Floorcraft: being aware of your surroundings while dancing to maintain safety and comfort for you, your partner, and couples around you. It can include watching for potential collisions, respecting the flow, direction, or slot on the floor, and troubleshooting out of dangerous situations.
The general rule preached in many dance communities is that it is the lead’s job to watch the floor during a dance. I would argue that it is actually a shared responsibility: the follow has a great deal of control in managing floorcraft, as does the lead.
The Follower as a Non-Passive Partner
When we place the burden on the lead to watch the floor, we run the risk of turning followers into passive dance entities. The fact is, they aren’t. They are responsible for 50% of the dance, and a good follow has control over his or her own movements. When we subscribe to the idea that floorcraft is the responsibility of both partners, we place ownership of the dance squarely on the shoulders of both partners.
This, of course, also has the added benefit of equalizing men and women in the dance world. It changes the conversation of ‘Women/Follows need protection’ into ‘Follows and Leads (of either gender) have equal responsibility in their dance.’
Now, if you’re someone who ONLY wants to follow and DOESN’T want to think, recognize that you are setting yourself up for certain risks. To take a completely passive role in your hobby and ascribe all responsibility to your lead, you do a few things:
- Reinforce the stereotype of following being a ‘lesser’ skill,
- Place yourself at the mercy of your partner’s awareness – no matter how capable,
- Take away your own ability to contribute positively to the dance; and,
- Inhibit your own ability to grow as a dancer.
Being completely passive is your call, but I would never suggest it. There are so many opportunities that come with engaging actively in a dance – not to mention engagement being a safer practice in terms of your own health & safety. It may seem like more ‘work’, but once you learn how, awareness becomes less work and more common sense.
What Control does the Follow or Lead Have?
In order to understand this idea of floorcraft as a mutual, cooperative effort, we need to understand the power that each role has over the idea:
- Abort movements that place them in harm’s way
- Reduce the speed of their spin or shape their body to avert an incoming collision
- Modify the trajectory of movement away from a potential hazard
- Use hand pressure and signals to tell a lead when it is unsafe to proceed with a further movement
- Verbally suggest to newer or less aware leads to move to a safer area of floor
- Avoid placing heels with full force on the floor if a hazard is felt below the shoe
- Use smaller movements on a crowded floor (including styling)
- Keep their eyes alert to potential incoming hazards – particularly hazards coming from the lead’s blind spot (behind them)
- Be aware of where they are leading – including ‘looking before you lead’
- Halt a movement heading for a hazard
- Place their body between the hazard and the follow if conducting movements that can be particularly hazardous for the feet, head, etc.
- Respect the flow and orientation of the floor – including orienting oneself to spot hazards
- Allow the follow the ability to abort moves if things are unsafe
- Adjust movements to respect the number of dancers on the floor
- Pay attention to non-verbal and verbal signals from the follow that may indicate something is not safe
As you can see, there are a number of things both partners can do to contribute to floorcraft. I would actually argue that, rather than being the lead’s responsibility, the bulk of the floorcraft onus falls on the more experienced partner.
If I am dancing with a beginner as a follow, I will be more keenly aware of my surroundings. This will include modifying my movement, stopping his or her steps from wandering into dangerous territory, and setting us up in a position where we are least likely to interfere with other dances. I will also use non-verbal cues more heavily – particularly since beginner leads are often more sensitive to my ‘no’ cues than experienced partners (the irony, no?).
If I am dancing with a beginner as a lead, I will choose my movements and set them up in directions where no other couples will be in our way. I will also maintain a generally closer hold where I can move them where I need them to be in an emergency.
This approach has served me very well. I have very rarely had accidents with nearby couples, and I always feel in control and safe in my dancing. It requires some mental effort as a follow (which some say they don’t want to exert), but it is very worth it.
One of my closest friends in the dance scene first gained respect for my dancing as a result of this awareness (or at least, that is what I took from the encounter). At one WCS event I attended, I needed to modify the speed and shaping of a turn in order to avoid an incoming couple. My partner afterwards informed me that was the moment that he realized I had good control of my movements. We spent the next 1-2 hours talking about Zouk- and WCS-related things.
At the end of the day, floorcraft works best if both people are aware and engaged. Why leave your health and safety to chance? Engage yourself. It will make you stronger as a partner and dancer, as well as make your partners even more eager to dance with you.