LOS CODIGOS – Milonga Etiquette
Aside from practicing the following at a Milonga, when applicable, these are also to be observed while in the studio during practica and classes.
The first and most important rule to observe at a milonga is to remember always to be very respectful, polite, and understanding and supportive of other people in the community. There will always be people of different levels of experience, which is what keeps this beautiful dance alive and thriving. Remember when it was you who went on to the milonga floor the first few times. When given the opportunity, be encouraging and supportive of the other.
In line with this respect, not everyone in a milonga is wanting the experience of the cabeceo. Couples will come with the very well-meaning intention of dancing only exclusively with their partner during the duration of the whole evening. It is important to recognize this distinction among the people at the milonga. Accord these couples the same amount of respect as everyone else. There may be moments when they will dance with other people, but this does not automatically mean that they are open to invitations from other people.
Tango is the ultimate equalizer! On the dance floor, no aspect of your social, economic and professional life is of any importance. The only aspect that matters is your sincere readiness to tango. In a milonga you dance as a community with your loved ones, with your family, with your friends, with hired professional dancers and with people who are absolute strangers to you. It is only the tango that matters.
ATTIRE & PERSONAL HYGIENE
The tango attire is part of what makes the tango an enjoyable couple experience. People come dressed as a show of respect for one another. It will be worth the effort to check the acceptable dress codes and expected attire for each milonga or tango event that you will be attending. Some are more casual, while others require suits. Take into consideration the movement and physical connections required by the dance into your chosen outfits. Your comfort and the comfort of your partner is the priority over looking impressive.
The embrace in tango puts you in close contact with another person. Therefore, your personal hygiene is very important. Before dancing, you need to make sure that: your body is clean and fresh smelling, your hair is clean and in place so as not to bother you nor your partner, your breath is fresh with a freshness maintained through-out the evening, and that your clothes are clean. Be careful not to go overboard with perfumes as that can be just as unpleasant and some have allergies to chemicals in scents.
If you know you are the sort to sweat profusely, please bring an extra shirt for men or an extra top or dress for women. It is acceptable that the second (or third) change of clothes be more casual than the initial outfit. Bring a handkerchief to wipe sweat between songs and tandas.
Avoid smoking during the course of the milonga. If you must, you will have to do it outside of the dance hall and only in designated smoking areas. After smoking, you must change your shirt or top and make sure you have freshened up sufficiently to remove all trace of smoke from your body and hair.
ON THE DANCE FLOOR
Use the cabeceo to initiate the invitation to dance. This custom empowers both men and women to discreetly choose their dance partner. It prevents the feeling of being obligated to dance. The connection in the dance is only going to feel good when there are two willing partners. Don’t pressure someone to dance with you. Don’t be pressured to dance.
If you refuse an invitation, but wish to dance with the lead later on, say so clearly. Also, don’t say you are too tired to dance, then immediately dance with someone else.
La pista es sagrada. The dance floor is sacred. Never walk through the dance floor to cross the room or block the line of dance in any way. There will usually be more space to enter the dance floor at the corners. If you are entering while a song is playing and dancers are already moving in the line of dance it is important to enter with minimum disruption and to adapt quickly to the circulation of the dancers. Use the leader’s cabeceo before entering the line of dance.
When you do decide to dance with someone, the agreement is to dance the entire tanda until the cortina. You should only leave the dance floor before the cortina if you have a very good reason (inappropriate behavior, pain, etc.) After a tanda is finished it is polite to thank your partner and escort them off the floor. It is not customary to dance consecutive tandas with the same partner unless you are a couple intending to dance exclusively with each other.
If you do not wish to dance further at any time, thank your partner. It is important to remember that saying “Thank you” generally signals an intention to END the dance prematurely so don’t be surprised when the other person says “Thank you” back, and walks off. If you just had a particularly enjoyable dance before the tanda is over do not say “Thank you.” It will give your partner the wrong message. Reserve the “Thank you” for when you hear the cortina. The proper response to being thanked after a dance or tanda is a return “Thank you,” not “You’re welcome!”
Do not stop dancing in the middle of a song.
When one song ends and before the next one begins you will take a moment to release the embrace. It is customary to use the first couple phrases of the song as a chance to chat, identify the music and connect in the embrace.
At the milonga you are there to enjoy the connection with your partner and the music. No talking once you are in the embrace and have started dancing.
No teaching or practicing on the milonga dance floor. There is a difference between the milonga and the practica. It has been said that people who only dance in the milonga and do not work to make their dance better are wallowing in their own mistakes, while people who only learn in the studio and do not experience the milonga are people who plan beautiful vacations but never go anywhere.
The line of dance moves counter-clockwise. Depending on the size of the dance floor and the number of couples dancing, there will be at least one lane moving around the perimeter of the floor and often another inner lane. It is customary for the more experienced dancers to dance in the outer lane while those with less navigation experience stay in the inner lane. Don’t change lanes or pass couples. It is not a race! Do not weave in and out of the line of dance. The beauty of the milonga is the sense of flow on the dance floor. Being aware of the people around you and circulating on the floor is part of dancing tango. The couple behind should keep an appropriate distance from the couple ahead. It is the leader’s responsibility to protect the follower and the other couples so that nobody is bumped, kicked, or stepped on. Do not use expansive movements or high boleos on a crowded floor nor should you be blocking the floor or using tiny steps when you need to take the available space to circulate.
Do not continuously apologize to your partner if you make mistakes. Do apologize if there is a collision with another couple – even if it wasn’t your fault.
The man must escort the woman on and off the floor, all the way to her seat whenever possible.
The leader should never engage the follower with steps that are beyond her; this will serve only to humiliate the follower. Do not ask the follower to commit to steps or embellishments that could be a danger to other dancers, such as high boleos.
Be highly attentive to the follower’s body language regarding the type of embrace with which she is comfortable. Some women, particularly beginners, may not welcome a close embrace – that level of intimacy must be earned. The leader chooses the frame of the embrace, but it is the follower’s prerogative to determine its intimacy. Followers, do know that a close embrace is the norm. It is the position where the most expression and enjoyment in the dance can be possible, once it is allowed.
Leaders, if the follower is not doing precisely what you thought you intended, react appropriately to keep the flow of dance. Do not force your follower to “do it correctly.” Communication in the action-reaction dance steps is the leader’s responsibility to get right, especially with beginners. The leader, paradoxically, should follow the follower.
Eliminate the back step from your repertoire, particularly at crowded milongas. If you must, take just one step back and angle yourself towards the inside or outside of the ronda. Do not take a direct step back into the couple behind you.