- or - Safety on the Social Dance Floor.
Recently here at Shag Towers, we've overheard dancers saying four delightful words: 'Shag's taking over London!' Since we exist to spread the love of Shag, we're chuffed to bits to hear this, and even more thrilled to see it at nights across town.
With Shag becoming a fixture on social dance floors, we should all be promoting a culture of behaving responsibly towards ourselves, our partners, fellow dancers, and bystanders. This begins with floorcraft!
What is floorcraft? A mixture of instinct, common sense, and learned skills.
Floorcraft involves spatial awareness, visual awareness, and proprioception - 'the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement'. It's the same trick that enables you to negotiate a crowded bar of bodies without spilling a drop of your cocktail of choice.
Truly great dancers have great floorcraft, but the ninja nature of the skill means that it is necessarily very hard for others to see when it is being employed. Many dancers who want to raise their level therefore focus on learning the more visible expressions of greatness such as moves and styling; however, if you can improve your floor craft, you'll become a better, more popular, and above all safer dancer.
In order to promote good floorcraft, we've compiled this list of common sense tips and techniques. The principles of each point apply across many social dance forms, but we'll add in a few shag-centric comments. So - let's begin!
1. Style it small
Performance dancing and social dancing are very different animals.
Many favourite dance videos are culled from contests, where superstar couples are given a wide stage on which to let rip with huge kicks and expansive hand gestures. By comparison, we spend most of our time dancing on the social floor, where space is limited, and big moves can be risky.
Selected dances including Balboa and Shag are more obviously 'small', than others, but the potential for a prang remains. In Shag, for example, 'Arthur Murray' styling is often danced with heels are lifted high behind us. This is obviously dangerous on a crowded floor, so it is sensible to use alternative footwork, such as the 'curtsey', where one foot is tucked behind the other.
A great example of small shag can be seen in one of our favourite social dance clips, from the film 'Marihuana - the Devil's Weed' - check it out below.
In Lindy Hop, swing outs can be enormous, but they can equally be kept neat and precise. If the floor is crowded, reduce the length of those swing outs or stick to close hold. Think about what your limbs are doing. Backward donkey kicks might feel good on your end, but not on someone else's. Similarly, you might have seen a favourite dancer flourish their arm in a rainbow sweep with oh-so-much grace - try it on the social floor and you're likely to slap someone in the kisser.
Of course, if there is absolutely no space to dance, see if you can find another spot, rearrange the furniture, or consider sitting it out until the next song.
Remember: Good tunes are like trains - there'll be another along in 3 minutes.
2. Restrict the Moves
Lead only those moves that are appropriate to the space available, and treat this as a creative constraint on your dancing. Social dancing isn't about showing off and performing to an audience - it's about having fun with a dance partner. A space constraint can lead to some interesting variations on moves you already know, or help you refine your styling.
As we've said before, stay in close hold if necessary, and if some space opens up on the floor, consider about how you might use it... and how you might have to retreat from it. Learn how to adapt a move half-way through should that space get swallowed up.
Many people single out Tandem Charleston as a particular problem on the social dance floor, as it encourages leaders to make hefty backwards kicks (see also points 1 & 3). Again - consider your options before leading big moves which require kicks and reduce your line of sight.
This should go without saying, but Aerials are for performance ONLY!
Nobody should ever perform an aerial on the social floor, even if they are experts dancing with experts - think of the example it sets to less able / foolhardier / drunker souls around you. Those film clips of 'social dancing'? Choreographed. And while we're at it, 'That' lift in Dirty Dancing is directly responsible for a string of cracked ribs, broken pelvises, and realigned noses.
In dancing we occasionally hit a problem with terminology.
The second most problematic term (after Shag) is Kick.
The 'kick' most people are used to is the sort designed to hoof a ball down a sports field.
The dance version of a 'kick' is used to accentuate hits in the music, to propel our own bodies, and to swish through the air. The energy remains within us and sustains us through the dance.
