Many people think of floorcraft as navigation rules intended to keep the dance orderly and safe. Examples of such rules include dividing the floor into lanes, avoiding zigzagging between lanes, not dancing against the traffic, maintaining the traffic flow, avoiding spot dancing that may cause obstruction to traffic, keeping a proper distance from others to prevent accident, and using safe and compact steps, etc. While floorcraft does play such a role, 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 dance 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 their legs were brushes, they would leave on the floor an intricate pattern with its own characteristic - robust or graceful, neat or chaotic, organized or disorderly, beautiful or plain, 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 different tempos, or made of steps in constant speed. Floorcraft is an art by its own right. A couple may be skillful in footwork, but their floorcraft or choreography can still be monotonous in size, speed, rhythm and orientation. Good footwork does not guarantee good choreography. The following is an example.
These Italian students are skilled dancers. Their dance style, embrace, posture, connection, footwork and rhythm are all good. The only evident problem is hastiness. Young people seem tend to dance with great eagerness and energy. They chase the beats, step on every beat regardless of the mood of the music, and don't know how to slow down. There is a lack of rest, subtlety, slow motion, suspension and pause in their dance.
Dancers, especially young dancers, need to know that dancing to 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 use margins, and in tango you need to pause. Silence is also an expression, which sometimes speaks more than words. Hesitation, slow motion, suspension, 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 danced in an easygoing and unhurried way, slower, and using 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 step 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.
I believe the above example is not a nonchalant play without 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 dancing, in comparison to what I often see 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 above examples, including the first Italian tango marathon, are in sharp contrast to how we Americans dance tango. Please do not let my critique on the first clip prevent you from seeing the fact that the Italians are very good tango dancers. The following Italian example may humble us and make us envy of their tango.