- or - Safety on the Social Dance Floor.
Recently here at Shag Towers, we've had various people coming up to us to say a few delightful words: 'Shag's taking over London!'
Now, Shag Pile exists to spread the love of Shag, so naturally we're chuffed to hear this, and even more thrilled to see it at nights across town. This leads on to an important point: If shag is going to become a fixture on social dance floors, it's important that we behave responsibly towards ourselves, our partners, fellow dancers, and bystanders. This means 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 barful of bodies without spilling a drop of your ice cold martini.
Truly great dancers have great floorcraft - but the nature of the skill means that it is necessarily very hard 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 safer dancer.
In order to promote good floor craft, we've compiled a 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 the situation is reversed.
Bal and Shag are more obviously 'small', than some other dances, but the potential for clashes remains. In particular, 'Arthur Murray' style shag is often danced with a footwork variation where the heels are lifted high behind us - this is obviously dangerous on a crowded dance 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' (below).
In Lindy Hop, swing outs can be enormous, but they can equally be kept neat and precise. If the floor is crowded, reign in those swing outs, or stick to close hold.
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.
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.
Stay in close hold if necessary, and if some space opens up on the floor, think about how you might use it... and how you might have to retreat from it.
Several people I've spoken to have singled out tandem charleston as a particular problem on the social dance floor, as it encourages leaders to make hefty backwards kicks (see also point 3). Again - consider your options before leading a big move which compromises your visibility.
This should go without saying, but Aerials are for performance only - never perform one on the social floor, even if you are dancing with someone you have done them with: even if you succeed, you are setting a bad example to less able / drunker / foolhardier souls around you!
In dancing we occasionally hit a problem with terminology.
The 'kick' most people are used to is the sort designed to hoof a ball down the football pitch, with energy leaving our bodies. In dancing, by contrast, 'kicks' are designed to accentuate hits in the music, to move our bodies, and to swish through the air. The energy remains within us and sustains us through the dance.
Many teachers refer to 'kicks' as 'foot pumps' to avoid confusion; this helps us kick down into the floor rather than out into the crowd. Dance-kicking in a contained, 'inward' way means even if a foot does happen to connect with another dancer, it 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... nope.
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.
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.
But what do you think? We'd love to hear any thoughts and comments below!