What is argentine tango?

Argentine tango is a partnered social dance, in which the couple embraces to dance.  It is different from ballroom dancing (including ballroom tango) in its posture, movement and intent.  Unlike ballroom dances, which tend to be more structured, social tango is improvised, with every step being a spontaneous discovery in the moment, as the partners focus on their connections to each other and to the music.

Although Argentine tango is generally confined to "regular" rhythms, it has an infinite variety of step patterns. Nonetheless, what makes tango isn't the steps but the manner in which the steps are danced.  The connection between partners is not so much a result of anything in the dance as it is a requirement to dance successfully.  In order to dance with every step spontaneously improvised, both partners must be paying full attention to each other.


A milonga is an Argentine Tango social dance. People come as individuals or with a partner. The dance music will consist of tango, vals porteña and milonga. Each is a different dance form within the family of Argentine tango. The music is typically played in tandas (sets) with three or four songs per tanda.  By custom, the music within a given tanda will be of the same genre. Between tandas, there are short interludes of non-tango music known as cortinas. The cortina is a customary time to change partners.


A practica is an informal event where one can practice how to dance at a milonga.  The floorcraft and music protocols for practicas are relaxed.  Specifically, it is okay to impede the flow along the line of dance within reason to work on a particular movement.  It is also okay to stop and discuss what is and isn't working—to the limits your partner accepts.    In addition, the music probably won't be played in tandas with cortinas.


TANDAS - At many milongas, the DJ plays music in sets (called tandas) of 3 or 4 songs by the same orchestra from the same period.  Generally, the tandas are played in a repeating cycle of two tandas with four tangos each, one tanda with three to four valses, two tandas with four tangos each, and one tanda with three to four milongas.  The cycles may be shortened to or early in the evening by dropping one or two tandas of tango.  Alternative or neotango music may be substituted for a tanda with the same rhythmic feel.  Some DJs include non-tango dance music, such as salsa or swing, in their rotation.  You can turn the predictability of the cycle to your advantage by planning ahead for dance partners.

DO NOT REPEAT TANDAS - Do not dance consecutive tandas with the same person. This would signal to others that might be a relationship between the couple beyond the dance, and others will no longer invite this person who in turn will also decline futher invitation from you. 

AFTER THE TANDA - At the end of the tanda, the leader will accompany their partner back to their seat or wherever they request to be taken.


CORTINAS - At many milongas, the DJ plays music in sets (called tandas) of 3 or 4 songs by the same orchestra from the same period.  Generally, the tandas are played in a repeating cycle of two tandas with four tangos each, one tanda with three to four valses, two tandas with four tangos each, and one tanda with three to four milongas.  The cycles may be shortened to or early in the evening by dropping one or two tandas of tango.  Alternative or neotango music may be substituted for a tanda with the same rhythmic feel.  Some deejays include non-tango dance music, such as salsa or swing, in their rotation.  You can turn the predictability of the cycle to your advantage by planning ahead for dance partners.


CABECEO - The "cabeceo" (head nod) is the way people invite each other to dance. To ask someone to dance, a person will catch the eye of the person they want to dance with and nod their head.

WHY TO DO THE CABECEO - The cabeceo ensures that no one dances out of obligation, and avoids rejection and hurt feelings. In traditional milongas of Buenos Aires, directly asking someone to dance is considered rude and is usually rejected.

WHEN TO DO THE CABECEO - The cabeceo happens at the beginning of the tanda, not during a cortina. This way, everyone is aware of what kind of music they may be committing to. Not looking around the room for the cabeceo at the beginning of a tanda will result in missed invitations to dance. Followers should use in the same seat all night so they can be easily located by leaders.

ACCEPTING THE CABECEO - If the follower accepts the invitation they will nod back. The person accepting the cabeceo should stay seated and maintain eye contact with you until you meet at the table. This will avoid embarrassing situations where the cabeceo was intended for someone sitting next to that person.

