Not just another grumble about the F word

I debated whether to write this post. Floorcraft is a perennial topic, and the view from friends who’ve been in London tango far longer than I have is that nothing is going to change, so there’s not a lot of point in yet another discussion about it.

But at the same time, it is without question one of the biggest differences between tango in Buenos Aires, and that of London – and during my recent month-long stay in Argentina, I came to see the topic in a whole new light …

Floorcraft isn’t just a matter of courtesy

I used to see floorcraft purely as a matter of courtesy, but in BsAs I came to appreciate that it’s much more than that. It’s about dancing with the other couples as well as your partner. Not just in the deliciously romantic ideal of the whole ronda moving as one (though I have experienced that), but in the very practical sense of creating spaces for those next to us, and using the spaces they create for us.

When people are aware of those around them, and play with space in that way, dancing in a crowded milonga actively contributes to the enjoyment of the dance. In London, a crowded floor is generally stressful; in BsAs, it can be (<cough>La Viruta), but generally it’s not – and it can be a joy. Often, I was happier dancing on a very crowded floor than I would have been on an emptier one, and I never imagined myself saying that!

I can remember plenty of moments in crowded milongas where both my partner and I, and the couples immediately adjacent to us, were grinning as we weaved around each other. I really did feel we were dancing with those couples too.

I realised this time that this is fundamental to the experience of dancing tango in BsAs. A lack of floorcraft isn’t just about a few wannabe performers showing disrespect to everyone around them: it’s about the difference between dancing in your own little bubble, and social dancing.

One modest proposal

Maybe those weary of the topic are right, and there isn’t anything we can do about it. But I’m not yet so pessimistic. I’ve seen what’s possible in BsAs, and I’ve seen the same thing at a couple of festivals outside London – The Feast and Etonathon.

The ‘how’ is trickier, of course. Argentines tell me that selfish dancing simply isn’t tolerated. Hosts will have words, and if necessary other leaders will do the same, less quietly. Of course, I’m British rather than Argentinian, so the most extreme responses open to me are to slightly raise an eyebrow, or – in the absolute worst of cases – to tut almost audibly.

But I can favour milongas less prone to this issue. I can look for those which emphasise floorcraft expectations, travelling outside London as needed. If enough people vote with their feet, organisers will respond.

I’m sure many of those longer in the tango tooth than me will be rolling their eyes, and it may well be they are right to do so, and the solution is simply to dance more outside London. But I’d like to see organisers try one small experiment: emphasise floorcraft in milonga promotions. Thames Valley Tango, for example, includes this in its milonga descriptions:

Enjoy considerate floorcraft, and traditional codigos such as the Cabeceo.

Three words – but three words which convey an important message about the ethos of the event, and the expectations of those who participate.

Tango Feast has a little more to say:

Floor Craft (line of dance), ronda. It is not rocket science, it is line of dance! A Tango Feast is renowned for its relaxed dancing in a friendly and respectful atmosphere. To keep it like this we ask you, please, to be aware of other dancers. While expressing yourselves do make your priority the line of dance, don’t jump onto the dance floor or move from one line of dance to another without first ensuring you will not upset the dancers near and around you.

Perhaps if London organisers did the same – and backed it with the occasional quiet word – things might change, in time?

With a potentially huge reward

The potential rewards of true floorcraft – BsAs style – are far greater than not having to take evasive action to avoid being hit by the guy who thinks he’s Chico. It’s about opening up the possibility of experiencing the dance on a whole new level, where we have one primary partner during the tanda – but where we also partner with those around us.

Am I a dreamer?

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