Social dancing floorcraft - dance floor survival basics (Part 1)

Imagine a big open space and your favorite song - you can already see yourself dancing across the floor, can’t you? I love a dance that covers the entire floor space, gliding from one end of the room to the other. But most times you go out dancing you don’t have a massive open space: you’re on a dance floor full of people.

The dance floor is open to everybody and no matter how crowded the floor is and no matter if you’re a beginner or a professional dancer, you have an equal share of the floor. So how can I get the best out of the space so that everybody on the dance floor can enjoy their moment? Well, I looked it up. Welcome to Zouk The World's “Floorcraft 101”!



What is Floorcraft?

Floorcraft essentially means the way you craft your dance around the busy dance floor. It stands for the written and (mostly) unwritten guidelines about managing your space and your dance in relation to the other people and the objects around you. Floorcraft relates to your ability to observe, react and adapt the movement to what is happening around you. A skilled dancer can have good dance and at the same time take into account others on the floor.


Floorcraft in social dancing and Brazilian zouk

If you look up floorcraft, you’ll be bound to stumble upon long lists of rules like this:

  • Travel in two lanes counter-clockwise around the floor; do not go back against the line of dance.
  • The inner circle or the centre of floor is for spot patterns or alternative dances; do not travel through the centre.
  • Keep moving along the line of dance without stopping or going backwards but avoid overtaking.

And the lists go on...

Floorcraft is a common topic for instance in ballroom dancing and takes into account certain above mentioned ‘lines-of-dance’ rules that many of us social dancers don’t really adhere to. But that certainly doesn’t mean we’re immune to floorcraft.

So how does floorcraft relate to zouk? We don't travel in defined lines or circles so we need to take note of dancers coming at you from any direction. Brazilian zouk certainly is not static. Yes you can have calm moments and you can intimately dance with your partner in a space just about the size of your footsteps. But typically zouk takes a lot of space, it’s very dynamic and creative dance style - all the more reason for us to pay attention to others on the dance floor. In Part 2 there will be 14 practical tips for the dance floor but let's first start with the some fundamental floorcraft concepts.


Floorcraft from beginners to advanced dancers

To have good floorcraft means that you and your dance partner can smoothly make your way around the dance floor, not bumping into other couples or fixed objects and without generally making it hard for others to find space on the floor. Mastering floorcraft means mastering quite a set of skills: dancing, leading, following, observing and even anticipating others’ moves, adapting your movement, adapting your lead… Sounds quite challenging, doesn’t it?

Like I said in the start, everyone surely has an equal right to their space on the dance floor, no matter the skill level. A professional dancer is no more important on the floor than a beginner. But there is a certain difference; the advanced dancers already know how to manage their space and their moves better. While it may be a good idea for beginner dancers to try to stay on the least crowded parts of the dance floor, it's also important for the advanced dancers to do their part. With added skills, comes added responsibilities - advanced dancers should both keep themselves & their partner safe as well give way to the less experienced when needed.

Why so? A beginner on the dance floor has his or her full focus on maintaining the basic step and leading or following the patterns they have learned. They may not be able to change directions as smoothly or react as quickly. It doesn’t mean a beginner doesn’t need to pay attention to others - they should! But it’s just simple math that a person's brain can only do so many things at once. While the beginner is fully focused on their own thing, the advanced dancer is more capable in adjusting to the situation - their eyes are better apt to spot the hazards, they can estimate the space they need and the space the people around them occupy.

Over time managing your space - and mastering floorcraft - can develop to a more passive skill that doesn’t eat up your active attention; you start to notice you can focus on your partner but keep the corners of your eyes open. You start to better recognize the moments that require more attention and what to draw your attention to. Typically an advanced dancer can even roughly (and sometimes surprisingly accurately) anticipate what move the couple next to them is going to do or what direction they are heading to and where to find free space. And they can do all this while dancing with their partner - and also modify their dance at an instance accordingly.


Floorcraft - leader’s or followers job?

It is quite commonly thought that floorcraft is the mainly in the hands of the leader, just like it is the leader’s job to lead the dance moves. In this line of thought the follower can simply focus on following, just ‘enjoy the ride’ and sink into the dance flow. This does make sense - the leader knows where he (or she) is going and what’s going to happen next so he should thus look if there’s space available to complete the next pattern.

But, there really is no reason why both the leader and the follower wouldn’t need to be active in floorcraft, watching the space around them. The leader doesn’t have eyes on his back, does he? A follower should at least pay some attention to the blind spots of the leader; that means the space directly behind the leaders back. 


Coming up

Stay tuned for Part 2 with 14 practical tips for the dance floor to improve your floorcraft!