DECLINING THE CABECEO -  If the person does not want to dance for any reason, they will subtly look away, or not look toward that person to begin with.

INTICING THE CABECEO - If you are interested in dancing with someone in particular, catch their eye and wait until they look at you and wait for a cabeceo.

INVITATION BETWEEN FRIENDS - Friends can sometimes go to each other's table to make a cordial invitation to dance.

WALKING AROUND - In venues where cabeceo is difficult, you may stand to get a better view, or walk around the room to get closer to the person you want to ask to dance. But you still does the cabeceo from a distance and make sure the person you want to invite has a mutual interest in dancing with you. Do not cut across the floor or disturb other dancers who are already on the floor.

TRADITIONAL MILONGAS - In traditional milongas, men and women wanting to dance with different partners are seated across from each other to make cabeceo easier to do. 

EXCLUSIVE COUPLES - Couples who only dance with each other sit at their own table together, and other dancers will usually not invite them to dance, not even by asking their partner for permission.

before going to the milonga

HYGIENE - Good hygiene is essential. Before going to a milonga, bathe, shave, brush your teeth, use deodorant, and put on fresh clothes. Do not over use perfume or aftershave – some people are allergic to them. Use breath fresheners. If you perspire, use a towel or handkerchief often. If you perspire heavily, use a towel, take breaks to cool down, bring an extra shirt, and change into when needed.

CLOTHING - Consider how your clothes might feel to someone in the embrace. Avoid scratchy, rough fabrics, accessories with sharp edges or anything that might make your partner uncomfortable or obstruct the embrace.

GLASSES - If you wear glasses, consider contact lenses or removing your glasses while dancing unless you can’t see without them.

the codes


ENTERING THE DANCE FLOOR - Couples should enter together from one of the corners on the dance floor where the imaginary line of dance leaves extra room. Leaders entering the floor when people are dancing should make eye contact with the leader that they want to enter in front of. Do not enter until you make eye contact with a leader already dancing and he signals it is okay to enter the floor in front of him. Followers, leaders are responsible for your safety. Allow your leader to take you on to the dance floor when he decides it is safe.

SKIP A FEW BEATS -  Do not rush into the dance right at the start of the music. The first few beats of the music should not be danced, Use these few seconds to Take time to connect with the music and your partner before you start dancing and be aware of other dancers around you.

EMBRACE - The leader will start the embrace when he is ready to begin the dance. Followers should wait for this.

LINE OF DANCE - The dance proceeds counter-clockwise around the dance floor, referred to as the ronda, line-of-dance, or sometimes abbreviated LOD. Typically there is an outside lane and if the floor is crowded second and third inside lanes may form. More experienced tango dancers tend to nagivate along the outside lane and beginners on the inside lanes.  

SAFETY FIRST - No one likes being kicked, run into, hit, or stepped on. Milongas are supposed to be safe places where people can dance freely and comfortably. Save the high boleos, hard-hitting ganchos, jumps, leg sweeps and leg extensions for performances..Share the dance floor responsibly. Leaders stay aware of the couples around you. Navigating in a cooperative way helps everyone feel safe and able to focus on their partners and the dance. Bad navigation causes other dancers to spend their time protecting their partners from potential harm. 

NO TALKING - Talking at the start of a song is acceptable. Talking while dancing is not. Focus on the dance and the music. During the dance there is no talk, singing or whispering.

NO TEACHING - Teaching on the dance floor is extremely rude and not allowed. It disrupts other dancers and is disrespectful to your partner. Even a well-intended comment can ruin your partner’s evening. If you feel a need to instruct, save it for a practica, and only give advice when you are asked for it. Never ask for advice, corrections, or teaching on the dance floor from anyone. Milongas are never a place for instruction.

STYLE - Respect the style of milonga. Observe how the majority of the dancers are dancing (milonguero, club style, nuevo, etc.). For example, do not dance Tango nuevo in a traditional social Tango milonga. 

