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Milonga Etiquette

Posted: 13:14, Sunday 31 July 2005 by Megan Jones

Updated: 13:40, Friday 10 November 2006 by Megan Jones

Argentine Tango Milongas come with their own set of traditional rules and expectations. Being in Adelaide rather than Buenos Aires, we are developing our own style, but some things still hold.

In Buenos Aires, the traditional manner in which a gentleman asks a lady to dance involves catching her eye from across the room – if she holds his glance, the dance is accepted, but if she looks away, the man knows his offer has not been taken. This avoids the embarassment of traversing the room to directly ask someone to dance only to be turned down! When a couple does take to the floor, it is generally accepted that they will dance the three piece set. An innocent ‘thankyou’ uttered after the first song could be taken as indication that the dance is over!

In Adelaide, it is rare to see this manner of invitation – but we are trying to get it happening! A milonga is a social setting, people are there to see friends, enjoy the music, and wind down – there is no obligation for people to dance with anyone else, unlike a class setting where it is expected that people will change partners. Of course, this means anyone refusing an invitation to dance needs to bear in mind the potential hurt feelings of the other party, and run the risk of not being asked to dance by them again for some time! It is a beautiful thing, too, to ask someone to dance if you have noticed them sitting for quite a while. And if you’re not sure where to start in terms of who to ask for a dance, why not start with the people in your class? Hopefully you have already met them, and they will be familiar with the concepts and techniques you have been learning.

The three song tanda has a purpose. The first song can be seen as a ‘warm-up’ if you like, a chance to adapt to your new partner. The second dance is there to get things hopefully correct between you and the third, if you’re still dancing, should have you at ease with each other and your leading and following quirks. It also means people can choose a partner depending on the mood of the first song, hopefully feeling secure that the DJ has put three similar pieces of music together.

While many people take still photography shots at milongas, it is considered polite to ask someone before filming them dancing – particularly if there is a special guest in town, or if a couple are performing.

And of course, it is wise to remember never to cross through the middle of the dance floor to make it to the drinks area! While it is possible to lead a lady through a tango safely with everyone following the ‘keep moving anticlockwise’ rule, it is impossible to predict where a rogue person is going to move when they are cutting through everybody to get across the room. Those tango heels can be incredibly painful when they land on someone else’s foot!

Floorcraft is something that takes the men quite a while to learn and feel comfortable with – therefore it is important that everyone is patient with people new to the dance floor. And of course, people having a go should try to bear in mind the idea that everyone is moving around the floor in an anticlockwise direction. Additionally, milongas are not the place to be teaching new steps! Leave that for the practicas and classes – the milonga is a time to dance what you know, relax, and enjoy the music.

But what about collisions? The dance floor is no place for road rage! When a collision does occur, it is polite to acknowledge what has happened, offer an apology where appropriate, and move on. The leaders should always be in control and be able to stop moving if someone suddenly steps in front of them. Ladies can (and should) warn their partners not to step backwards into another couple by applying gentle pressure with their left hand.

Following these courtesies makes a milonga enjoyable for everyone. And of course, if you are new to the milonga scene, and not sure about the general way something is done, just ask! Tango afficionados are always happy to talk about tango!

And an extra note…..
Jennifer Bratt from Close Embrace Tango in New York puts out a regular newsletter. In the latest one, Ney Melo (a teacher in NYC) gives some of his thoughts on milonga etiquette. I thought occasionlly I might add one of his paragraphs here for a different point of view. So here are Ney Melo’s thoughts on the “Penalty Box”....hope you enjoy it!


Rejecting someone does bring a consequence along with it. This is the rule that if you reject someone for a tango, you cannot dance that same tango with someone better who comes along. You have to, at least, wait for the next song or preferably for the next tanda. You can think of those minutes of waiting time as being in hockey’s “penalty box”. Sometimes this is a double-edged sword because let’s say you are in the “penalty box” but then a really amazing dancer who never asks you to dance finally asks you. You know that if you turn them down then you may never get your chance again, but if you say yes you will look like a jerk in the eyes of the first person that asked you (and then THEY may cease asking)! Sometimes you just can’t win…

Ahhh Tango, whoever said it was easy never really tried it hmmm?? Maybe in Australia we’d have the tribunal rather than the penalty box! Kidding….


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At 16:19 on Thursday, 4 August 2005 Nicci said:

At 10:54 on Wednesday, 10 August 2005 Martin said: