Tango Etiquette (full version)

Tango Etiquette
The finer points of tango culture
by Mark Word,  Washington, D.C.

Etiquette is something we learn first at a table.  After we learn any type of etiquette, it feels like "common knowledge," but learning social mores is often a long hard process.  So it is with tango.   Who would argue that all that is from Buenos Aires is gold?  But what is?  Decency is gold.  Gentlemanliness is gold.  Feminine kindness is gold.  Find your own gold.  You may feel rebellious about certain social mores, but at least be aware of traditions you are discarding!  And a personal request:  The term to use is "etiquette" and not "rules" or "laws."  Rules/laws are to be broken.  Etiquette is your friend when you have committed to be a social animal.  My bet is the elements that you might think are superfluous now will be the very elements that you most embrace the longer you dance.

I am open to your ideas of what you think, and especially questions/issues not addressed here.  I will add your ideas.  This is a working document.  Send ideas/ questions/ corrections  to:  Mark.Word1@gmail.com.

Chapter One:  Preparation for the milonga
Chapter Two: Arriving at the milonga
Chapter Three: On the dance floor (including Floorcraft)
Chapter Four:  Near the tables
Chapter Five:  To and from the dance floor
Chapter Six:  After the milonga

Appendix A  

Tango Etiquette Links:
  • A shorter version "Los Códigos" from Buenos Aires
  • Things you should know if you are going to visit Buenos Aires.
  • Insightful link from a tanugera on the "cabeceo."
  • Other links on Tango Etiquette in English

Appendix B is for beginners:
Please go to the bottom of this article if your are new to tango!
  • Beginners orientation
  • A glossary of tango terms (link)

Chapter One: Preparation for the milonga.  

What to Wear:  Dress to impress.  Dress to be as sophisticated as the music is and how the opposite sex dresses. 
Ladies:  Do not wear something that will ruin his clothes or be a knot in his stomach or chest if you dance close embrace.  Low hanging jewelry should stay at home. 
Gentleman:  Many women don’t seem to care that a man is in jeans and a polo shirt as long as he holds her like a woman should be held and hears the music.  But what if he dresses well and dances well?  Respect the ladies and dress as if you were taking them out! Would you wear jeans and a t-shirt if you were going to a restaurant with that well-dressed, beautiful woman you have in your arms?  If you are at a práctica or at a weekday milonga, even in Latin America dancers will show up less dressed up.

Hygiene 101:
  Nothing much to say here your mother has not said, other than hygiene is very important and the easiest thing to fix.  You cannot easily fix being not the best dancer, but hygiene you can fix.

Some practical ideas:
  • Body A good shower will decrease the amount that you will sweat.
  • Perspiration:  Some people really do not like sweat.  I know some men who sweat a lot will bring at least one fresh shirt.  Women have shoe collections.  Tangueros should have a collection of cotton handkerchiefs.
  • Breath:  Floss!  Brush!  Mints!  So simple. Please do not chew gum! The nice way to say "you have bad breath" is to offer a mint. Even if that is not the message, I suggest you take the mint with a smile anytime it is offered.  It may have been your last chance ever to dance with the person who is offering the mint.
  • Slippery hands:  Problems with sweaty hands has a solution that is simple:  Wash your hands with warm water and soap. Ladies, only use hand cream on the back of your hands if you have this problem.

Chapter Two:  Arriving at the Milonga

The Alpha and Omega Rule: 
The first tanda after putting on your shoes* belongs to your significant other.  Likewise, the last tanda is reserved for your special partner.   If you are dancing with someone and all at once the Cumparsita (the last song) is playing, you should be aware that the person you are dancing with may need to find their significant other – graciously allow this.  DJ’s aware of tradition will nearly always announce "last tanda!" ahead of time.

*Tradition in Buenos Aires frowns upon putting on one's dance shoes at one's table.  If you want to break this tradition, be aware that at least you have made it clear that you do not respect their tradition.

The Wild, Wild West Rule:  Consider your cell phone a "six shooter."  At the Milonga Saloon, you might have your weapon hidden somewhere, but do not wear it around, cowboy!  Put that thing on safety (vibrate), and have a whiskey on me.  This is not only traditional Argentine wisdom but common courtesy.  Just turn it off and be present.

The Cabeceo:  A nod of the head in Spanish is a "cabeceo." Using a cabeceo is the proper way of requesting 15 minutes of a tanguero/tanguera's time.  Perhaps if we danced just one dance and not three or four, we would not use a cabeceo in tango.  But we do!   The cabeceo is far more than a head movement.  How one uses the eyes is probably the most important, along with a coy smile and body posture too.  Life is full of asking for things with our eyes and a nod of the head.  It is better than asking in a lot of things!  ;-)  
The cabeco --more than a nod

Commentary:  My practice partner tells me that the cabeceo is for the male ego, to avoid rejection.  Indeed it is, and for the equally fragile female ego for the same reason. Life is hard enough.  We don’t need to have negatives like rejection overtly going on at a milonga.  Women sometimes tell me that they feel that they don’t have the right to ask.  A man can invite with his eyes all night and never get to dance with certain women.  One gender does not have the advantage here.   Ladies, try this test:  Ask men you do not want to dance with a smile and a nod.  See!  Now he is dancing with you.  Men have a remarkably similar experience.  Many are dancing but not necessarily with the women they would first choose.  Some women are dancing all the time – as long as there is some gender balance BUT not with the ideal person all the time.  Yet, some ladies feel that only the younger, sexy ladies are getting asked.  Maybe they are sexy.  Being kind and friendly is more important than sexy.  Older women who can dance and know how to use their eyes are dancing all night.  They are also kind and happy people.  Kindness wins out over sexy all the time.  So the lesson here is to ask with a nod.  If that doesn't work, asking overtly is only putting someone in a position of obligation to dance with you.

Graduate-level Cabeceo:  Gentlemen, pay attention to this tanguera's advice (Señorita N.) if you feel you are ready for dancing with the more advanced ladies who have different tangueros for every flavor of tango:  "For the cabeceo, the guys should always wait to hear what the music is before looking for a partner.   There are men with whom I would dance a tango or a vals, but never a traspie milonga.  You can acknowledge me as you dance by and then I will know you will will soon look for me.  The porteños do it by raising their eyebrows as they lock eyes.  Men, if you are only dancing with the young and pretty in the sparkly dresses, then you are missing out on some of the best dancers in the room. There is a reason all the young women flock to the milongas with the 70-year old men in Buenos Aires.  And it is not because they are tall and good looking, or have a large repertoire of steps.  It is because we old ladies have taught them how to cherish a partner."  http://accidentaltango.blogspot.com/ added this idea: "Any more, whenever I'm asked to dance before the tanda begins, I say something like, ‘Let's see what the music is first.’ If it's not something I want to dance to (or dance to with that person), but I do want to dance with that person, I'll say something like, ‘How about we find each other again for the next traditional tango?’ I haven't figured out any better way to handle it, in general.”   Note for "survival tango":  In a community in which the cabeco is unknown or disregarded, waiting for the music to start may find you dancing a lot less.  I don't recommend having bad manners at a table, but if you are going to starve, it may be best to join the jungle.  However, in a community like this, you will never forget just for a moment that you are in Buenos Aires.  What a shame!  Please see this link for "Survival in a Cabeco-Free Zone:  http://tango-beat.blogspot.com/p/survival-in-cabeceo-free-zones.html.

Please note that most of the problems and predicaments addressed below about etiquette are caused by not using the cabeceo.   For the Visually Impaired: I learned how even the near blind can do well and use the idea of the cabeceo to enjoy their dance.  Please read this:  http://tango-beat.blogspot.com/2010/09/it-takes-more-than-two-to-dance-tango.html.

