The Tango Etiquette
Argentine tango general standards for milonga behaviour
The Tango Etiquette describes behavioral standards commonly observed in the culture of Argentine tango milongas. Some contents may be debatable. Some rules may be relaxed in some milongas and specific situations (ie. among close friends, etc.) Nonetheless, it is important for milongueras and milongueros to be aware of these standards. New tango dancers may not be aware of these rules. Therefore, experienced dancers set a good example by being patient, polite, and sensitive with less experienced dancers. Always remember that once you were a beginner as well.
Tangueras and tangueros are invited to provide feedback and suggest ammendments at email@example.com .
1) The first dance and the last dance
Milongueras and milongueros will frequently see particular significance in their first and their last dance of the milonga. They may seek to dance their first tanda with a familiar and smooth partner, and thereby start off the evening on the right foot. As for the last dance, we find tradition among porteños to dance the last tanda with their significant other or a potential lover. One may chose to relax this rule especially if in agreement with their significant other. For singles it’s open game. Though if the partner is known to have a significant other, it is courteous to ask whether they wish to dance with their significant other.
2) The invitation to dance (see Cabeceo in The Tango Dictionary).
The cabeceo makes the invitation to dance less stressful as it allows the invited person to decline discretely.
Non-verbal cues are frequently used. So, as you are getting ready to ask someone to dance, try to catch their eye, smile and nod. You might raise your eyebrows in an inquiring expression or directing a nod towards the dance floor. Observe their body language. For instance, if you make eye-contact and the other person quickly turns away, pretends not to see you, or busies themselves in some way, it means they do not want to dance. On the other hand, if your potential partner returns your eye-contact with a smile and/or a nod, you are encouraged to invite them verbally (ie. “would you like to dance?”).
When inviting a person who is in the presence of their significant other, it is courteous to ask their significant other for permission. Be friendly but not flirtatious and avoid dance moves that are sexually suggestive. Avoid monopolizing anyone’s partner with multiple tandas (see Tanda in The Tango Dictionary).
3) How to gracefully receive a rejection
When we invite someone and they give us a courteous “no” (ie. “not right now”, “my feet need to rest”, etc.), we do not sit down beside them to wait until they are ready to dance. We let them be for a while. How long is “a while?” Regardless of the form in which a “no” was formulated, it means no for at least 2 tandas. After 2-5 tandas you may consider inviting that person again. We may find that the person who rejected us earlier, may track us down for a dance later.
4) How to politely give a rejection
In the great majority of cases, avoiding eye contact will prevent someone from inviting you. If that person approaches regardsless, and invites you verbally it is fine to say “no”.
When verbally rejecting someone’s invite, although we might want to dance with them later, we can provide an excuse such as “Sorry, but I need a break”, or “I already promised this dance to someone”, or “thanks but I need to rest my feet”. If our excuse involves resting, we should wait at least for the next song or preferably for the next tanda before dancing with someone else. Always remember to be nice when rejecting someone. Try not to hurt their feelings.
5) Tanda communication
It is customary to dance the entire tanda with the same partner unless there is a particular reason to stop (ie. the man is rude or very disappointing as a dance partner, your ride is waiting, your feet are aching, etc.). When two people are done dancing, one of the dancers will say gracias (thank you), the other person will respond the same way, and they leave the floor. and leave. So, the phrase “thank you” actually means “I am done dancing and ready to leave the dance floor”. This is preferrably at the end of a tanda, unless they want to dance another set. When two people are finished dancing, it is customary for the leader to escort the follower off the floor.
6) Line of dance (see Ronda in The Tango Dictionary)
Couples move counter-clockwise on the dance floor. This is the line of dance. Faster lanes are on the outside of the dance floor, and slower lanes run closer to the center. Refrain from randomly intersecting these lanes, especially on a crowded floor. The dance floor is reserved for couples who are currently dancing, and all others should clear the floor.
