. The cars ahead of them stop and start, but because they're going more slowly, the car ahead has usually started up again before they would need to stop.

Dance Small

Dance small - in fact dance tiny.

Dancing small - example

It's surprising how small steps you can actually lead. When I started I learnt the "really big" style. So when I took what to me were small steps, they were still pretty big!

Small steps let you focus on more subtle tiny movements. The beauty is that really only you and your partner will fully appreciate it. You can also get some very smooth musicality from this. In simple physics, if you're making smaller movements you need less "oomph" to do them.

And finally

Remember floorcraft is more than just being courteous to those around you. It affects the quality of your dancing. Ideally you want your dancing to be fluid rather than stuttering.

Because, let's face it, if you want to spend an evening being bumped around, there's a whole bunch of other dance venues that are more than happy to assist you.

 - Christopher O'Shea, 22nd April 2009

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