Chapter Three:  On the Dance Floor
Tangosutra Milonga, Eastern Market, Washington, DC
One Tanda at a time:
You just had a great tanda with this new guy or gal from out of town.  Maybe you can get two in a row?  There is a problem with this.  First, he may be with someone else, and that creates suspicion because two-tandas-in-a-row is the beginning of true love.  J  If you really were as good as your partner, then a new tanda will happen later.  The one that really would like to dance again can say, “thank you, that was wonderful.  I hope we dance again tonight.”  Now go back to the cabeco later in the evening.  If I return to dance with others after a great tanda, I will then realize how good she really was.  Then I especially will want a second, or even a third tanda.  Again, repeated tandas are a sign of tango nirvana and true love.  Is that what you want to say – “I am in love with the way you dance”?  The other may like or even love the way you dance, but have other reasons not to reciprocate this feeling of tango adoration.  It may be nice to be adored but I recommend a bit of caution here.  You can unwittingly create a feeling of obligation to “make” his or her night.  In Buenos Aires multiple tandas have a special meaning.  A tanguera friend danced with an incredibly handsome and talented dancer three tandas in a row.  Unwittingly she was assenting to an entire evening with him.  He was waiting at the bottom of the stairs for her at the end of the night.  Then she was really forced to say "no way, José."  Messy.

New meanings for words you thought you knew:
  • "Thank you" does not necessarily mean what you think it does. It is only said at the end of a tanda. Sooner means: “Please let me sit down; I do not feel comfortable dancing with you.”
  • "You are welcome" is not the proper response to "thank you" at the end of a tanda.  One counters with "It was my pleasure."  Otherwise it is as if you were the giver only and received nothing yourself.
  • "I am sorry" is superfluous except in very small doses. This is a social dance and not a performance. In the same vain, avoid excuses, such as “I am rusty” or “I am not very good.” Just let your soul dance. If the other person realizes you have deficits, you are better off with being just who you are. I never tell someone when I think my own cooking has too much salt. They may not have noticed and saying something makes them taste it.  Dance is the same way.  Just enjoy what is happening.
  • "Chit Chat" means the world.  Think "social grace" and not "superficial chit chat."  Being nice about what a person wore, or how they look or how they dance is wonderful. Simply give and accept compliments! If you think a woman or a man tells everyone else the same line, you can do social research on a compliment's validity via a questionnaire to tangueras or tangueros later.  A Latina rarely would challenge a compliment, and Latinos are far more generous with their compliments than most people from non-Latin countries.
  • "Tango is a dialog":  So that is why so many people are talking?  Tango dialog is done in silence at a milonga.  Once the song starts and you start dancing and avoid talking.  Commentary:  Sure, you know a lot.  Maybe you are a teacher.  A rocket scientist.  No matter!  Avoid TEACHING on the dance floor.  That is the role of a práctica.  Even if the neophyte adores your wisdom, you are teaching her/him the wrong tango etiquette.  Talking with a neophyte at a milonga is like a language teacher teaching the right spelling with the wrong grammar.  Being a poor example is the smaller problem.  Your talking probably is disturbing everyone around you on the floor.  In many milongas the music is not loud enough farthest from the speakers.  Talking itinerant tango preachers are sometimes louder than the music and never more interesting.  Talking women are very rare in my experience, perhaps because they know what will happen.  Once  a woman starts to talk, I will do something so complex that her brain will shut down all unnecessary processing in order to survive.  Talking is the first non-vital function to stop.  Sad but true, ladies, it is often we men who are talking.  Here is my best advice from a tanguera:   She would say, “I really have to listen to your body language, and I cannot do it well while talking.”
Miscellaneous Dance Floor Etiquette:
  • Dear Dr Phil/Ann Landers on the pista:  Don't ask for advice on the milonga dance floor.  Beginners love advice.  Ladies, please don't ruin a man who was doing pretty well about not talking.  Take him home if you want his advice.  I am sure he will have some for you.
  • Tanguera Swap:  This is like cutting in but includes trading partners on the dance floor.  The person starting the swap is dealing with four human opinions instead of two.  Do the math.  This can go exponentially wrong.  During the cortina find your new partner after you leave the dance floor.

