People often think of floorcraft as navigation rules intended to keep the dance safe. Examples of such navigation rules include dividing the dance floor into lanes, traveling on your own lane, not traveling against traffic, maintaining the flow, avoiding spot dancing that may cause obstruction to traffic, keeping a proper distance from others to prevent accidents, and avoiding dangerous steps that may hurt others, etc. While floorcraft plays a safety role, it is more than just a safety protocol. Floorcraft is also an important component of choreography.
In tango, the man dances around the floor and the woman dances around the man. In general, the dancers dance counterclockwise along 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 our legs were brushes, they would leave on the dance floor an intricate pattern with its own characteristics - robust or graceful, neat or chaotic, organized or disorderly, beautiful or ugly, interesting or boring, etc. - just like a work of calligraphy. This work of calligraphy is not only two dimensional, composed of steps in various sizes and directions or in single size and direction. It also has a time dimension, made of steps in diversified tempos and rhythms or in single speed and rhythm. 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, pace, rhythm and orientation. Good footwork does not guarantee good choreography. The following is an example.
These Italian students are skillful dancers. Their dance style, embrace, posture, connection and footwork are all good. The only apparent problem is hastiness. Young people tend to dance with great energy and eagerness. They chase the beats 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 marks, 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 even more than words. Pause, hesitation, slow motion, suspension and pose must 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 choreography is the man's responsibility. The woman's job is to beautify the dance with her flexible body and colorful footwork, but she cannot change the choreography. That responsibility lies in the leader. (See The Gender Roles in Tango.) Too often, the leader is so focused on leading the steps that he neglects his duty to plot the dance and make the dance interesting, changeful, diversified and well-arranged so that it could bring the woman's feminine beauty into full play. This 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, but the result of dedicated education and learning. Many tango teachers have made 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 am surprised to see the balanced level of their dancing in comparison to what I often see in America. Floorcraft is not difficult to learn, but we Americans seem to have a problem in following rules. 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 one, are in sharp contrast to how we dance tango. Please do not let my critique on the first video mislead you because the Italians, in general, are much better tango dancers than the Americans. The following Italian example could humble us and make you envy of their tango.