Look before you step

10th May 2010

"Why don't you look where you're going!" ~ every cry after a collision, every time...


So, I was fighting my way through Tesco's last Saturday, on the weekly shop, and trying to avoid the hordes of other consumers, all zooming all over the place.

At some point in this process, it occurred to me that there are many similarities between tango floorcraft, and navigating through a busy supermarket.

We've often used the "driving" analogy for discussing floorcraft. Now, let's look at the "supermarket" analogy. Bear with me, as I wend my way through it, hopefully with few collisions and unexpected changes of direction.

Things that go wrong

It's the classic cry, it's a cliche. And yet, it's a cliche because it's true.

Many (most?) collisions or near-collisions I observed are because of unexpected events. Yes, of course, this a statement of the bleedin' obvious; no-one over the age of 5 deliberately sets out to cause a collision. But we have to start with axioms, that's what they're there for.

So why are these events unexpected? Typically, because of one or more of the following reaons:

  • We don't see them coming
  • Someone else does something unexpected
  • We do something unexpected

We don't see them coming

This may be because they're zooming around a corner, or simply bump into us from hehind. In which case, that's life. It's their fault, but sometimes people can be idiots. Hopefully they'll apologise and we can continue inspecting the value section of the pizza aisle.

Alternatively, this may be because we're not looking; our attention may have been distracted by said pizzas, or we're just not paying attention, lulled into somnolence by the muzak and the announcements of 2-for-1 offers. In which case, it's largely our responsibility, and we need to pay more attention to our surroundings.

The analogy with a tango venue, I hope, is clear here.

Someone else does something unexpected

We've all had to bring our trolley screeching to a halt when a sleep-deprived, overactive mother decides to stop dead, then immediately charges over to the baby aisle, right across the line of trolley traffic. She is the equivalent of the neo tango "dancer" I observed last week, downstairs at Negracha, who decided it'd be a really good idea to do a 15-foot "drag-and-slide" move across the line of dance, because (I assume) he'd seen it on Dancing With The Stars earlier.

Whilst these people are both, of course, wrong, and even dangerous, observation and experience will help you mitigate the effects of their actions. So you won't get run over, in either situation.

For example, in the case of the aforementioned drag-and-slide loony, I'd seen him before, and I knew he was prone to such antics. So I kept an eye on him, and gave him a wide berth when dancing, so I was not affected by his actions. More importantly, neither was my partner. This kind of "outlier", whilst disruptive and individually dangerous, can be accommodated, simply because he / she is so visibly wrong. (Of course, in a properly-run milonga, these people would swiftly be shown the door, but hey, we're in London).

Less extreme examples are more common - people stopping suddenly, or reversing directions, that sort of thing. Again, the best solution is experience and anticipation.

We do something unexpected

Or, as Scott Adams once said, "We're all idiots".

We're all guilty of doing silly things, we all make mistakes and misjudgements.

I've stepped backwards in a milonga. I've also made big side steps in the wrong direction. I've wandered off into the inside lane inadvertently, I've tried to force my way back into the outside. I've bashed into other couples as a result of a too-vigorous turn. In short, I've screwed up on the dancefloor.

Hopefully, I do it less now than I used to. But it happens. The only thing you can do is to practice and to work on the skills needed for good floorcraft. One of which is...

The solution - look

It's pretty obvious, but if you look where you're going, you make fewer mistakes. If you can see a collision coming, you tend to at least try to avoid it.

In Tesco, it's astonishing how few people actually look where they go. They'll simply change direction - for example, darting suddenly to the side, or even reversing - without turning their head to see where they go. Because it's easier to do that, than it is to turn, look, then move.

OK, so that's Tesco for you. But in a milonga, you're dancing tango, and one of the key principles you should learn is that you finish the pivot before you take the step. And if you're looking ahead, that means that, most of the time, you should be looking in the direction you or your partner is stepping.

So a simple solution is, look where you're going. Why don't you?

~ David Bailey, 10th May 2010

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