Progressive dances, such as foxtrot and waltz, are danced on a large floor like that in a ballroom or dance hall. Such a large dance 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, such as 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, not traveling through the center, keeping a proper distance (not too close or too far apart) 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, which tends to be crowded due to its small size. Dancing spot dances on a small and crowded floor follows different rules, such as dancing on your own spot or slot, not drifting around the dance floor, using minimum space, 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, because that requires a large floor. But tango is different, it is an intimate dance danced in close embrace and in compact steps that does not need a huge space. That is why milongas are often held in restaurants and bars. A small venue is more intimate, readily available, affordable and easy to do cabeceo. On the down side, a small venue does not hold a lot of people and tends to be congested. In a small bar like the famous El Beso in downtown Buenos Aires, there are often over a hundred people packed in a room about the size of a large American family room, dancing tango. People are jammed together, using whatever space available to them and dancing in very compact steps, drifting randomly around the floor in a generally counterclockwise direction. 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 floor can be crowded from time to time. Therefore, one must dance in accordance with the changing conditions. Sticking to the way that no longer fits is a recipe for disaster. For example, dancing in open embrace and using wild steps on a small and crowded floor, trying to finish a pattern even when that will result in a collision, or forcing an overtaking that may disturb others, etc. Such senseless behaviors are 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 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 tango's growing popularity, our milongas become more and more crowded and the ability to dance tango in a compact way becomes increasingly essential. Dancing on a crowded dance floor requires using close embrace 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 dance in very small steps, and the knack in floor crafting, etc. It also requires the dancers to focus more on the music and feelings rather than figures and performance. Without these abilities, one's tango education is insufficient and inadequate.