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>> Dance Floor Etiquette
Before you read this article, make sure to read its companion article: General Milonga Etiquette
When we dance tango we are dancing with our partner, the music, the floor and the other dancers on that floor. Do not think of them as objects to be avoided but rather as fellow participants that you are sharing the dance with. Also, even when all of the skills below are exercised, know that mistakes and accidents do happen. The ideas expressed below are guidelines and not strict rules. The reason for these guidelines is so that everyone can have fun while dancing without interfering with the fun of others. These skills are called "Floorcraft."
Four Areas of Floorcraft:
- Dance floor etiquette
- Navigational skills
- Partnering skills
1. Dance Floor Etiquette
- Always try to enter the floor from an area that will not interrupt the flow of the other dancers already on the floor. It is preferable to enter from one of the four corners of the dance floor and not from the middle of a lane. Because of the limitations of certain venues this is not always possible, but should be the goal.
Men, try to catch the eye of the leader in front of whom you will be entering. Don't just push your way onto the dance floor. This is sometimes referred to as the "male cabeceo." Once you are on the dance floor, keep your head up and notice if people are trying to enter the floor. Make eye contact with them and the perhaps execute a turn to give them time to enter the floor and begin dancing.
Women, please wait for the leader to lead you safely onto the dance floor. You may be excited to dance, but don't rush out onto the dance floor.
- Always move counter clockwise around the dance floor. Do not move against the line of dance, this includes not taking large back steps and not leading your follower to step against the line of dance, instead all steps should be taken into the line of dance, towards the tables or towards the middle of the floor.
Exceptions: There are always exceptions to every rule. Generally you can take a very small baby step against the line of dance to begin dancing and you can take a back step into a space that you just vacated.
- No parking on the dance floor... use the space in front of you. Tango is a progressing dance and you do not want to hold up others from progressing forward. If space opens up in front of you then use it. This is particularly true when in the main stretch of the lanes. When in the corners, it is more acceptable to do turning figures, paradas, etc.
- Stay in your lane. It is generally accepted that the better dancers dance in the outer land. It is safer to dance in the outer lane because at most you will only have other couples on 3 sides of you instead of on all 4 sides.
Sometimes a floor might be big enough for an inner lane to develop. If you find yourself in an inner lane or in the middle of the floor then you should stay there, at least until the song ends and then you can move back to the outer lane. One of the biggest sins of Tango Etiquette is moving in and out of lanes during a song.
- Do not pass other couples. Try to maintain the line of dance without passing other couples. You should develop a vocabulary which allows you to dance in place without advancing forward.
Exceptions: An experienced couple might pass a less experienced couple that is holding up the line of dance by doing complex figures and allowing lots of space to accumulate in front of them.
- On the dance floor, we dance. The Milonga is for social dancing and not for teaching. Teaching is for Tango classes and practicas. Tango dancers choose to take classes with certain teachers and that is their choice. Trying to teach on the dance floor sets up a power relationship of teacher and student which has not been solicited. On the social dance floor we are all equal and therefore should not attempt to exert power over another. If you wish to teach, hang a sign.
- Do not lift your elbows. Some dancers believe that they should dance defensively by lifting their elbows to create more room for themselves. This is the sign of a very insecure dancer and is very aggressive and dangerous behavior. High elbows can hurt other dancers, particularly followers.
- Do not stop dancing if you make a mistake. Mistakes happen and a good leader should turn mistakes into opportunities to do something else.
- Do not verbally communicate with others while dancing. Leaders will from time to time communicate visually with one another while dancing, but this is for navigation purposes.
- Do not talk to your partner while dancing. Leading and following both require a lot of attention to each other and to the music. It can be very distracting to carry on a conversation at the same time.
2. Navigational Skills
- Use the corners. Always dance all the way to the corner and then make your turn. Do not cut the corners, this shrinks the dance floor and moves you out of your lane. This is one of the most common mistakes that I see on the dance floor. The corners are your friend. This is the place where you will have the most room to do figures and complex turns.
- Do not crowd the couple in front of you. Assume that the couple in front of you will not obey the above rules and so you should always try to leave them with enough room to do one decent size back step and to execute a basic turn. On the road, you don’t want someone riding your bumper so don’t do it to other dancers.
- Dance at an angle. This is one of the most useful techniques that I know of to dance successfully on crowded dance floors. Instead of facing the line of dance, rotate 45 degrees to the leader’s right so that the follower’s back is to the tables. Maintain this angle as you move down the floor and you will find that it is much easier to see the dancers in front of you and to anticipate any potential hazards. Of course, you must still turn and lead her to take steps that are not towards the tables but try to minimize the amount of time that she is stepping other directions. The more time her back is to the tables the less potential risk there is of someone running into her or you running her into someone else.
- Always pay attention to the leaders in front of and behind you, but pay extra close attention during the first song of a tanda, so that you can figure out what they are in a habit of doing. Do they take lots of back steps against the line of dance? Are they crowding you? Are they leading dangerous boleos? I always dance very conservatively during the first song and then make adjustments during the second depending on who is dancing in front of and behind me. It is such a joy to have well-behaved couples in front of and behind you.
- Try to make eye contact with the leaders around you just to let them know you are there. Often people behave better if they feel that they have a connection with you. If you see that the leader in front of you is doing something which requires space, give him that space, don’t crowd him.
