Progressive dances, such as foxtrot and waltz, are danced on a large dance floor like that in a ballroom or dance hall. Such a large floor is divided into two sections: the outer travelling lanes for progressive dancing, and the inner or center floor for spot dancing. Dancing progressive dance needs to follow certain rules, including traveling counterclockwise around the line of dance, not moving against traffic, maintaining the flow, avoiding spot dancing that could hold up traffic, avoiding frequent lane changes, moving to the center if you like to do spot dancing or practice new steps, not traveling through the center, keeping a proper distance from the couple dancing in front of you, adapting patterns to what the traffic permits, not focusing on completing a pattern if a collision can result, not forcing your way to overtake, etc.
Spot dances, such as disco and salsa, are danced in a fixed area. Such dances can be danced on a small floor like that in a restaurant or bar. Dancing spot dances on a small dance floor follows different rules, including dancing on your own spot or slot, using minimum space, not drifting around the dance floor, using compact dance hold or embrace, using small steps, avoiding dangerous movements, respecting the dance spaces of others, not pushing or elbowing your way around, etc.
Now, is tango a progressive dance or a spot dance? What floor size is better suited for tango dancing? Which set of rules apply when it is danced on a small and crowded floor? There is no simple answer to these questions because tango, though a progressive dance in general, can also be danced on a tiny spot. The following is an example.
People do not dance foxtrot and waltz on a coffee table. But tango is different. It is danced in close embrace with compact steps, thus does not need a large floor. That is why milongas are often held in a restaurant or bar. On the up side, a small floor is easy to find, affordable and facile to do cabeceo. On the down side, a small floor cannot hold a lot of people and tends to be congested. In the famous bar El Beso in downtown Buenos Aires, for example, there are often over one hundred people packed in a room in the size of a large American family room, dancing tango. People are jammed together, using whatever space available to them, dancing in very compact steps. Obviously, in places like that you have to follow rules different from that in a spacious ballroom where lanes are divided, free travel is possible, and open embrace and fancy steps are allowed. We dance tango in various venues. Some are big, others are small. Some are sparsely populated, others are tightly packed. Even a large dance floor can become crowded from time to time. Therefore, one must dance in accordance with the changing situation. Sticking to the way that no longer fits, such as dancing in open embrace and using wild steps on a crowded floor, trying to finish a pattern when that will result in a collision, forcing an overtaking that will disturb others, etc., is a recipe for disaster. Such senseless behavior is a major cause of accidents in our milongas. (See Milonga Codes.)
This happens often because people do not know how to do spot-dancing. Many students are only taught to dance tango progressively in open embrace and with big fancy steps on a large dance floor. They have never learned to dance tango in close embrace and with compact steps on a small and crowded floor. However, with the growing popularity of tango, our milongas become more and more crowded, thus the ability to dance it in a compact way becomes increasingly essential. Dancing tango on a crowded dance floor requires using close embrace, small steps and a different set of skills such as changing position from one side of the partner to the other side of the partner in a very compact way, a much better command on dissociation, the ability to do spot-dancing, and the knack in floor crafting, etc. It also requires the dancers to focus more on the music and feelings rather than footwork and figures. Without these abilities, one's tango education is insufficient and inadequate.