LOS CODIGOS – Milonga Guide
Information sourced from various tango websites. Muchas Gracias!
A tanda is a ‘turn’ of dancing in a milonga. In a tanda, a set of songs, usually between three to four, are played. The most common style is to play four songs in the tango tandas, three in the milonga tandas, and three or four in the vals tandas. The music is most often tango, milonga or vals. Tandas are normally arranged by the feel of the music at the discretion of the DJ for the evening. A typical order of tandas is: T-T-V-T-T-M (T for a tanda of tangos, V for a tanda of vals cruzado, and M for a tanda of milongas).
It is common to choose the music for a tanda from a particular orchestra and era, often with the same vocalist or, as an alternative, purely instrumental pieces. Mixing different vocalists, eras or even orchestras is rare. This approach is chosen for the comfort of the dancers, for two main reasons:
When a new tanda starts, the dancers can listen to the beginning of the first piece to determine whether or not they like the music, have an idea as to the pairing that they would explore during the tanda and, based on this, decide whether to ask someone to dance this particular tanda, or to take a break.
The dancers can adjust to the specific character of the music and orchestra during the first song of the tanda, these characteristics are usually consistent for each orchestra from the same period, it establishes the mood of the music for the whole tanda, without the dancers having to re-adjust for each song.
Between tandas, a cortina (Spanish for ‘curtains’) is played. It is a musical pause to allow dancers to leave the dance floor and to serve as a short break between tandas. The dancers can then thank each other and return to their seats or find a new dance partner for the next tanda. During the cortina a portion of a non-tango song is played. The duration of a cortina is usually only 20-60 seconds.
The Spanish word cabeceo comes from the root Spanish verb cabecear which means ‘to nod.’ In the noun form of the word, it means ‘head’ which is cabeza. From an Argentine Tango perspective, the word has come to mean “A head nod to indicate the question of a dance”. Note that the definition here is from the Lead’s (usually a gentleman) perspective, asking the Follower (usually a lady) to dance, and not the other way around. It is the preferred way to ask a follower to dance before or at the start of a tanda as soon as the first song begins to play.
It is important to note that a follower is not under any obligation to accept any and all cabeceos that come her way. The polite way to avoid a cabeceo from a man that a woman is not interested in dancing with is simply – to not to look at him. It is however encouraged to accept all possibilities without judgement. Possibility is part of the lure of what tango can be.
Also, the cabeceo can, and should, also be used when a Lead asks another Lead for entry into the line of dance, this is called a Male Cabeceo.
The mirada, much like the cabeceo, is the follower’s indication to a leader that she would like to initiate a tanda. The mirada is more an exception than a rule.
In milongas all over the world, there is an order to things. This order is generally based on the traditional Los Codigos where only leaders offer the cabeceo to initiate a tanda. As such, a mirada is a mild violation to the ‘order of things’ in the minds of the more traditional. There are, however, some men who appreciate a woman when she does the asking. Accomplishing this requires a great deal of sensitivity and observation on the part of the follower so, when in doubt, prudence is suggested.
Much like the cabeceo, men are not under any obligation to accept any and all miradas that come their way. Another important note for women is that she not offer the mirada or anything similar to it to a man, while the man is dancing. It is considered very rude.
Also referred to as ‘the line of dance’, a ronda (Spanish la ronda, “the ring” or “the round”) refers to the line of dance in Argentine Tango. The traditional ronda requires the dance couples to move counter-clockwise around the dance floor. This enables many couples to share the floor in social dance situations. The ronda consists of imagined concentric lanes on the dance floor.
In each lane, couples are dancing only behind or in front of each other, never next to one another. The couples move at roughly the same pace, leaving a similar distance between one another. When the floor is particularly crowded, the couples move effectively with each step into the space the couple ahead vacated.
The ronda enables the dancers to move in a predictable manner around the dance floor. Knowing this general direction of dance helps the couples dance more calmly and more focused, making the dance more enjoyable.