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Milonga Etiquette:  Codes, Music and Floorcraft 


A Milonga is a formal party where people dress up and observe all the social niceties. A practica is generally shorter and less formal, and people are free to try new things, work on specific moves, or ask friends to show them things.

Argentines have been dancing Tango for more than a century. This has given them some time to figure out what works and what does not work in a social dance environment.  Out of this has grown unwritten codes of conduct which they take very seriously.  The "codes" are continually evolving and have subtle variations from one milonga to another.  At their heart seems to be the Golden Rule:  "dance next to others as you would have others dance next to you", as well as the notion of equal opportunity, that is... everyone gets to use the same amount of space.

We encourage everyone to follow the milonga etiquette, it makes the evening much more pleasurable and will maximize your tango dance experience.

Tango Floorcraft:  Navigation skills and awareness

Tango dancers move in a counter clockwise direction around the floor in lanes much like lanes on a highway. The experienced dancers typically dance in the outside lane on the edge of the dance floor, and less experienced dancers dance in the middle of the floor.

Some of the codes that apply to the dance floor and are generally observed in all milongas are:

Stay in one lane
Do not pass other dancers in your lane
Adjust your dancing to the space available and don't take more than your share
Never have an inordinate amount of space between you and the couple in front of you. This is something you can control.
Do not impede the line of dance.
Followers should keep their feet on the floor so no one gets injured:  no high kicks, ganchos or high boleos on the crowded dance floor.  Don't confuse social dance with a stage.
Leaders are responsible for the safety of their followers.
It is very inappropriate to start critiquing, correcting or teaching at a Milonga.


Personal Hygiene

Because tango is an intimate dance, good personal hygiene is essential for an enjoyable dancing experience.  Please use a deodorant, brush your teeth, be clean and wear clean clothes.  Generally, sweatiness and other discomforts that are simply a result of being close to another person are accepted in tango, and we do not break a tanda for these kinds of discomforts, nor do we comment upon them to the person or others.  If you do sweat a lot, bring a spare shirt with you.  Beware of excessive use of perfume or cologne.

 Music in a Milonga

 The music in the milonga is structured in what are called "tandas". A tanda is a set of three songs by the same orchestra or composer and usually from the same musical period. The tandas will be played in the traditional order, Tangos (3), Tangos (3), Vals (3), Tangos (3), Tangos (3) Milongas (3). (or TTVTTM....and then the sequence repeated.)

This is the tradition in the city in which tango was born. Outside Argentina it is common for DJs at milongas to break from tango tradition and add other types of music intended to elicit the steps used in dancing tango. e.g., modern interpretations of classic tangos, 'neotango' (electronic music with a dance club beat that adds a bandoneon), and non-tango music.

The most important thing about the milonga is the music. We strive very hard to program our music selections in such a way that most people will enjoy it. Majority of the music that we play at our milongas comes from the Golden Age of Tango, vals and milonga recordings, but we also add some inspiring alternative tango, latin music, non-tango and swing.

The tandas are separated by "cortinas" of non-tango music. A cortina is a short piece (about 30 seconds) of non-tango music that tells the dancers this tanda is over and a new tanda is about to begin. The next tanda will be a different style of music and is normally danced with a new partner. The beauty of cortinas in Buenos Aires is that absolutely everybody thanks their partner and leaves the dance floor. This means that you can now choose with whom you will dance next from among everybody present in the room. When a man invites a woman to dance, he finishes the whole tanda with her, no matter how she dances.

It is traditional to dance all three songs of the tanda with your partner, unless it is not working out for you or your partner. A polite thank you is used to excuse oneself from the floor if you wish to stop dancing, although it is considered quite rude not to finish the whole tanda.

The music played at Milongas around the world is from The Old Guard and The Golden Age. Some of the Old Guard orchestras/ composers were Roberto Firpo, Orquesta Tipica Victor, Carabelli and Francisco Canaro. Canaro is also considered part of the Early Golden Age composers along with De Caro, Donato and Fresedo. The Golden Age composers were D'Arienzo, Biagi, Rodriquez, Troilo, Calo, Tannturi, Fredico, Laurenz, D'Agostino and Di Sarli. These great musical pieces were written between 1920 and the 1950s. You may go anywhere in the world, and a good milonga, will be playing tandas from these orchestras during this magical creative time period for music.

10 Principals of Impeccable Tango Floorcraft

(By Daniel Boardman, Albuquerque, NM)

 Maintain a lane

When danced socially, tango is danced in strict circular lanes with couples advancing around the room in a counter clockwise direction (called line-of-dance). There may be one or more concentric lanes moving simultaneously. Once in a lane, avoid changing lanes during the dance.

Look before backing up

Never step backwards against the line of dance blindly. Likewise, avoid other movements that cause you or your partner to suddenly occupy space behind you in line-of-dance because the dancer behind you may have already begun advancing into that space.

Avoid passing

Tango is not a race. If the dancer in front of you is advancing more slowly than you would like, alter your dance so that it is more circular and less linear. Learn to dance well and happily without much forward advancement.

 No Parking

Standing and chatting with your partner between songs is fine, but keep an awareness of when the couples around you start dancing again and move accordingly. If the other dancers have begun to dance and you wish to continue your conversation, simply step off the floor so you don't obstruct them.

 Never ZigZag

Cutting in and out of line-of-dance is very poor form and disturbing to the dancers you are cutting in front of. If you choose to dance in the center of the room, remain there throughout the song. If you dance in a given lane, finish the dance in that same lane.

 Don't monopolize the space

There are many styles of tango. Some require a relatively large amount of floor space; some require a minimal amount of floor space. All styles are fine under the right conditions. If a floor is crowded, dance small, not taking up any more space than any of your fellow dancers. If the floor is not crowded, and you are so inclined, dance large.

Avoid dangerous moves

Certain moves, such as high in-line boleos, can be dangerous on a crowded floor. Save them for less crowded conditions.

Don't talk, dance !

Talking while dancing is bad form, reveals the dancer's lack of presence in the moment, and is distracting to other dancers. Save the conversation for when the music stops. Teaching or correcting your partner is particularly inappropriate at a milonga. Save it for the practica.

Dance with the room

Endeavor to dance with an awareness of all the dancers around you. Do not allow gaps in the line-of-dance in front of you to form as this will cause a pileup of dancers behind you. When the music begins, start dancing when the majority of other dancers do.

Ask before merging

Before stepping onto a crowded dance floor, if you are a leader, make eye contact with the leader whom you wish to enter the floor in front of. The leader should understand your requests and indicate his assent with a nod or wink, and you may then enter the line-of-dance.

Clear the dance floor when the cortina begins

When the cortina begins to play, everyone should clear the dance floor. It is considered bad taste to stay on the dance floor and dance to the cortina. During the cortina you may sit and possibly find a new dance partner for the upcoming tanda, by using a cabeceo.

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milonga etiquette