When collisions happen, everyone involved should be generous and courteous in acknowledging the collision. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is and we will not make a big deal of the collision. To avoid collisions, both partners should help in maintaining awareness of others on the dance floor. Keeping your eyes open (as opposed to “tango trance”) certainly helps awareness. Try to avoid aggressive moves on a crowded floor (ie. high boleos, hard ganchos, big figures, etc.) Be ready to slow down or even stop a step or figure as necessary. Leaders, be very cautious when you decide to step backwards (ie. look first). Followers, let the leader know, verbally or non-verbally (ie. hand squeeze, holding closer, slowing down, etc.), if there’s an impending collision.
While on the dance floor, please avoid providing chatting, feedback, corrections or pausing to show your partner a new step. This may be perceived as inappropriate by your partner and/or others around you. Corrective feedback is best kept for practicas and classes. Otherwise, it is acceptable to provide discreet and sensitive feedback if it is asked for, or if permission is obtained to “make an observation”.
9) No cutting in
It’s simple, we do not ask whether we can “cut in” between two dancers in the middle of a song or tanda. Change of partners is done during cortinas (see Cortina in The Tango Dictionary). We don’t interrupt dancers to say hello or goodbye either, though a non-intrusive nod and smile may be acceptable.
10) Personal hygiene
Skill, talent, and courtesy aside, it will be hard to dance with a person more than once if they find you smelly. Solutions are: 1. Clean clothing; 2. use deodorant, breathmints; 3. use a handkerchief to wipe your sweat, or take breaks as needed to reduce your perspiration; 4. VERY IMPORTANT — wash your hands after using the washroom. 5. Have consideration for others when using fragrances. 6. Skip the milonga when you have a cold or flu.
Hopefully, we have all learned these things as kids. If we haven’t, now is the time to acquire these habits.
The tango embrace is a privilege, not an opportunity. Unwanted romantic advances should cease, and can be seen as very invasive if they happen during the tango embrace.
Many of the rules listed above will be intuitively observed if we are respectful. That is, respect for your partner and other persons at the milonga, respect for the cultural heritage of tango, respect for the music and band, respect for peoples dance styles and their skill levels.
You know you’re a tango junkie when…
- When you realize the milonga is where you see all your friends.
- Walking into new buildings and noticing potential dance space to tango.
- You cross country lines to tango!
- You often find yourself googling phrases containing the word “tango”.
- Your first question when buying clothes is “but can I dance in it?”used to be “but can I wear it to work?”
- You wish you paid more attention in high school Spanish class.
- You have a tango bumper sticker or your license plate contains a word related to tango.
- You plan the rest of your social life so it doesn’t conflict with tango nights.
- Your fantasy travel destination is Buenos Aires.
- You listen to tango music when you’re not at a practica or milonga.
- You now view the world in terms of people who tango and those unfortunate souls who don’t.
- Before traveling, you check out the net for tango events in that area.
- You have to work hard to maintain nontango friendships (if you have any left).
- You have developed the ability to turn any conversation to tango within 2 minutes.
- You no longer have parties at your house; you host milongas.
- You practice the roles of both lead and follow to fully understand the dance.
- You have bought a piece of clothing not commonly seen in public.
- You dance tango in your mind.
- You’ve gone home after a dance with someone else’s glitter on your face.
- When you wait in line, you must fight the urge to randomly gancho those around you.
- You constantly have bruises on your legs and feet..
- Your respect for others is measured by how well they can dance.
- You feel exhausted but come alive when you hear a tango and hit the dancefloor.
- When you find yourself dressing a stranger in your eyes in 3″ heels and a black dress.
- When you and another contractor are workin on a move to Calo two stories above the ground, tool belts clinking.
- When you laugh out loud at bad tango in movies.
- When you walk backwards to the refrigerator.
- You’ve remodeled your house mainly to maximize dance space.
- Entering a lift and making a side step with your left foot to give way to somebody going out, you change weight on the doubletime.
- You copied your tango music to your office computer.
- You’ve danced with one of the biggies and survived.
- You go through withdrawal without at least one tangohigh per week.
- You’ve stopped saying sorry when you screw up you just tango out of the trouble you got into.
- You keep a pair of dance shoes in your car.
- You’ve sold or moved most of your furniture to give yourself practice space.
- You are unable to schedule major surgery without compromising tango commitments.
- When you look in the mirror, you are usually looking at your feet.
- Your shopping cart often substitutes as your dance partner.
