Did you take your first steps in the classroom and about to go on the dance floor? Congrats!
You will find that our tango Göteborg family is most friendly, welcoming, and ready to help. Whenever you ask, you will get help to find your way on the dance floor. In case you want to be a bit prepared, or refresh your memory, here comes the most common tango customs and codigos.
In the Götebrog tango community, most of us are quite relaxed about it and the most important is to dance in a way that is safe (see codigos 8 & 9). Whenever you are in doubts, or have a question, ask someone more experienced to explain to you. That is what the community is here for!
If you want to be sure to feel comfortable, join our Sunday Tango Practica, we like to keep things relaxed and focus on the friendliness of the atmosphere to learn and explore with ease.
Given the intimate nature of tango, it is respectful for our dance partners to care about our hygiene when going out to dance. Take a shower, brush your teeth and avoid strong perfumes.
2 “Vamos a la practica” to practice
The tango practica is a gathering to practice what we learn in the classes, to explore the possibilities of the dance (like our Sunday Practica). There you can go with a partner that you want to explore with the whole time, or you can join alone and explore with whomever is there. The ambiance, the dress code are usually relaxed. A playlist with or without cortinas (see below) plays a variety of tangos, vals and milongas, and maybe some alternative music (non-tango music which works to dance tango). A la practica, it is completely acceptable to share feedback as part of the exploration process.
3 “Vamos a la Milonga” to dance!
“La milonga” is the tango party! One can grab the opportunity to dress up nicely and should come open to socialize, and dance with different partners. A Tango DJ plays the music and manages the energy on the dance floor. At the milonga, feedback and focused exploration are usually perceived as party-poopers. It is time to let go, to trust the moves that you know to guide you. A la Milonga, dive into the essence of tango by connecting with your emotions, your partner and the energy of the whole room!
In any case, teaching should NOT happen on the dance floor unless your partner specifically asked you to. Still, it is a big no at the milonga.
4. Tandas & cortinas
When the Tango was born, there were a lot more men than women in Buenos Aires. To make sure that everyone gets to dance, the maximum amount of dances a couple could dance together was 3 or 4. This batch of songs that can be 4 tangos, 3 tango vals (the tango version of waltz), or 3 milongas (a related dance with a faster tempo) if followed with a “cortina”. Cortina means curtain in Spanish and is a short piece of music (30 to 60 seconds) that has nothing to do with tango music. This marked the end of the tanda and was the time to thank our partner, and leave the dance floor together.
As a result the traditional music structure of the dance evening is:
4 TANGOS | Cortina | 4 TANGOS | Cortina I 3 VALSES | Cortina
4 TANGOS | Cortina | 4 TANGOS | Cortina I 3 MILONGAS | Cortina and repeat
Observe that this structure may vary depending on the personal preferences of the DJ and/or the organizers.
To keep things short – when the music is different and that everyone else is leaving the dance floor, it is time to change partner.
5. Breaking a tanda
Traditionally, one dances with the same partner until the end of the tanda. “Breaking a tanda” means walking out from the dance floor before the end of the tanda. It is a strong act that happens because the inappropriate behavior of someone upon an other (offensive attempt to teach, or sexual assault for example). Of course, if you are feeling unwell, it is a whole other story. It is also an excuse that you can use if your partner makes you feel uncomfortable, without being an obvious inappropriate behavior.
6. When to invite someone to dance according to the traditional tango customs and codigos?
Try to wait until the first song of the tanda starts before inviting someone to dance. It is nice to aim to invite a dancer you know, or guess that you will enjoy dancing with to that specific tanda. Traditionally, invitations happen during the second song or the third song of a tanda. However, we usually avoid inviting someone on the third or fourth song, unless you also want to dance the following tanda.
7. How to invite someone?
The “cabeceo” is a nod we do when someone sends us a “mirada”, a look that indicates the intention to invite us to dance. It is a bit the swipe right of the tango. Like on Tinder, I look at you, you look at me, we have a match and get to dance together.
Traditionally the cabeceo was used to give the possibility to decline a dance without hurting the ego. It is also a way to create an emotional connection. In practice, it can feel awkward it is one of the most controversial tango custom. In local tango communities, where people know each other well, it is often fine to ask someone to dance verbally. If you are new in a scene, take some time to observe how people invite each other. In any case, if you do not get to dance at all, try to show interest in people and initiate discussions. It usually helps to find dance buddies. Note that despite what the picture suggests, women should feel as free as men to initiate the invitation.
What if my invitation is rejected?
With or without cabeceo, you (and your potential partners) always have the choice to say yes or no to a dance. Maybe you would prefer to dance to this specific music with someone else. Maybe you prefers not to dance this tanda at all. Reasons are all personal and decisions should be respected. In any case, don’t keep staring at someone until they can’t avoid looking at you any longer. Similarly, don’t try to shame someone who declined verbally your invitation. It is not a nice sensation to feel forced nor is it to feel that you are forcing someone to dance, as subtle it may be.
If you are a complete beginner, you have the perfect catching line… “Would you mind helping out a beginner to develop by dancing one or two dances with me?”. Note that this isn’t part of the tango tradition but it is completely fine to do it, at least in our tango community in Gothenburg.
Then you discharge the person from dancing the whole tanda while giving her/him a chance to get to know you. Make sure to honor your word and thanks your partner after one or two dances.
8. How to enter the dance floor?
Tango is danced following the walls of the room, counterclockwise. The dance floor is divided into lines called “rondas”. Depending on the size of the room, you can have one, two, three or more rondas if it is a very big room. Observe where the other dancers are entering the dance floor and do the same. Often, it is from one corner of the room. Try to get eye contact with the approaching dancer. It is a sign that you would like to enter. If he/she sees you, a light nodding gesture indicates that it is ok for you to start dancing in front.
9. How to navigate the dance floor?
Try to stay in your chosen line of dance and to keep a comfortable distance from the dancer in front of you. If there is a lot of space in front of you, dance forward to not block the dancers behind you.
If the dancers in front of you are not moving and you need to overtake them, do it on the left side only (same as driving) AFTER checking that it is safe and that you won’t bump into someone (same as driving). You may stay in that line, or change back after the “obstacle”.
10. What to do if there is a collision and where to walk when you are not dancing?
It happens, no need to get upset or try to figure out who’s a fault it is. Try to have eye contact with the other couple involved and apologize to each other with a sign of the hand.
When you are not dancing, walk on the side of the dance floor only. Do not cross the dance floor, and keep in mind that dancers always have priority.
11. THE BIRTHDAY VALS – the best of the tango tradition!!
In the culture of Argentine Tango, there is a sweet and fun tradition for the birthday person to dance one tango vals with the other dancers present that day, changing partners throughout the song.
Once again, this is nothing to be scared of. Those Tango customs and codigos are guidelines to be acquired over time and no one expects you to know them all from the moment to start dancing. As we said, the best way to learn is “on the field”. Just put yourself out there, ask a few questions, make a lot of mistakes, and you will learn it all in no time!
Illustrations: Signature Les Pas Parfaits et dessins Véronique Paquette