Ballroom dancing is a full contact sport, in the obvious "hey I'm constantly touching my partner" way, but also in the "wow, I'm really close to all these other couples" kind of way. Bumps and nudges between other couples are bound to happen, as well as the occasional grand collision. But when I witness three or more accidents in a dance from one couple, I bring out this face:
Whether it's because you're being malicious, oblivious, or ignorant, bad floorcraft is a bummer. So let's fix it!
Rule or Suggestion?
If you're new to ballroom dancing, hopefully you know the general rule is to move counter-clockwise around the floor.
While this is totally true, many newer dancers follow the rule to a T, moving down one side of the floor in a generally straight line, hitting a corner, rotating 90º, then moving on to the next side. This is great, but not effective for the long run. It is totally acceptable to run a route like this:
Zig-zagging, curving, and cheating your DC/DW alignments by a couple degrees won't hurt anyone. In fact, it'll give you more options.
Reading the Matrix is just another one of those jobs that leads (and follows!) have to do. While you're leading and following your own figures, it helps to keep an eye down the floor to see what everyone else is doing, so you can plan ahead accordingly.
Let's take this Choose Your Own Adventure:
What to do? Let's take a look.
The popular "Don't go where people are" applies in this case. Don't head into the fray (unless you have the tools to deal with it). Understand that everyone is progressing at some rate around the floor, so if you try to bypass them, they could catch up with you and then you'll be in the thick of it anyway. So possibly the best bet could be to avoid everyone entirely and cut across the floor. LEGAL.
More examples, just in case you didn't get the point:
Your friend just started their fancy standing spin in the corner? You know they're going to hang out there for a measure or two, SO DON'T GO THERE.
While there might be a clusterf*ck up ahead, you're still 40 feet away, so it might clear before you get there.
Still nervous? Cut across the middle of the floor! Do your favorite stationary step a couple times to give yourself time to evaluate the situation! Stop all together and chill with a hesitation or two or three! DRAMATIC PAUSE, PEOPLE!
While all this seems like a huge pain in the ass because you're already a little overwhelmed with staying on the music, and keeping your head up, and keeping your partner happy, and thinking of patterns, at least we're not sailors.
Don't be a dick.
While it's a great life lesson, it's also nice to keep in mind when you're on the dance floor. See someone out of the corner of your eye backing into your left side? Drop your follow's hand for a beat or two. Finish your figure and realize you're about to elbow someone in the head? Drop your elbows and breeze by instead of maintaining your perfect frame and nailing them in the noggin. A less experienced dancer is in the corner or near the outside of the floor? Don't box them in. WHY CAN'T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?
Using good floorcraft often lands on the lead's shoulders, but ladies aren't off the hook. Verbal warnings, the occasional back lead to slow down or slightly change direction, and you know... following will help make your dance an enjoyable one.
Rhythm and Latin Dancers
You're not off the hook either! Reign in those arms and legs when your buddy is right next to you, or get creative like this classic golden floorcraft moment by Franco Formica (the fun starts at 1:21):
GO FORTH AND CONQUER.