- You’ve figured out how to find the hidden tango sections in any record store.
- You are willing to spend twice as much time driving to a milonga as you actually dance.
- Your computer passwords are phrases related to tango.
- Your ear has been trained to recognize the tango possibilities in all forms of music.
- You maintain a phone list of the hardcore tangueros in your area.
- Tango has diminished, if not ruined, the appeal of every other dance you ever did.
- You have become nocturnal.
- You have been spotted dancing tango in parking lots.
- Posters for upcoming tango events are always magnetized to your refrigerator.
- Your interest in shoes can easily be mistaken for a fetish.
- You have been known to sing in the ear of your partner while dancing.
- You recognize that special glow in the night as another hotbed of tango erupts in the distance.
- Friends and family automatically assume that you want tangorelated birthday gifts.
- Your dancing shoes always look wellused.
- You can’t resist dancing a few tango steps whenever you cross a wooden floor.
- You find that you sandwich feet far more often than shake hands.
- You find that dancers drawn to tango are the most interesting passionate people you know.
- You draw satisfaction every time you break someone’s Hollywood misconception of the dance.
- When you go to a conference, you plan your trip around local tango events.
- The first thing you do when you buy a new cd is skip through each song to evaluate its tango potential.
- You keep a portable stereo and an iPod full of tango music in your car.
- You choose your bars based on how much they mind you bringing in your own music and clearing tables out of the way.
- You’ll pay money to attend a regular ballroom dance just on the offchance that they’ll play a tango.
- You dance with spare chairs in the middle of the room.
- You gancho your way out of the door.
- You look at random people in the street and try to evaluate their tango abilities.
- You look at dresses and skirts as “good” or “not good”, according to how good and practical they would look on you, while you dance.
- In the supermarket you hide yourself behind the trolley and practice forward steps. Now and then you have to check the price of the product you don’t need two meters behind your back to also practice the reverse.
- The first thing you do when you buy a new cd is skip through each song to evaluate its tango potential.
Asking a Woman To Dance!
September 15th, 2011
(note: this is my opinion of how things should work, take it with a grain of salt. when applied, your mileage may vary!)
She walks into the room, kisses and hugs her friends on her way to putting down her shoe bag, and then finding her seat to put on her shoes. She’s looking quite lovely tonight. It seems like she’s kissing and hugging everyone in the room for cryin’ out loud. Finally she finds a half a chair at the crowded milonga tonight, and slips off her street shoes into what appear to be brand new Comme Il Fauts, all sparkly and shiny new, and just as she finishes her right shoe, she looks up and is immediately whisked away out of her chair. One tanda, two tandas, three tandas, she comes off the floor to get some water, and no sooner does her foot hit the carpet, when another lead takes her by the hand, and off they go, one tanda, two tandas, and off the floor to head for water, and a chair! She’s looking a little disheveled after that last leader. He was a bit rough on her, but she smiled through it, he had some nice qualities. She sits for the first time in 45 minutes, drinking her water, and finally catching up with a friend. Legs crossed, and eyeing the room, and avoiding it at the same time.
Gentlemen, how do you ask her for dance ?
Well to be honest with you there are many ways of asking a woman to dance as there are stars in the sky, and they all basically involve the same thing. But in tango there are some rules of the road as to how you do and don’t do that. Things to keep in mind. So before we get to the HOW part, there are a few things we have to review first, such as 9 don’ts and 5 do’s.
1.) Do not walk up to her and extend your hand and expect to get a dance!
2.) Do not stalk her around the room.
3.) Do not cross a dance floor to get to her.
4.) Do not walk up to her, stop 5 feet from her, and THEN Cabeceo her!
5.) Do not VERBALLY ask her for a dance (there are exceptions to this).
6.) Do not stand outside the ladies room and get her as she’s coming out. (can you say “awwwwkward!” ?)
7.) Do not sit 2 chairs away from her ‘eyeing’ her and expect her to dance with you. (“creeeeepy!” ewwww!)
8.) Do not come up BEHIND her and tap her on the shoulder.
9.) Do not sit down next to her and then out of the blue ask her to dance.
1.) Make certain that you are reasonably dry, and not dripping sweat.