- Use the space you just left. This is one of the most important skills to develop. Use moves that employ the space that you just left. Once you step forward, you should have the space that you just vacated available to you.
- Never step blindly. Always make sure the space you are about to take is not already occupied or about to be by someone else.
3. Partnering Skills
- Protect the follower. The primary responsibility of the leader is to protect the follower and not to put them into situations where they could be injured. Followers are usually more vulnerable to injury than leaders because they are on the outside of most turns, often wear open toe shoes, may have their eyes closed and are walking backwards into space that they cannot see.
If you see someone about to collide with your follow, one good strategy is to make a quick turn so that the collision happens against you instead of her.
- Dance to your partner’s ability. Leader’s should not try to lead figures which are clearly beyond their follower’s abilities. Good leaders will adjust their dance to their followers. A wonderful dance can be had by just walking, weight changing, simple arrepentitas, ochos, etc.
- Follower’s Responsibilities:
- Keep your eyes open. If the floor is very chaotic and full of inexperienced or rude dancers, then the followers should keep their eyes open and help the leader avoid collisions when he moves backwards. She can apply pressure on his back to prevent him from stepping.
- Keep the feet on the floor and under you. Do not let your feet fly out from under you and possibly trip other dancers.
- Followers do not execute high boleos unless you have a high degree of trust in your leader and the dance floor is not very crowded or your feet are pointed towards the tables. Just because your leader proposes a high boleo, it does not mean you have to endanger yourself or others. You can always execute a boleo with your feet staying on the floor if your judgment tells you that it is unsafe to do a high boleo at that point. Followers just like leaders should dance with their partners and with the people around them. In other words, they also have “to feel” the dance floor.
- Develop a dance floor friendly vocabulary. Some moves work better for the social dance floor. Ask your teachers to teach you some moves that will work well for crowded dance floors.
- Avoid moves that take you against the line of dance.
- Have a varied vocabulary. I often hear that all you need is two moves and to do them well. Well.. ok, but it will help to have a varied vocabulary so that when you need to get out of a situation you will have a move in your pocket to help with that.
- Look for teachers that teach technique and improvisation rather than step patterns and show moves. If you get in the middle of a complex sequence and someone is headed towards you, you need to be able to improvise and break that sequence and escape unharmed. If you have a teacher that only teaches complex sequences, break it down later into smaller pieces. Figure out other ways of exiting and entering or just take the part of the sequence that you really like and use it without the whole step sequence.
Conflict resolution: People will get in your way and will brush up against you and will even collide into you sometimes. Please be polite and forgiving especially if they are newer dancers, who could be easily scared away from the dance. If you do have a serious issue with someone, talk to them in private and explain your complaint with them politely rather than making faces or being aggressive on the dance floor.
Please share these ideas with your fellow dancers. Do not lecture them, but if someone comments to you that they have trouble dancing in tight spaces then share these ideas with them or point them to our website to download this document.
Questions and Answers:
Q: I do all kinds of crazy things on even crowded dance floors and move in and out of lanes and never bump into anyone. Do I still need to follow your rules?
A: Just because you don’t run into people does not mean that you are not interfering with their dance. Many times I start doing something and have to abort it because of someone flying towards me or moving into my lane. When I pick a lane at the beginning of a tanda I expect to have the same couple in front of me and behind me during the whole tanda.
Q: I lead/followed a high boleo and it hit someone during the dance. What should I do?
A: Apologize. Just say, “I am sorry for that.”
Q: I am a new dancer and I keep making mistakes when dancing and I fear that people might stop dancing with me. Should I warn them before I dance with them? Should I apologize each time I make a mistake?
A: We were all beginners at one time. As long as you are nice, polite and have decent posture then people will enjoy dancing with you. Most people in a tango community are aware of who the beginner dancers are so you should not have to announce that you are a beginner. I think you should only apologize if you came into contact with the other person. Generally there are no mistakes in tango, only opportunities for something else to happen. If you make a misstep, an experienced leader or follower will simply adjust and make something out of it.
Q: I have been dancing for many years. I don’t take classes and people seem to avoid dancing with me. What should I do?
A: Find a good teacher in your area and ask their opinion. Be nice and learn good solid posture, technique and an interesting vocabulary and people will want to dance with you.
Q: This one guy keeps looking at me and giving me dirty looks whenever I dance near him?
A: First, take a look at yourself. Are you taking back steps or leading your follow to take steps against the line of dance? Are you crowding up very close behind him and/or are you moving in and out of his lane? If you are not doing any of the above things, I would not worry about it. Maybe he just does not like the way you dance. Oh well, that happens. If you are really concerned with it, ask him.
Q: I am not there to dance with the other people. I just want to do my thing.
A: Well.. frankly, tango might not be for you or you might want to think about finding a dance partner and work with them to do some performance dancing, but if you want to come to milongas then you need to be willing to dance with the other couples.
Q: Some dancers cause me physical pain when I dance with them. Is it ok to refuse their offers of a dance?
A: Yes... you should never feel discomfort. In fact, if you are in physical pain, this is one of the few reasons that I can think of to stop dancing during a tanda. If they ask you why, then you might consider being honest, but polite, with them and suggesting a teacher that might help them.
Q: Someone offered me a breath mint, but I did not want it.. should I have accepted?
A: Yes. They probably offered for a very good reason... never refuse a breath mint.