Learning to Dance Again: Floorcraft and the “Buffer”

We’re back in Toronto after spending a year in South America – 8 months of which were spent in Buenos Aires.  There’s so much to write about still… our observations and experiences of Tango in Buenos Aires, how it feels to be back “home”, and everything in between.  Let’s see if we ever get around to it.

While away, we were happy to hear that floorcraft and navigation skills had become issues that teachers and milonga organizers were more frequently addressing in our Toronto community.  The reason for this?  The Tango floor is a sad site in Toronto.  We did not fully realize this until we experienced the milongas of Buenos Aires and saw for ourselves what it’s supposed to look like.   Generally, Toronto dancers move anti-clockwise in a somewhat homogenous group… at best.  There rarely exists and inside and outside track, and dancers are constantly passing each other in a zigzagging fashion.  Teachers are rarely teaching their students floorcraft skills and etiquette, and IF they are, the milongas do not reflect this.  In addition, learners/dancers actually fight against dancing with proper floorcraft skills.  No one wants to wait behind the “slow” dancer… no one knows how.

Before leaving for Buenos Aires, we did our research and knew the rules of the milongas.  We understood the seriousness of it.  Dancing in milongas where people respect your space and understand the movement of Tango was fantastic.  Dancers stayed in their own lanes, they didn’t try to pass one another (although there were exceptions – the infamous Tete being one of them), their feet stayed on the ground when there was little space, and couples were hearing and moving to the music in a similar way.

One of the biggest “lies” we heard about floorcraft was the no-steps-backwards rule (or the no-steps-against-the-line-of-dance rule).  We’ve observed this rule to be incorrect… or rather, inaccurate.  HOWEVER, there are two conditions that apply:

1) You cannot take more than one step backwards.


2) You can only take more than one step against the line of dance if you can see the space and people in that direction.

One important fact we never heard about was the existence of the “buffer”.  This is the space that encircles a couple and always exists if you are dancing around good dancers.  This buffer allows dancers to move one step in EVERY direction (at a minimum and of course, depending on the crowd density of the floor).  Many tourists are not aware of this buffer and are usually the ones crowding the couple ahead of them.  They are also the ones getting mad at other tourists (or even locals) for going against the line of dance.

There is a mistaken belief that you are responsible for ALL the dancers around you on the dance floor.  However, our experience in Buenos Aires has taught us that you are only truly responsible for the couple in front of you.  When you are following all the other rules involved, the floor will take care of itself if you take care of the couple in front of you.

Take downhill skiing as an example.  If you are skiing straight in one track, you do not worry about the people skiing behind you.  You pay attention to the skiers (and the hill) in front of you.  The people behind you will keep their eyes on you.

Without all these “strict” rules and codes, leaders would be left in a man-eat-man world defending his territory.  If you have to worry about every person around you on top of listening to the music, feeling your partner, AND dancing, you would have a stressful situation on your hands.  It has not been fun having to relearn how to dance in the crowds of the Toronto milongas.  Believe it or not, it actually takes a special type of skill to dance in TO!

About Movement Invites Movement

We are relatively young Argentine Tango dancers and teachers who are married both to each other and the dance. We truly found Tango after making an 8-month Tango pilgrimage to Buenos Aires and we are using this blog to share our thoughts and feelings about our Tango experiences. We are not aspiring authors and our writing skills are questionable, but we write our truth. View all posts by Movement Invites Movement

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