Nobody really likes to bathe in sweat, so for this reason always, always have a change of shirt if you’re the profusely sweaty kind of man. Think of it this way, do you want to go home smelling of perfume ? Probably not. Well then she has absolutely ZERO desire to go home smelling like a gym locker! So keep the sweat to an absolute minimum.
2.) Have a pleasant ‘odor’ to you.
This doesn’t mean aftershave but some deodorant is a good choice. Preferably one that doesn’t REEK!
3.) Make certain you are well manicured.
This means that your nails are clipped, hands washed, or cleaned with soap BEFORE you dance with her!
4.) Have pleasant breath.
Two words for you: BREATH MINTS. Need I say more ?
5.) Get a towel or something to use as a handkerchief!
Place it in your suit coat jacket as you’re dancing, or in back right pocket, and at the end of each song, wipe the sweat from your hands, and from your neck and head. Keep your sweat to yourself…let’s not share it, shall we ?
Ok, so now that we’ve read you the riot act about what to do, and how not to engage her…can you ask her for a dance yet ? Well no, not quite.
I strongly suggest you actually LISTEN to the music that you are asking her to dance to BEFORE you ask her to dance. I mean that just because there is music playing, its actually rather helpful for you to have some understanding of what you’re listening to, and then ‘dancing’ to. Far too often men wander around the floor, no where close to the walking beat of the music. They think or believe that they need vocabulary to keep her entertained to ‘dance’ with her. This is NOT true. The thing you need to do, is walk her on the beat. Your mind in her feet. Which means that I don’t care what your feet are doing…what I care about is what her feet are doing, her feet are the metronome by which you dance. She’s the timekeeper her. She’s also the reflection of your ability to keep time. So for every beat in the music, her feet should be on the floor. It also helps if you can keep time in the music. If you think you can do that, I’ll bet you that you can’t. Far too often on a social dance floor I see, ‘wandering’ off the beat or something not even close to a beat. For help on finding the beat, see my previous article on how to hit the upbeat! It goes into finding the downbeat as well, which is what you want to walk on!
While its a little late to be thinking of private lessons at a milonga, but I do strongly suggest private lessons BEFORE you go out social dancing, and what you want to focus on is your embrace, posture, and walk. No, seriously. Not kidding about this one. Its not about the steps and the patterns, its just not. I know you think you can ‘dance’, I know you believe that you’ve taken a few classes with (fill in the blank), and they’ve pronounced you ‘passable’, or taught you some really cool and fancy moves that god him/herself would deem as ‘Yup! that’s pretty cool!”. The fact is, that your embrace is more than likely the source of half of your issues with followers. I am almost willing to bet its like a vice grip and that you just don’t realize it. I’ll go out on a limb here and even go so far as to say that perhaps you use your left arm as a metronome (bouncing up and down in time to the music), and/or on top of that, you’ve been told that you must have ‘resistance’ from her, she has to push into your hand, otherwise she’s just not doing it right. Am I Right ? There are some teachers that teach this, and there some are some of us that don’t. Some of us, actually engage in a conversation, and some of us, well…let’s just say its a monologue and leave it at that. Which is to say that most men, when they have the tables turned on them and their own embrace type and ‘style’ is mirrored back to them…they never want to do that again, ever. What we’re wanting is ‘intention’ based dancing. You think, she goes. Not…you PUSH or PULL and she goes! Imagine a ballon floating in front of you, now exhale…what happens to the ballon ? It floats away from you. Same thing here. You do not want to use your arms, or your hands, but rather your ‘core’ to SUGGEST movement. And speaking of core motions, this requires a ‘clean’ posture. That means being upright and not taking your chest away from your follower, among…..
“Ummm Miles ?”
Yes, is there a question ?
“Ummm, while I appreciate all this wonderful knowledge you’re spouting, but how on earth does this have anything to do with ASKING a WOMAN to DANCE ? I mean don’t get me wrong, Im sure this is all valid to someone, somewhere…and while you’re belaboring the point…ok I need to get some privates, I just don’t get why you’re going on and on and on about this noise! Look dude, how do I ask her to dance ?”.
Well, ahem…ummmm, let’s see now. Do you own a house, or live under some kind of a roof ?