Chapter Three, Part II:  On the Dance Floor
Floorcraft Basics 
...that even advanced dancers sometimes have never learned
Freedom Plaza, Washington, DC

Without etiquette, tango is a jungle.  A zoo is much safer for everyone.
  • Emergency Medicine Rule:  "Cause no harm and protect."  This is the basic floorcraft rule.  You thought the first rule on a social dance floor was to dance, but rather, it is to cause no harm and to protect.  Dancing is clearly second!  If you go to the emergency room the last thing you want is more problems than when you arrived.  For the medical staff the rule "cause no harm and protect" is paramount.  Likewise, when you come to the dance floor with a woman who has sore feet, don't make it worse with cuts and sprains!
  • Avoid going backwards.  A backstep is a poor starting default -- even if that is what you were taught in the "basic step."  The basic step and going backwards is basically a bad idea.  Make it a sidestep or a step towards the outer edge of the dance floor. 
  • Dance in lanes.  The outside lane is near the edge of the floor and is reserved for the dancers who keep up a good flow.  Couples who do not keep up the flow are called "rocks in the stream."  The second lane is nearer the center and should be far away enough from the outside lane to avoid bumping or causing physical harm.  Even at a práctica one should go to a side room or the center to work out something that stops the flow.  No passing on the right, especially on the right of the outside lane -- a favorite pastime of some tangueros.  At every large milonga there is a tanguero who likes to be in the 1.5 lane.  The person who does this has no idea.  We need to ask others, "What is it like to dance near me?"  Ladies are responsible for not pulling both into danger.  Little steps are indicated not only through body language of your partner but by the traffic around you. 
  • Fill in the Space in front of you without tailgating.  A favorite trick of stage dancers, pretending to be social dancers at a milonga, is to have lots of room ahead of them so they can yo-yo back and forth, using four times the space of everyone else.  Dancing well in a SMALL SPACE is the final frontier of advanced dancers.  Need space to dance?  Time for some Small Space Exploration.  It takes the skill of two to tango in a small space.
  • Tango is NOT a race!  Ask the ladies.  They like a dynamic of expressive slowness with faster moments when the music calls for it.  The dance floor may look like a racetrack, but it is not.  The person who veers in and out of lanes is by far the most dangerous person on the dance floor.  Sadly they think they are pretty good in their Formula One dance shoes.
  • Safety is not just a man's job:  Ladies, no high boleos on the social dance floor -- even if he leads them. My guess is that most high, boleos and huge steps are not being led.  My favorite tangueras often have their eyes closed but they sense a change in my body when danger is near and keep their feet to the ground.  Ladies, if you do not have this psychic ability open your eyes.

Chapter Four:  Near the Tables

The Bodyguard:
After a woman (or a man) has declined a dance, avoid hanging around with now a secondary job of being his or her bodyguard.  Let’s say that you even used a cabeceo, and she responds by saying “not now.”  You might as well read that as “maybe not now, or forever.”  Take off, do not wait for her to rest as she said she would.  She does not need a bodyguard.  The same goes for women – just leave if he says "not now."  What happened to the cabeco?  It needs a bodyguard, not the person you asked.

Once you have declined a dance with a little white lie, you are in Time-Out.  Just like kindergarten.  None of this would be happening if the cabeceo had been used.  But let's say she says, "No, I am resting." So now you leave.  He or she who has said “not now” is in the "penalty box" for at least that tanda.  I believe that the time-out is not in force when the "no" does not contain a little white lie.  That is why it is best to simple say, “no, thank you” and not equivocate about perhaps later.  If you do equivocate with something like, "I am resting my feet," it is simply not nice to then go off and dance with someone else.  Some would say that one is in time-out for the tanda after saying no, but follow your sense of kindness.  No lie, no foul or time-out.  For the right person and said from a truly gentle person, one can avoid the little white lie.  Here are some solutions which you might want to practice in a mirror!
Sarah's solution:  "I only respond with a cabeceo.  Maybe next milonga."  Commentary:  Sarah puts the asker in time-out!  Sure next time she won't even look at the man or woman, but now they cannot obligate her by asking or put her in time out.  I think this is ingenious.  She has to do this because she is a leader and she has both men and women wishing to torture her.  She once danced with everyone, but the physical (and even psychological) pain that some put her through has her now having to say "no" with her eyes.
The Gentleman's Solution:  "Dear, if you asked with your eyes, you would know if I truly wanted to dance.  I must insist on the cabeceo."  Commentary:  This is a direct way to decline and also help install some etiquette at the milonga. Good tango karma comes from being being able to say "no" all the while being nice.
The White Flag Technique:  
A way to save only the best dances for the right man is for her to take off her shoes later in the evening.  This is body language for "my feet have surrendered."  Commentary:  If you can get a cabeceo from a woman without her shoes on, that is the best compliment a tanguero can ever have when she puts her shoes back on him.  Ladies, do NOT point to your feet to decline if you can avoid it (to avoid a time-out).  A great dancer may come along and you are unnecessarily in time-out.  Make it clear so he won't even ask (like putting your bare feet up on a chair, or better, you shoes on your shoe bag on you lap).  Men won't even ask you, but your favorites just may.  They know what you are up to!