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE - Dance forward at the speed of the couple in front of you. Do not tailgate the couple in front of you, if possible, keep a two step gap between you and the couple in front of you. Move into any gap in front of you, so that those behind you have room to move forward.

KEEP MOVING - Stopping for long periods of time to do numerous dance patterns is rude since it stops the line of dance and will frustrate leaders behind you.

DO NOT CUT OFF - Only pass a couple under extreme circumstances. If a couple in front of you stops, be patient and dance in place until they move. If they are there for a very long time, you can choose to dance around them if you have space. Avoid changing lanes. Do not weave in and out of lanes. Never cut across the floor.

DO NOT BACK OFF - Never back up against the line of dance.

COLISION - If a collision occurs, be polite and friendly. Make eye contact and acknowledge the collision even if it was not your fault. If it was clearly your fault, apologize at the end of the song. Do not interrupt the dance to apologize. Do not dance with your partner turned to the back of a another dance leader, who will not be able to see who is behind them.

TANDA - When you agree to dance with someone you agree to dance the entire tanda. No one changes partners in the middle of a tanda. However, no one should subject themselves to a terrible experience. If you wish to stop dancing with someone, do so by thanking them at the end of the song and walking back to your seat. Saying “Thank you” before a tanda is over is understood as “I no longer want to dance with you.”

CORTINA - Do not dance during a cortina. Everyone should clear the floor during cortinas. Do not enter the dance floor until the cortina has ended.

DANCE ABILITY - Good leaders dance at the level of the follower they are dancing with. It is rude to dance above the follower's level to impress the follower, show off to others, or boost one’s ego.

CROWDED FLOOR - Adjust the amount of space you use to how crowded the floor is. On a crowded dance floor, keep your steps small, keep your feet on the floor (e.g. no high boleos), and don’t leave large gaps between you and other couples. 

LESS CROWDED FLOOR - If the floor is less crowded, increase the distance between couples and you may choose to take steps that use more room.

EXITING THE DANCE FLOOR - At the end of the Tanda, the leader accompany the follower back to the follower's table. 

IF YOU ARE NOT DANCING - show respect to those who are by not walking across the dance floor or standing on the floor talking. Do not obstruct the dance floor or the path of others with your chair or other objects. Avoid obstructing the line of sight for others. This is frustrating to those trying to cabeceo. Loud conversations are distracting to dancers.

is it social tango?

This is how you know if when you are NOT dancing social Tango (Tango pista/Tango salón)

SAFETY -  if your Tango becomes a hazzard for other dancers to navigate a shared dance floor, then it is not social Tango.

CLOSE EMBRACE - If you can fit another person between you and the person you are dancing with during the tango, then it is not social Tango.

SHOWMANSHIP - If your Tango is primarily to show off your artistic movements to a real or imaginary audience, then it is not social Tango.

APPLAUSE - If you can see yourself dancing for the Cirque Du Soleil, or if your Tango entices ovations from other people, dancers or non-dancers, everywhere you go, then it is not social Tango.

IMPROVISATION - If you cannot improvise a Tango dance, then it is not social Tango.

PARTNER - If you can only dance Tango with one person, then it is not social tango.

CONNECTION -  if you cannot connect with the music, the person you are dancing with and other dancers on the dance floor, then it is not social Tango.

TALK -  if you talk on the dance floor while others are preparing or already dancing, then it is not social Tango. 

INCLUSIVENESS - if not everyone can dance the Tango style you chose for yourself, than it is not social Tango.

HONESTY - if your Tango does not serve you to share true feelings and emotions with other human beings, then it is not social tango.

REAL -  if your Tango cannot be part of anyone´s lives in a regular basis, then it is not social Tango.

VALUE -  If your Tango does not improve your quality of life and that of other people or otherwise does not bring value to a large number of people in the world, then it is not social Tango.

- Milonguero CARRERA