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Argentine Tango Etiquette


An Argentine tango dance party is called a milonga. The great feature of a classical milongas is that you may come without a partner because people exchange partners for the dance. Keep reading on to learn how.


Invitation to dance through an eye contact: Mirada and Cabeceo

To make it easy to invite a person to a dance at a milonga, we use a technique based on eye contact called mirada and cabeceo in Spanish. It works the following way. If you are interested in dancing with other people, you are looking at them once in a while. If they are interested in dancing with you, they will be looking at you once in a while. If you have made an eye contact—maybe you will go to dance. To invite, the leader nods. If the follower nods back, this is an acceptance. The leader can walk to the follower now.

However, if you cannot catch their eye contact and get a confirmative nod, you cannot come to that person. Coming directly to a person to ask to dance is considered very rude and a big NO-NO.  You may actually get rejected just because you broke the rules. You may get a straight "no, thank you!" even if you are a great dancer!  Not all milongas follow these rules but many great ones do.


Dance floor etiquette

Milonga is a crowded place full of people who mostly don't know each other. So, tango community developed a set of rules to help everyone feel safe, comfortable, and enjoy the night.

It starts with milonga music played in groups of songs called tandas. Usually, three or four songs make a tanda. Tandas are separated by cortinas—a short music track unrelated to tango. Everybody recognizes it easily. Cortina is a time to end your current dance and begin looking for a new partner.

Important: a "Thank you" on a tango dance floor serves a very special purpose: it signals the end of your dance with your current partner. So,  you normally say "thank you" when the tanda ends and you hear a cortina. If you have heard a "thank you" from your partner, you should responds with "Thank you" as well, separate, and walk off the dance floor.

It is important to dance the entire tanda with your partner. Polite people dance from cortina to cortina. It is considered rude to leave after just one or two songs. You still can do it but, please—only if you become extremely uncomfortable with your partner for whatever reason and know that you will not be able to make it to the end of the tanda. Then you just smile, say "thank you", and leave.

However, if all you want is to compliment your partner in between the songs of tanda because you have enjoyed the dance, you should say something like "Wonderful dance!". If you slip "thank you", the person you dance with may understand it as if you are unhappy and want to end the dance.


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