“Yes. I have an apartment in the city”.
Good. What would happen if say, tomorrow morning, you awoke to find that half of your building had crumbled away in the night, so that from your bedroom, what’s left of it, you can now see the apartments above and below you and you now have a lovely vista of the rest of your city ? Would that be good ?
“Well the view would be nice, especially since there’s the hottie in 9A…, but ummm no!”
There’s a reason your apartment building crumbled over night. And that’s because the guy who built your building, his ‘foundation’ was poorly constructed, so much so that it literally eroded and the building collapsed in around it! That building is your dance, and that foundation, is your embrace, your posture, and your walk! Get the them cleaned up, reinforced, and made clear, and your dance won’t collapse around you in the first 3 steps! Because that’s exactly what will happen, if you’re not careful, especially with a more advanced and talented follower!
Enough preaching, this article was supposed to be about HOW TO ASK HER FOR A DANCE. And it is. But first, its about creating the right conditions for you to actually be able to dance with her once you actually get the dance. What you’re doing is creating the right ground work so that you have a successful tanda BEFORE asking her to dance!
Now to the QUESTION: HOW ????
The right and proper way to ask her for a dance is to stand or sit approx. 30 to 40 ft from her, and make concerted, direct eye contact with her. Its her choice at that point to accept or deny your invitation. Give her lots of space my friend. This is elegance in practice. There is a code of operation here and you want use it. Now mind you, sometimes its a little dark in these rooms, and the milonga organizer just doesn’t set up the room in such a way that you can actually send a cabeceo and actually have it seen. In BsAs its a little challenging in some rooms…but it does work.
What we’re looking for is this:
Understand something else, that if she says “NO”, that does not mean that you get up from your chair, and walk over to her and perform one of the 9 don’ts. No, no, no! Bad form. You simply move onto the next follower that you want to dance with. “NO” means “NO”. It unfortunately means NOT EVER, IN THIS LIFETIME. DON’T EVEN THINK IT! Now to be fair, that’s not entirely true, “NO” sometimes means NOT RIGHT NOW. How do you know the difference ? You don’t! Again, her call my friend, not yours. You’ve made your interest known at this point….move on. She’ll either pick up the ball later, or not. However, don’t sit there and be all mister pouty face, that’s not going to get you anywhere! This also means don’t ask again that night, again, at all. That also means that you don’t eyeball her all night long either! Once and let it go. Got it ? Trust me, she got the message.
Ok, now for a few exceptions to the rules.
1.) There are women out there, that a.) can’t see that well 10 feet in front of them, (furthermore neither can you my friend!) and/or b.) Do NOT understand what cabeceo is and how it works. I’ve heard stories of women that go to BsAs and don’t get that men are literally throwing spears at them in terms of cabeceo, and are completely oblivious to the practice, and yet when you ask them later, they’re like “Huh ???? What ? Cappa-what ?”. I’ve seen it happen, been party to it, and not surprised by it, its just a lack of understanding of the codigos and in some cases socially deliberate to feign ignorance. How do you know the difference ? You don’t. You have to take people at the word until proven otherwise. Which is to say, if she declines your invitation, and then accepts someone else’s and then later on claims to be ignorant of the codigos…draw your own conclusions from there. To be fair there are some men who will not take ‘no’ as an answer, and will walk across the floor and extend their hands to her and get ‘the’ dance. Think nothing of it. Let’s just say that if you watch her face while she’s dancing with him, that should tell you everything you need to know about what she’s enduring at that juncture!
2.) If you know her FAIRLY well, are on better than speaking terms with her, and have hung out with her, then you can verbally ask her for a dance.
3.) If you’ve just been introduced to her, you can verbally ask her for a dance right then and there.
4.) If you’ve been seated at her table (Mostly for BsAs folks), you can ask her for a dance, and truth be told I believe you’re expected to dance at least ONE tanda with her, it would be rude not to do so. There are even exceptions to this ‘suggestion’.
5.) If you have a friend that knows her fairly well, you can ask for an introduction but that’s about it, and then employ rule #2.
Having said all of that….breathe, smile, cabeceo. See what happens!
[note: this is a companion piece to “Asking a Man To Dance”]