Tango Etiquette On The Dance Floor
Los códigos en la milonga
Tango has its own etiquette and it's not always perfectly intuitive. By understanding the following unspoken rules of the road, the Milonga experience can be enjoyable for all.
1. Before The Dance
Personal hygiene is essential for an enjoyable dancing experience. Bad breath, body odor and excessive perspiration are common offenders. Be sensitive to your fellow dancers. Excessive use of cologne, perfume or any chemical can be just as offensive, and never a replacement for bathing. For a milonga, dress up a little, and if you sweat a lot, bring an extra shirt. If you wear accessories or jewelry, make sure they do not turn into assault weapons while dancing.
2. The Invitation
The most elegant way to invite someone to dance is to use the Mirada (eye contact) and cabeceó (nod). It's used the same way by the man & the woman, usually during the Cortina or early in the tanda. If you choose to invite someone verbally; be gracious whether or not they accept your invitation. If they don't accept, do not immediately invite the person next to him/her. No one wants to be a consolation prize. Seek out those looking to dance, avoid bothering anyone who has no desire to dance. If you must interrupt a conversation for a dance, do so discreetly.
3. Give Priority To The Dancing
Never walk across the dance floor while people are dancing! When you get up to meet your dance partner, move on the outside edge of the dance floor.
4. The Right Of Way
On a crowded dance floor, always establish eye contact with the dancer approaching at your left before entering the line of dance. Enter the dance floor only after receiving acknowledgment to avoid collision.
5. Floor Craft
At a Milonga, couples dance in a "line-of-dance" fashion; that is, counter-clockwise around the dance floor in 2-3 lanes; You are not only dancing with your partner, but also with all the other couples on the dance floor. Accordingly, make sure to observe the line of dance, don’t weave between couples, and don’t pass anyone. This ensures that the dance floor flows and that no one gets hurt.
6. Distance Between Couples
Always keep a safe distance to the couple ahead of you in the line of dance, give them enough space to easily execute a turn. If the distance to the couple in front becomes large, try to catch up in order to not block the couples behind you. Don't move backwards to invade the space that belongs to the couple behind you.
7. When The Dance Floor Is Crowded...
Keep all movements within the embrace! Avoid linear boleos, sweeping planeos and volcadas or any intrusive movement that would endanger other couples! Always adapt your movements to the size of the crowd.
8. Apologizing In The Event Of A Collision
If, despite all your precautions you are involved in a collision, keep your cool and apologize with grace.
9. Tanda Tact
When you stand up to dance with someone, the understanding is that you dance with them until the end of the tanda. If you only want to dance two songs with them, you have to wait until the tanda is two songs from the end to invite them to dance. The alternative, known as “breaking the tanda,” is considered extremely rude. You should only leave the dance floor in the middle of a tanda if you are in pain, your mother is dying, or if your partner has overstepped the rules of common decency.
10. Small Talk
In between songs, talking is fine (in fact some would say smalltalk is almost obligatory) but do not talk whilst dancing. Also, do not continuously apologize to your partner if you make mistakes.
11. Thank You!
Only say thank you when you’re done dancing. If you say thanks in the middle of a tanda, your partner will think you’re breaking the tanda with them. Never respond with “you’re welcome,” because it implies that dancing with you is a favor you’re bestowing, when the whole point of dancing is mutual enjoyment. Instead, be as charming as you can, and say "Thank you," “It was my pleasure,” or something equally delightful.
12. Staying Fresh All Night
Use breath fresheners frequently. Many venues provide mints on the welcome table. Be mindful about the foods you eat before dancing; garlic, onions and curry linger on the breath, skin and clothes for a long time. If you perspire, use a towel or handkerchief often between dances. Men often bring an extra shirt and change into it half way through the evening. If you're sleeveless, be mindful of your deodorant as some may leave a white residue on your partner's sleeve.
Don't give or ask for feedback at a Milonga. Reserve comments on improvements for Practicas and classes - and only if requested. Offering advice or criticism during a Milonga—no matter how good your intentions are, or however helpful your suggestions—belittles your partner, which defeats the purpose of sharing the respect and mutual enjoyment of a tanda.
When you finish dancing, leave the floor as quickly as possible, ensuring those on it are given their space. The leader always escorts the follower back to the original point of rendezvous, extends his gratitude and walks away gracefully.
15. Be An Example
BE ADVENTUROUS. Invite someone you never danced with and make it your mission to make it a great experience.
BE GRACIOUS Don't confuse a declined dance invitation with personal rejection. Being kind and friendly with everyone, including those who may not dance with you, creates a warm and inviting atmosphere for all.
BE CURIOUS. Find out the names of your favorite songs. Getting to know and understanding the music will make you more comfortable and confident at the Milonga.
And Most Importantly...
BE GENEROUS. The goal for a successful milonga experience should not be how many good dances you GET, but how many good dances you GIVE.
Illustrations: © Les Pas Parfaits, Dessins Véronique Paquette