Many teachers refer to 'kicks' as 'pumps', 'swings' or similar for greater clarity and to avoid confusion; thinking this way helps us direct energy down into the floor rather than out into the crowd. Dance-kicking in a contained, 'inward' way means that even if a foot does happen to connect with another dancer, it does so softly and won't cause injury. Again, Flying Charleston is simply not appropriate for a crowded dance floor, so explore the alternatives.
In Shag, one basic step is the 'step kick' or 'hold kick'. The illusion is that we're hoofing forwards with our free leg, where in actual fact we use our pulse to slip backwards on our standing leg; counterintuitively, the energy is going backwards and not forwards.
We can again add choices to our repertoire; do we want to kick forward, sideways, down, or not at all?
Dance floor clashes can come at you from any direction, so it's a good idea to develop that 'spidey sense' and keep an eye on the surrounding activity.
Where are the other dancers? What sort of moves are they doing? Are there any wonky floorboards or drunken revellers to avoid?
Leads - our partners are often unable to see where they are going, so be sure to look where you're sending them before you lead the move, and be ready to redirect or change plan mid-stream if the space changes.
Follows - you need to trust your partner, but they won't be able to see every hazard, so keep an eye open, as you may have to slam on the brakes at any moment.
Pointy heels and metal tipped shoes... well really.
If there's a possibility that a crash was your fault, suck it up and apologise.
Nobody wants to hear excuses - just keep it to a simple 'sorry' and check everyone is okay. Dance is a game we play together, so if your partner has clattered into someone, it could well be because of something you did. Don't let them apologise on your behalf.
If you find yourself involved in an incident, seek to understand what has happened and why. Consider what you could have done to avoid it; the answer may well be contained in one of the points above.
If another party is fully to blame, and you feel able to intervene, you might want to point them in the direction of this post. If the situation is serious, you may need to explain what happened to the event organiser.
Anecdote: The year before last I was at a dance and found myself being kicked in the ankle. Looking around, the culprit was both obvious and oblivious. Since the tune had just started, the simplest remedy was to moved to the other side of the dance floor, and since Shag is so mobile this was easy to do. A few bars later I was being kicked in the ankle again - by the same person! They had been bouncing around every part of the dance floor in pursuit of their good time, at the expense of everyone else's. And this is what it comes down to: good floorcraft shows you care for the welfare of others.
8. Floor. Craft.
BONUS EXTRA CONTENT FOR 2017!
The clue is in the name - use the space available on the dance floor.
Take a look before you ask for or accept a dance. If the floor is full, you and your partner might have to be patient, sit the next dance out and wait. Don’t be offended if someone declines for this reason: instead, enjoy the time you have together before some space appears.
Doorways, corridors, thoroughfares, and bar access points are not dance floors. If the space is inherently tiny and you can’t help but dance in a gangway, keep an eye on people as they pass through. Show respect to all patrons, and especially to staff; everyone is equally important to the atmosphere of the venue. Although dancing may make us feel special, it doesn’t raise our status above those who wish to socialise, stand, sit or watch. Show you respect them by staying out of their personal space and letting them pass if they need to, and they will in turn respect you by watching you dance, and waiting for an appropriate moment to pass by.
I learnt to dance in class, but learnt floorcraft the hard way in a midninght-til-morning strip joint turned rockabilly bar. Punters were a mix of fledgling dancers like me, rockabillies, strippers, east end geezers, drinkers and hipsters looking to keep the party going til dawn. It got messy. People crashed into us as we danced. The stakes were well defined: whilst alcohol did its job to minimise the impact of any bumps, we still had a serious responsibility not to spill drinks or trip people up. If the squash got too much we stopped dancing, but if a patch of sticky carpet opened up then we'd leap on it. Somehow it all worked beautifully.
This blog post emerged almost fully formed as a reply to a friend's wonderful recent Facebook rant about having the sh*t kicked out of her by experienced dance performers at a social event. Thanks to Harley for the prompt, and thanks to the Shag Pile crew for their input and feedback. Thanks to Alex F for the nudge on point 8.
But what do you think? We'd love to hear any thoughts and comments below!