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The Etiquette of the Milonga








The “codigos” (codes) or tango dance etiquette, have been developed over many years to create an optimum dance experience in the Milongas. These are rules that are adhered to to maximize choice, freedom, and pleasure dancing while avoiding embarrassing, awkward, and unsafe situations in the dance hall and on the dance floor.


The Structure of the Milonga

Music in a Milonga (tango dance party) is set up with “tandas” and “cortinas”. Tandas are sets of 3 or 4 songs played by one orchestra. Generally, Tango tandas have 4 songs while Vals and Milonga tandas may have 3 songs. It is polite to dance a full tanda with one person. However, if you begin dancing partway through a tanda you still end at the cortina. Cortinas are the non-tango bits of songs that are played between tandas. The cortina signals the end of the tanda and is the time for the gentlemen to escort their partners to their seats and clear the dance floor.


The Cabeceo

The cabeceo is perhaps one of the most important codes of all. It is the way that people invite and agree to dance together. It is a system of mutual respect and delicacy. Gentlemen invite the ladies from a relative distance by catching her eye and nodding. If she would like to accept the invitation she will nod back.


If the woman does not want to be invited to dance, she must subtly look the other way or not look his way in the first place. This system ensures that women are not dancing out of obligation and men are not having to have their advances rejected or feelings hurt. In the traditional milongas in Argentina, inviting a follower verbally at her table is considered an encroachment and often rejected out of hand.


Advancing toward a lady and nodding aggressively at her defies the whole reason and mutual consideration that is at the heart of the cabeceo. Make sure from a distance that you are requesting, not demanding and that there is truly a mutual desire on her part. Likewise, ladies, you can make your desire known by looking at the gentlemen you may like to dance with, but staring intensely or incessantly can feel invasive and defeats your purpose – again make sure you are checking in and requesting, not demanding.


Once the agreement has been sealed, he will come to meet her at the edge of the floor closest to her table and the couple will dance the tanda together. At the end of the tanda, the leader will accompany her back to her chair or to the edge of the floor where they met. Leaving her in the middle of the floor is considered bad form.