Dancecraft and Floorcraft: The Intellectual Side of Dance

By Julie Kaufman

The wooden floor is huge, smooth, and poleless, but not slippery; there are only a few other couples on the dance floor; the air conditioning is cranked up , like the music; and every partner you dance with knows all the same steps, which you both do perfectly....
WAKE UP! This is your local club, not dance heaven!

We hear a lot about technique, frame, style, and execution, which are all important physical aspects of becoming better dancers as individuals. But, not everyone wants to work that hard on their dancing. What most of us would like to be are popular partners. To do that, we must work on the intellectual aspects of dancing, what I call dancecraft—your interaction with your partner and the music, and floorcraft—your interaction with the size and quality of the floor, and other couples on it.

The basic idea behind DANCECRAFT is to make the partnership look good. How do you do that? Glad you asked....

First, dance to the music: Is the song bouncy, smooth, upbeat, slinky, or down and dirty? Your dancing should look different as the music changes, not just from fast to slow songs, but from 50's be-bop to 90's swing. Feel the music.

Second, dance with your partner: Followers should style to match their leaders. Some people have a smooth, upright, ballroom style; others have a get-down, funky look to their dancing. Match attitudes, and you'll look like you belong together on the dance floor. Smile at your partner.

Third, dance appropriate steps: Remember that unfollowed leads reflect just as badly on the leader as the follower. With an unfamiliar partner, begin with basics, then try fancier steps; don't start out with your entire repertoire of workshop combinations. Since a couple only looks as good as the worst partner, showing off doesn't work; a few well-executed underarm turns look better than one messy whip. Also, as the music gets faster, some steps are more difficult--save them for a slower song.

Fourth, keep moving but don't keep going: If a specific step is not working—a lead was missed, a turn delayed—don't continue to drag your partner through it, because it probably won't work. Instead turn the move into something more basic, then lead something else. When all else fails, bring your partner back to closed and start again. Don't just stop. keep it interesting: No matter how many or how few steps you know, mix them up. Don't do the same pattern every dance. Only do a couple of the same step in a row. Add a double spin for a follower that likes to spin. Be unpredictable in your choreography (but not in your lead!). Be prepared for whatever the leader asks, and go for it.

Sixth, here are a few pointers from an article, How to Become a Lousy Dancer by Kelly Gellette, National Teachers Association, published inCountry Dance Lines, May 1992.

  • Learn 100 turns/moves before perfecting the basics.
  • Dance with the same partner all the time.
  • Never attend a class.
  • Never do the basic moves.
  • Don't bother to learn the basics well.
  • Be oblivious to your partner.
  • Forget that confidence and assurance come with knowledge and practice.
  • Never practice.
  • Dance your competition routines on the social dance floor.
  • Be sure to tell everyone how wonderful you are. The basic idea behind FLOORCRAFT is to make dancing fun for everyone on the floor, and to prevent injuries. There are a few underlying principles of floorcraft that govern your movement on the floor.

    First, beginners (like sailboats) always have right of way on the floor: Therefore, collisions are usually the fault of the more advanced couple. Why is this so? Think back to when you first started dancing. How well could you maintain even the basic step? How easily could you change directions? As advanced dancers, we should be able to alter our course, manoeuver around obstacles, change steps midstream, create "lines" that look like we meant to stop and pose. We have more control over our dancing and therefore should yield right of way to those who do not.

    Second, the couples around you have squatters rights: They own the space they are presently in; you can't have it until they move. Watch where you send your partner!

    Third, the only space you can claim is under your own rear end: Your feet should not be out from under your body; weight should only be transferred to a foot if the body is above it. Therefore, if you are often stepping on other people, you are invading their space by stepping beyond your own; if you are getting stepped on, you are probably leaving your feet exposed by having them beyond your body. Part of the reason for maintaining a broad frame with your upper body is to create a wider space between couples on the floor.

    Fourth, check out the floor conditions: Are you dancing on wood, linoleum, cement, tile, carpet? Choose your steps according to how easily your feet glide on the floor. Don't try to double spin your partner unless there's a little slip to the floor; otherwise you could end up with twisted ankles, pulled arms, or wrenched knees. At the other extreme, if the floor is highly waxed, limit your fancy spins and take smaller steps so you are sure your feet are securely under you; nothing is more embarrassing than landing on your rear end in the middle of the floor.

    Last, but not least, choreograph according to the crowd on the floor: Just because you know all those fancy moves, are agile enough to do flips, or just learned a new combination in a class, doesn't mean there is room on the floor to practice. If the floor is crowded, you have to stick to steps that you can control. Look for an opening in the crowd to attempt a fancy move, but be prepared to abort if the space closes up; never sacrifice your partner for the sake of a move.

    Even though we all should know the priciples of courteous behavior, they bear repeating:

    Rules of Courtesy

    Many of us also do some smooth dances (fox trot, quickstep, two step, waltz) that travel around the room. They have a few additional rules about dance floor etiquette:

    Rules of Movement

    And a word about teachers: When we go out, we like to dance, just like you; please come ask us--we won't criticize your dancing! We are also glad to answer questions or help if you are stuck on a specific step. But please, if you want to learn a brand new step or variation, come to the free lessons at the clubs or the classes/workshops we offer elsewhere.

    Remember, good dancecraft and floorcraft have nothing to do with your level of dancing or the number of steps you can execute. They are about making dancing enjoyable for all by being careful, courteous, and fun dancers.

    And finally, a third element, which I'll call BODYCRAFT, just to be consistent.

    Especially in the warmer weather, it is extremely important that we make our bodies as appealing and danceable as possible. NO--I'm not talking about going to the gym or getting a tan, although who could complain if you did? Rather, I'm talking about not grossing out your partner with overly sticky, sweaty, smelly bodies. So again, here are some rules of thumb.

    We all want to have fun and look oh-so-good on the floor, so think a little about what you're doing, who you're with, and who else is on the floor, then get out there and enjoy the dance.

    Feedback on this article should be directed to Julie Kaufman Dancin' at, (617) 625-6120.

    Copyright © Julie Kaufman Dancin', 1993. All rights reserved by the author. This article are intended for the reading pleasure of the DanceNet On The Web readers. Duplication or use in any other medium, including but not limited to print publication, another web site, or downloading to a storage medium on CD, floppy disk, hard drive, zip drive, or tape, without the written permission of the author is prohibited.

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