A Quick Note on Floorcraft*

At two recent events, I went to some dances that were packed, and thinking I’d try to show some students a good time, I made the horrible mistake of asking them to dance. I just as well could have asked someone to join me in getting kicked in the soft part of the ankle for three minutes.

And these weren’t the random, apologetic kicks of someone who misjudged their Charlestons. These were the far-worse, apathetic kicks of people who simply didn’t give a damn about anyone else on the dance floor, even their partners, because THEY were feeling the music. (Actually, to be more precise; they were more likely trying to make everyone, including themselves, think they were feeling the music.) I got kicked so many times I can’t count, and only heard ONE SINGLE APOLOGY.

This of course happens all the time, (it was even part of swing back-in-the-day; the movie Twice Blessed used it for comical affect.) I just happened to experience it twice in under a month, a thousand miles apart, and at a time when I was exhausted from teaching people how to be considerate to their dance partners all day. I was also jet lagged and in the general mental state one gets when being woken up at 4 a.m., and thus I had dropped any silly niceness my normal demeanor has and could despise these people with the proper amount of hatred they deserved.

I could write a long essay on floor craft, (and I did for today’s email, it even involved the phrase “The Texas Tommy the Nazis used on POWs” ) but I’m going to cut it short by simply saying: If you want to engage in partnership dancing, your first priority should be making sure your partner is not in any danger. Otherwise, try solo dancing.

Likewise, if you are going to enter a tight dance space, let me know what logic you’re using to make you think you can dance like it’s your space alone.

I might adopt that philosophy; and make sure I find a space next to you. ***


*–I just love footnotes. Even when they’re pointless.**

**–Just kidding. The (*) footnote symbol was leftover from when I looked up from the original draft and realized it had grown to three pages worth of writing, and I wasn’t anywhere finished about talking about floorcraft. I then put in the (*) footnote mark, pointing to a footnote that said: “Of course it’s not quick. It started off that way, but this is Bobby writing, so, of course it’s long as hell.”

***–Original ending of this short note added the sentence. “And trust me, there’s one hard-core mother f*cker waiting to come out of me.”**** Which Samuel Jackson would have nodded in agreement at looking at me when I wrote it. It felt great to write, a cathartic moment writer’s live for. I guess I have some pent up feelings on floorcraft.

But, re-reading this, it only would have made sense with some of the extra stuff I had put in.
****–If you question the amount of hard-core ness that is available in the body of a dorky anglophile theater nerd, then you haven’t seen me play basketball against hypocritical theologians.

*****–Kate thought I should simply title this essay “A Quick Note on Floorcraft” and just show the picture of the monkey knife fight. I love this girl.


These will probably be reworked into a longer version for Swungover, but I thought you might be interested:

(Tip #3) If the floor is packed, no one will see how cool you look anyway.

(Tip #79) If you ‘re dancing on a packed dance floor, the leader has a new set of worries. He has to think about how his choices will hurt his partner indirectly–like sending his follow into someone else. He also has to worry about how his actions will effect others beside his partner. Like, if he turns his rock step into a mule kick, he might be kicking a follower in the thigh. (This happened to Kate once.)

(Tip #317) If my humanitarian reasons don’t convince you to be a little more mindful on a packed dance floor, then maybe an appeal to your self-centeredness might: It’s a little motto I love called: “Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent.” Dancing “hard core” in a tightly packed space will only mess up your “hard core” dancing for when you can better use it, like when you have space to dance “hard core.” (By the way: I’ve been to some places where the general Lindy Hop was actually circular, and looked like the love-child of Lindy Hop and Balboa-swing, because the people were so used to dancing in tiny, tightly-packed spaces for their local dances.)

11 responses to “A Quick Note on Floorcraft*”

  1. I’d like to see the full essay…or you could rework it, that’d be cool too. wouldn’t want you to compromise on quality or anything

  2. I love this post; I recently taught a floorcraft lesson, and I wish this had been around then! Might’ve printed out the monkey knife fight picture as another visual aid.

  3. It’s sort of weird to me that we feel entitled to floorcraft on the dance floor. That’s not to say that I don’t also feel this way.

    This ties in to the regional differences discussion. When I’ve travelled to New York for instance, my memories are of getting kicked without consciousness. I theorized that since New Yorkers spend so much of their daily lives in cramped quarters (subways and elevators, for instance) that they wouldn’t question bumping into each other the way that I might or the locals from my region. Growing up on the crowded dance floors of the Derby, I often take getting kicked a bit too personally.
    People from smaller scenes with less crowded dance floors also often don’t develop the skill of watching their surroundings as a circumstance of the dance.

    On my last trip to New York, I got kicked a lot, though admittedly the locals were outnumbered by out of towners for once. I had to adjust my paradigm before I could have fun. Once I realized I was going to get kicked whether or not I danced defensively, my mood changed for the positive. Strange but true.

    • I’ve been having the same experience in New York. I’ve realized the one of the reasons I haven’t been having very much fun dancing in New York is the ATROCIOUS floorcraft here. Chances are my lead is not watching out for me and most of the leads around me aren’t paying attention either, so I have to spend half my energy watching out for myself, rather than enjoying the dance. I’ve been kicked, I’ve been TRIPPED (after which the lead just gave me a “What the heck is wrong with you?” look), with very seldom an apology. The dance floor feels just like the crowded subway tunnels in the morning. Ouch!

      My opinion of a lead really improves when he demonstrates good floorcraft. A lead who can effectively prevent a collision, even if it means adjusting what he’s leading, gets bonus points and gold stars in my mind.

  4. I’ve got kicked, it really hurts I stop to give my ankle a good rub and I have acknowledge the apology by the person who kicked me.
    They then shout at me saying that they are sorry again. I nod again saying it’s fine but continue to rub my ankle as it was a rather well place kick right on the nerve and has left my foot with short term paraesthesia (pins and needles). Now they are looking really angry at me, suddenly the ball drops, Oh because you said sorry for kicking me you expect the pain to suddenly disappear as well, almost as if I pretended it was hurting in the first place, of course my mistake. I shall hobble off the dance floor in that case. Pardon my ignorance.

  5. I’d be intrigued to read the whole thing! I was so happy when I saw the title of this post! I experienced a pretty bad injury to ankle after I was sent out quie strongly during a swing out and ultimately crashed into another couple on a packed dance floor!! This was a month ago and my ankle still hasn’t healed, making my dancing a lot more difficult. It was an injury that was entirely preventable with proper floorcraft technique…

  6. Hi all, We have noticed that this uptick coincided with increased focus on competition and performance. More performance and competition patterns are in group classes then ever before. It brings students in. Students then take this on the floor thinking that this is how you dance socially. It must be! It’s what they were taught. Social swing dancing is different from competition or performance dancing. I wish there were a greater focus on the Social STYLE of dance, because it involves a vast vocabulary of items often left out. Sadly. You can tell people not to step on you. They won’t hear it. We mush teach them how to dance in a way that is inherently safe and requires no conscious effort on their parts to keep from stepping on you. A led rock step with compression goes a very long way towards this goal. Such a simple thing. Keeps the feet under the body from their very first Swing dance class ever. Let’s do this thing!

    • BTW, my partner required 6 months of physical therapy to recover from a dance floor injury. His leg is permanently deformed, but works well enough again.

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