About Tango Etiquettes (Códigos)
Milonguero style of Argentine Tango – History, Etiquettes, and Rationale
Argentine Tango culture evolved in crowded small dancing spaces, which made it necessary to develop certain etiquettes to ensure the safety and comfort of all participants. These etiquettes are known as códigos (codes).
The milonguero style of Argentine Tango pays particular attention to these codes so that everyone can have an enjoyable experience. Below are some of the more notable codes:
Invitation To Dance- It is expected that all dance invitations to be done through cabeceo/mirada from a comfortable distance. Here is the process: The participants try to make eye contact with each other (mirada). Once the eye contact has been established, the invitation to dance is initiated by a nodding of the head (cabeceo) by one party and accepted by the other party similarly. At this point, the lead gets up (the follower
remains seated), while maintaining eye contact with the follower at all times, and walks toward the follower. Once he has gathered the follower, he then walks her toward the
RATIONALE: What is wrong with going to a person and asking them to dance? Suppose the person doesn't like this music or wants to dance with another person during this tanda, then
they are left with two choices:
1) go and dance with you in order not to hurt your feelings
2) refuse your invitation.
Either way one party will be unhappy. Cabeceo and mirada system prevent this awkward
scenario. Argentine Tango is all about invitation, and standing next to a person and staring at them is still an imposition so distance is part of the code.
Hopefully now, it should make more sense why men and women sit opposite each other in the encuentro seating arrangements. The lead walks to the follower while maintaining eye contact for the following reason:
Suppose the lead behind you was also cabeceo-ing the same follower and she had accepted his invitation and you thought it was yours. By maintaining eye contact as you are walking
toward her, the mistake could soon be discovered and an awkward situation avoided.
Entrance To The Dance Floor- Once you are with your partner, try to enter the dance floor from one of the corners. Always make eye contact with the lead dancer that you want to move in front of and wait for his permission, which is usually a head gesture.
RATIONALE: The follower's head often create a blind spot on the right and if he is not aware of your intention to enter the dance floor in front of him, a potential collision can occur.
The Rondas- Just like a highway that has lanes, the tango dance floor also has lanes, called lines of dance. The number of rondas depends on the size of the dance floor, but it looks
something like the picture below. The center area is reserved for less experienced dancers
that may not be able to move fast. These dancers should enter the dance floor at the beginning of the tanda or between the songs. You can change your ronda in between songs but during the a song, you should stay in your ronda.
RATIONALE: The same logic for cabeceo-ing (a new word) before
entering the dance floor applies here.
Dance Movements- In an encuentro the dance movements are compact and
circular in nature.
RATIONALE: The idea is to take as little real estate on the dance floor as possible so more people can dance, which also creates a safe environment for everyone. Therefore, movements such as high boleos, sharp sacadas, and ganchos that make the followers leg flying out are not considered appropriate and safe.
Tailgating- It is not a good idea to tailgate the couple ahead.
RATIONALE: Maintaining a safe distance will prevent collisions if the couple ahead steps back. For the same reason above, stepping back should be avoided. Maintaining too much space ahead of you also is not a good idea because it holds up the line of dance, moving into available open spaces outside of your ronda is not right.
RATIONALE: To do so, you will need to leave your line of
dance, which as we discussed above is not a good idea and
can result in collision.
Tandas and Cortinas
Tanda- A tanda consists of three to four songs. Tandas are separated by a short non-tango music, called cortinas. It is expected that everyone exits the dance floor during the cortinas, even if you intend to dance the next tanda with the same partner.
RATIONALE: An empty dance floor provides clear view for dancers to cabeceo.
Dos and Don’ts
Instructions- Milongas. particularly encuentros, are for enjoyment. Therefore giving or asking for instructions during the event is not appropriate.
RATIONALE: Imagine a dance floor full of people giving instructions to one another. The flow of the dance would be interrupted, affecting the energy of the dance. Each and every one of us is a contributor to the energy of the dance floor, which ultimately influences our enjoyment of the event.
Bumps & Collisions- In a crowded dance floor, bumping into other couples is always a possibility. The polite thing would be to apologize to them (preferably between the songs) regardless of whether it was your fault or not.
RATIONALE: Tango nurtures humility and discourages judgment. These are opportunities that we can practice these valuable qualities.
Fragrances- Some people are sensitive to strong fragrances. It is recommended to wear very little or no perfume at all. A good option would be non-fragrance deodorizers.
Attire and accessories- Wearing clothing that is scratchy or has decorations that can tangle with your partner's clothing is obviously not a good idea.
Crossing the dance floor- Crossing the dance floor when others are dancing should be avoided. In fact, as much as possible, we should keep out of the dance floor to allow other to cabeceo.
Hygiene- Needless to say that proper hygiene is essential toan enjoyable dance experience.