Thoughts on swing dancing and Lindy Hop, one word at a time…

Necessity as a Teacher

Floorcraft, a word that teachers often drop in their intro level lessons and dancers all around the world wish many dancers practiced.

“World of Floorcraft, a mandatory remedial course for those who run into other dancers more then twice in one night due to their own carelessness.”

As a teacher you can explain to leads the “look before you leap” analogy, explain to follows how if they see an incoming collision back-lead the lead to stop, and explain to everybody the social ramifications of being the one lead that throws their follow everywhere/the one follow that throws herself everywhere. Once you are past that, you can make slight suggestions but it is usually up to each person to figure out for themselves how to be polite social dancers and not run themselves or their partners into objects/other people.

The interesting thing I have noticed though is in scenes where dance space is a premium such as New Orleans; floorcraft is much higher on average (among dancers, not muggles non dancing people).

In a post titled “Back in New Orleans” written by Peter Loggins in his blog the Jassdancer he writes about the excitement or peril (depending upon your perspective) of dancing in an average venue on Frenchman St. in NOLA.

“however, the Spotted Cat or DBA , now those are places to learn! Cramped, all tempo’s, mixed rhythms, obnoxious people in the way…yeah! Now we talking!” – Peter Loggins

While I recommend you give the entire post a read, this quote really drills home the point of floorcraft being a necessity this particular scene,

“If you want to learn how to be an exhibition dancer, that’s good for you, but don’t be surprised when a big Jarhead beats the shit out you after you accidentaly kick him. It might be fine to kick each other at dances, studio’s and festivals but in the real world all bets are off….” – Peter Loggins

At an average dance if you have bad floorcraft someone the worst that usually ever happens is someone bad mouths you that night and most people forget it quickly, unless if you make it a habit. On Frenchmen Street the potential costs of bad floorcraft can range from; accidentally kicking a drunk tourist, hitting the trombonist’s slide and likely injuring him, to knocking over the tip jar of a band. These can earn one the penalties of getting the shit beat out of them to being thrown out and/or banned from a venue. A tad more dangerous then the average Lindy Hop event.

What To Do?

At least for myself it seems an obvious conclusion that when there are more costs at hand for making a poor decision, it is something people will be more aware of and spend additional time developing the skills to avoid those penalties.  However to cultivate a good swing dance scene, threatening ones’ students with violence for bad floorcraft is probably not the best idea for retention rates.

As an organizer I attempted to deal with the problem of poor floorcraft mainly when it mattered the most; before our dances with live bands and workshop weekends where we would have large attendance. I would do this by in my own lessons choosing moves that required good floorcraft to pull them off or teaching moves that required minimal room and worked great with little room to dance. I’d also put a notice in announcements that good floorcraft was a good way to be polite to our out-of-town guests.

If your local scene has any particular ways they teach or deal with floorcraft, feel free to post it here!

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11 responses

  1. superheidi

    It’s a bit off topic, but there are moments I wish more people would dance balboa.

    July 2, 2012 at 6:58 am

    • Funny you mention that, one of my cheats when space is at a complete premium is just to dance bal-swing the entire dance. Most follows can deal with it even if they haven’t taken a single lesson in balboa.

      July 2, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    • That is totally not off topic.

      July 4, 2012 at 5:09 am

  2. Nikki

    To prepare for going to a camp with a known floor space issue, our teachers had us all social dance at the same time, and then they made the available space smaller by enclosing us into a smaller corner, with the rules of the game being that if you touched someone else or them you were out and had to stop dancing. This is probably the easiest game/exercise I’ve seen to teach students to think about floorwork.

    July 3, 2012 at 7:25 am

  3. A lead I’m friends with had his follow throw herself into a dip, and he couldn’t counter the sudden weight change, fell, and BROKE HIS HIP. He had to have 3 pins put in. I wish I knew the girl, because I would give her a stern talking to and tell her to pay it forward. OMG. It was awful.

