A Milonga is about more than just dancing. It is about camaraderie and fellowship with the members of our Tango community. Everyone is there to have a good time. These codes are not hard rules but rather guidelines to help everyone enjoy their experiences at the Milonga.
What is a Milonga?
A Milonga is both a tango dance party, where people get together for the purpose of dancing Tango socially, and a rhythm that we dance to. These codes refer to a Tango dance party. These parties are often held in homes, dance studios, restaurants, bars and other public venues. There is usually a Milonga organizer, either a group of people or a single person, who throws the Milonga as a service to the community. The organizer is usually responsible for booking the space, providing refreshments, etc. The organizer is also in charge of hiring a DJ. The DJ plays the music during the Milonga.
What should I wear?
It used to be impolite to go to a Milonga without wearing a hat? Of course, there are many old rules which are no longer in observance. There are also many rules in Buenos Aires that are not observed here in the states. One of these is the dress code. The dress code varies from Milonga to Milonga. Some Milongas are more formal and others more casual. Usually a Friday night or Saturday night Milonga would be more formal than a weekday or day time Milonga.
Many still feel that nice dress pants and a button up shirt are required for dancing Tango, but many younger dancers regularly go to Milongas in nice blue jeans. You do not need to “dress up,” but should dress neatly. Women should not wear clothing that restricts their movements. Women can wear pants to Milongas, but often where dresses or skirts with slits to allow for maxiumum movement. The one thing you might really want to avoid would be large belt buckles or broaches, bascially anything that would poke or interfere with the connection.
How do I ask a woman to dance?
The most elegant way to ask a woman to dance is to use what is called the cabeceo ("The look" or "The Nod of the Head"). The cabeceo is the act of asking a woman to dance by making eye contact with her. If she holds your look and nods back then she has accepted your offer. If she looks away then she has refused your offer. This is the only way to ask a woman to dance in Buenos Aires. Verbally asking a woman to dance in Buenos Aires would 9 times out of 10 result in a rejection, although sometimes they do make exceptions for foreigners. It is beneficial to both parties. It gives women the power to say no, while not hurting the ego of the man.
The aboslutely wrong way to ask someone to dance is the walk up to them, grab their arms and say "Let's dance," as you drag them to the dance floor.
Exception: If you are visiting a community which does not understand or use the cabeceo then adapt to that community.
I use the cabeceo, but all the women keep looking away? Maybe they don't understand the cabeceo?
Or maybe they understand it perfectly. Hint, Hint. Maybe it is time for some more classes?
I am a woman, and no men ever ask me to dance?
At the beginning of each tanda, are you paying attention, with your head up, looking for leaders to cabeceo you? So often, I see women during the cortina and the first song of a tanda, digging through their pocket book or staring at their phones. This is when you need to be looking around to accept dances. Some other ideas: Move closer to the dance floor or stand near the dance floor. Smile.
Is it ok for women to ask men to dance?
It is generally accepted, that men ask women to dance, but women can occasionally ask men to dance here in the US. A better strategy might be for women to approach a man and begin a conversation and he very well might ask her to dance. She could also say things like, “I would love to dance with you sometime” or “I would appreciate a dance later if you would like.” I was once getting a cup of water and the refreshments table and a woman came up and offered to pour her some water and she said, “Yes, and I would also say yes to a dance later on.”
Also, it might be nice for women to ask a new dancer that might seem shy and unsure of himself.
Can I say no to being asked to dance? Does it hurt their feelings?
Yes... and probably yes. There is no perfect answer here, but you are not required to dance with anyone and you don’t necessarily have to give a reason for it. If you are tired, then you can say that you are tired. I do sometimes tell people that I am resting for a tanda or two. If you are truly done dancing, one strategy that women employ is to take off their shoes.
However, if you refuse a dance with someone, I would wait until the next Tanda before accepting a dance with someone else. It could be seen as rude to refuse a dance, especially if you make up an excuse, and then immediately accept another dancers invitation.
What is a tanda?
Tango DJ’s usually play music in either 3 or 4 song sets called tandas. All of the songs in a tanda usually have a theme such as the same orchestra with the same singer and/or from the same time period.
The songs are usually all tangos, all waltzes (vals) or all milongas. So if you start dancing to a vals you can be assured that the next 2 or 3 songs will also be vals.
The songs should have a similar rhythm and feeling to them, which allows you to get into a groove with your dance partner by the second or third song. Good DJs will not radically switch rhythms or themes during a tanda. Leaders will often start off leading very simple moves during the first song to get a good connection with that partner and if the connection is good they might start exploring more advanced ideas during the final songs.
How many songs am I expected to dance with a person?
If you accept a dance with someone, it is expected that you would dance an entire tanda with that person. There are only a few exceptions to this:
What is a cortina?
A tanda will end with a cortina (curtain). A cortina is usually a non-tango song that will last 30 to 45 seconds and signals the dancers that the tanda is over. During the cortina leaders usually escort the followers back to their tables.
Can I dance two tandas with the same dancer?
Traditionally, this would mean that their was some romantic interest between the two dancers. Here in the US it does not necessarily mean that, but you might want to keep in mind that it could definitely be seen as flirtatious.
Should I say “thank you” after a dance?
Traditionally, saying “thank you” meant that the dance is over and that you would like to stop dancing with that person. This is rarely the case today. It is usually just something people say after a song. However, I would avoid saying it, instead, I would say something like “that was a nice dance” or “you are wonderful dancer” etc. I would save the “thank you” for after the tanda is over, just to save any miscommunication.
Should I walk her back to her table?
If you can continue a conversation while walking her back to her table then that is nice. But if she says thank you quickly and heads off on her on in a random direction, you do not have to follow her.
Do not walk across the dance floor when people are dancing.
I see this more and more lately. If there is no other way to get to the other side of the room then wait for the song to end and then cross.
Don’t be a stinker.
Personal hygiene is always important, but extra so when we are participating in a physical activity with someone else so close to us. Don’t try to just cover up odors with deodorant. Take a bath and use soap. Brush and floss your teeth and keep breath mints available.
Don’t over do it and wear too much perfume or cologne. We switch partners often in tango and by the end of the evening sometimes you have collected so many perfumes that it smells horrible. Also, some people have allergies and can be adversely affected by perfumes.
When you go to the restroom at a Milonga, wash your hands before returning to the Milonga.
Do not make inappropriate comments or act innappropriately
Women tell me about this all the time. They do not like it and do not think it is cool or attractive. I have heard some comments that I will not repeat here, but often they are something like, “Dancing with you is better than sex" or moaning while dancing. I have also seen guys keep the embrace between songs just hugging and rocking back and forth. Not cool, you look like a creep. This does not mean that you can not complement someone. You can say, “You look beautiful tonight” etc...