Many people think of floorcraft as safety measures intended to keep the milonga running in an orderly and safe way. Examples of such measures include dividing the dance floor into lanes, avoiding zigzagging between lanes, maintaining the flow and avoiding blocking the traffic, not dancing against the traffic, keeping a proper distance to prevent accident, and using safe and compact steps, etc.
While floorcraft plays a crucial role in keeping the dance in order, it is more than just safety protocols. Floorcraft is an important component of choreography. In tango, the man dances around the floor and the woman dances around the man. In general, the couple moves forward counterclockwise around the line of dance, but their dancing route is not a straight line. Rather, it is a random course with alternate right and left moves, forward and backward steps, and various turns. If the legs of the dancers were brushes, they would leave on the floor an intricate pattern with its own character - graceful or vigorous, neat or chaotic, beautiful or plain, organized or disorderly, interesting or boring, etc., just like a work of calligraphy. This work of calligraphy is not only two dimensional, composed of footwork in large, small, conspicuous and inconspicuous strokes and in random orientations, or composed of steps in uniform size and single direction. It also has a time dimension, made of steps in a variety of tempos and suspensions, or made of steps in constant speed without hesitation, etc. Floorcraft is an art by its own right. A couple can be skillful in footwork, but their floorcraft or choreography can still be monotonous in size, orientation, speed and rhythm. Good footwork does not guarantee good choreography. The following is an example.
These Italian students are skilled dancers. Their dance style, embrace, connection, footwork and sense of rhythm are all good. The only evident problem is hastiness. Young people are energetic. They tend to dance with great eagerness and haste, stepping on every beat regardless of the mood of the music. In this example, every couple is chasing the beats and doesn't know how to slow down. There is a lack of rest, subtle movement, slow motion, and momentary pause in their dance. Dancers, especially young dancers, need to know that dancing to the music does not require stepping on every beat. Dance is like other composition arts. In writing you need to use punctuation, in painting you need to use empty space, in calligraphy you need to leave margins, and in tango you need to pause. Silence is also an expression, which sometimes speaks more than words. Hesitation, slow motion, pause and pose must also be a part of your tango vocabulary.
In comparison, the following example is more relaxed and tasteful.
These Hungarian dancers are about the same age, but they dance in an easygoing and unhurried way, slower, and use more pauses. The glaring example is the couple in white and purple appeared at 0:00-0:35 in the center and again 0:55-1:05 to the right. The man danced patiently, giving the woman enough time to finish her steps and not pushing her to chase the beats. Sometimes he paused to enjoy the moment, adding an interesting variety to the composition. It must be pointed out that floor crafting is mainly the man's job. The woman's job is to beautify the dance with her colorful footwork, but she cannot change the choreography. That responsibility lies in the leader. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) Too often, we see men so focus on the steps that they neglect their leading duty, which is to plot the dance, making it interesting, diversified, musical and well-arranged, so that it can bring the woman's feminine beauty into full play. That is not to say that the woman does not contribute to the choreography. Often, the couple rushes because the woman dances with great haste, forcing the man to rush with her as a result. A good follower inspires the leader and allows him the complete freedom to lead and shine her. Tango is a teamwork in which the two sexes play different roles. It requires intimate cooperation between the partners.
I believe the above example is not a nonchalant play without deliberate efforts, but the result of dedicated education and learning. Many tango organizers and teachers make great efforts in teaching floorcraft to their students. The following is an example.
As the woman teacher said, they talk about floorcraft every year, every day, in every class, and in every milonga. The result is demonstrated in the following video, which, although long, is worth your time to watch at least to the chacarera.
This event, Romolino Tango Festival, is held in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. I was surprised to see the balanced level of their tango dancing, in comparison to what I often see in the milongas and festivals in the US. Floorcraft is not difficult to teach and learn. If after three decades the Americans still dance like rebellious teenagers, something must be wrong with our culture. All the above examples, including the first Italian tango marathon, are in sharp contrast to how we Americans dance tango. Please do not be biased by my critique on the first clip, because the Italians are very good tango dancers. The following Italian example may humble us and make us envy of their tango.