    July 3, 2012 at 7:16 pm

  4. Simon

    @ Amelia – sorry to hear that, really dreadful.

    I have a bit of an issue with it being called ‘floorcraft’ as I tend to associate the phrase with a level of smugness exhibited by dancers who are in control of their movements/have good technique and partner awareness and disdain toward those that don’t.

    I really dislike how middle-class lindy hop can be sometimes with so much desire for self-knowledge, evaluation, education… yes, help people out, give them exercises so they learn not to knock into each other… but basically, if you have a lead and follow with good technique, who can make big moves small, who can think about a few things other than the move they’re doing…. They’ll be fine to dance on a dime. It takes times and practise. If you get kicked, don’t feel hard done by – just try to avoid the flailing limbs as you would do a learner plate on a car…

    July 4, 2012 at 11:31 am

    • @Simon: I have no issue if people occasionally bump into each other, shit happens, it’s understandable. When I refer to floorcraft I mean situations that result in horribleness like Amelia’s friend’s case.

      I personally have a decently sized scar on my left ankle from taking a balboa heel to it (which promptly ended all of my dancing for that night) and I have a follow friend who has been literally rock stepped on her face before when two leads were careless simultaneously.

      Occasionally bumping into people once in a blue moon and not causing any injuries, not so horrible in my book. Knocking people out for a dance that night or possibly giving them a life long injury, problem in my book.

      July 4, 2012 at 2:42 pm

  5. Simon

    @Apache

    Oh I wholeheartedly agree with you, injuries that at the very least can make you hobble home or at their worst can have a host of ‘real life’ implications are serious things and if it’s at all possible to avoid these through education and situation training then I’m a strong advocate for that type of tuition. I saw a guy do a back to back flip once (on a social dance floor, which in itself is a massive no-no)… and from the moment she got off the ground, I could see it was going to go badly… he basically threw her into the floor – she broke an ankle, but it could’ve been much worse. There’s a really harrowing story on Tony Fraser’s blog somewhere about how he saw a girl break her neck… re-tell that to your pupils and I guarantee they won’t be so brash in future, aerials or not, anything that involves you moving someone else around at speed requires respect.

    July 4, 2012 at 4:00 pm

  6. This is not helpful, but I still find it mindboggling that some dancers aren’t aware of the band when they’re dancing, even out at “dance” venues. More than once, I’ve had to alter my dancing so that my lead wouldn’t get hit by a trombone slide.

    The key, ultimately, is spatial awareness, and that sometimes only comes with practice and time. After 6 years of being entrenched in the dance scene (some of that time included crowded bar dancing), I can make it across a packed dance floor without running into anyone. That same challenge, given to a non-dancer or even someone who usually dances with a bunch of space around them, will end in lots and lots of elbows.

    July 4, 2012 at 8:14 pm

  7. Utkonos

    Hi, you don’t know me, although we did have a Charleston battle once. Anyway, I have a question about floorcraft/etiquette, and I want to ask for the opinion of some experienced dancers. Last night, I was at a blues party and one of the local teachers was dancing (she was half of the only couple in the room) and I was talking to some people with my back to the dancers. Suddenly I got an almighty shove in the back which propelled me in the direction of the wall. I turned round and the teacher said “Sorry, but you were in the way, and I did try to tell you to move.” My gut feeling is that this isn’t good floorcraft/etiquette. However, since it came from one of the most experienced dancers in my local scene, I was curious to hear other peoples’ views. Is it OK for me to feel piqued?

    October 13, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    • Usually the general rule is it is rude to be talking in the middle of a dance floor. However you mentioned the room was nearly empty. I am not as familiar with social protocol at a blues dance, however I find it kind of rude that in a giant room they felt the need to shove someone out of the way.

      But like I mentioned before in general if you are having a conversation stay at the edge or off the dance floor. If you were at a ballroom event and people were dancing quickstep even if they were the only couple on the floor you would get evil eyes for taking up room.

      October 16, 2012 at 3:28 pm

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