Tango is not only a fascinating dance but also a fascinating philosophy, culture and lifestyle. The search of tango is the search of connection, love, unity, beauty, harmony and humanity, i.e., an idealism that is not consistent with the dehumanizing reality of the modern world. The world divides us as individuals, but tango unites us as a community and people. In tango we are not individualists, feminists, nationalists, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, etc., but interconnected and interdependent members of the human family. Tango calls us to tear down the walls, to build bridges, and to regain humanity through connection, cooperation, reconciliation and compromise. It is a dance that teaches the world to love.

February 27, 2016

Floorcraft, Choreography and Hastiness

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 and avoiding zigzagging, not traveling against traffic, maintaining the flow, avoiding spot dancing that may cause obstruction to traffic, keeping a proper distance from the couple in front to prevent accidents, and avoiding dangerous steps that may hurt others, etc. While floorcraft does play a safety role, it is more than just safety protocols. 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 move 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 the legs of the dancers 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 orientations or in single size and direction, it also has a time dimension, made of steps in diversified tempos and beats 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, speed 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 more than words. Pause, hesitation, slow motion, suspension 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 middle 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 let her enjoy the moment, adding an interesting variety to the composition.

It must be pointed out that plotting the dance is the job of the man. 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 make the dance diversified, interesting and well-arranged so it could bring the woman's feminine beauty into full play. (See Revealing Her Beauty in Tango.) 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, leaving the man no choice but rush with her as a result.

I believe the above example is not a nonchalant play but the result of dedicated education. 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 was 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 the Americans seem to have a problem with rules. If after three decades we still dance like rebellious teenagers, something must be wrong with our culture. All 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 are in fact very good tango dancers. The following Italian example could humble us and make you envy of their tango.

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