"No" vs. "forever no"
Spouses are remarkably like dance partners:  Both cannot read minds.  If you ever obviously avoid a cabeceo or even say "no" to someone but really want to dance later, then make this clear.  I have stopped trying to get a cabeceo from women whom I THOUGHT were shunning me.  Then later I find out from other tangueras that they think I am shunning them.  Requiring others to read your mind is not very helpful in any relationship.

The Cortina Silent Prayer:
The Cortina Prayer is that you wish you were dancing, ¿obvio, no?  Did you ever notice that people pray in silence?  Let's have a MOMENT of silence during the cortina if you want to dance.  Tell your conversation partner, "During the cortina, let's look up and catch someone's eye."  Mobile phone text messages, talking with friends and generally being spaced out will have disastrous results for your tango prayers and as well as conversations with Deity.  Amen?

Cutting In:  
Interrupting others in a conversation is perhaps the second most difficult social skill at a milonga.  (The most difficult follows below.)  I only have seen one person cut in during a tanda.  That's pretty rare.  However, what do you do when you wish to dance with someone engaged in a conversation at the tables?  Stand back in the periphery for a moment and if you do not get a cabeco from the person, then walk away.  Some women will drop a conversation in a moment to dance; others will be perturbed by "lurking tangueros."

The Couple:
There are three basic types of couples.  The general rule of thumb is that when you approach any couple you will need to engage both in this agreement.

Type A:  The couple is talking.  That's all.   Do not butt in to ask for a dance.  She or he may be working up to dancing together.  Try to get his/her eye from the periphery, and if not walk away.
Type B:  The couple dances with everyone, but they are sitting together, perhaps resting.   See Type A but understand type C too.
Type C:  The couple dances mostly with each other.    In fact they are  – “the couple” – just sitting there.  It is hard to know what is going on with them.  They might have high levels of anxiety with dancing with others, or have had fights over jealousy from dancing with others.  Perhaps they just love to sit and watch.  However, the most likely thing that is going on is that he has a bubble over his head that reads, “My God, I wish someone would ask her to dance so I could go dance with someone else.”  And the bubble over her head reads, “He’ll go off and dance and no one will ask me, and I will feel like a fool sitting here.”  A cabeceo for either him or her may be the most interesting challenge at a milonga.  If I know them and I know that she likes dancing with me, I try to get a clandestine cabeceo from her, and I will ASK him.  I learned this in salsa.  I asked a salsera to dance one time, and she said, “You need to ask him.”  At first I saw this as an issue of male possession of a woman, but now I see it as a matter of social grace, Latino style.  Clumsy Tangueras, on the other hand, will start a conversation with a man holding a woman’s hand, and then ask him to dance with her without even saying hello or even acknowledging the woman.  Wrong answer!  I was at a milonga I rarely could attend, and a tango teacher came up and asked me without acknowledging out-of-town visiting tanguera.  Again, my guest does not own me, but it is the unwritten etiquette of Latinas.  The Latina teacher was in trouble and so was I for accepting!   Really this is not archaic stuff, but social grace.  So acknowledge both and also make it known through social grace that you would like to dance with half of that couple!  Good luck!  This is a task only for the brave and/or foolish.

Chapter Five:  To and from the dance floor

Getting her to and from the dance floor
Entering the dance floor:  It is the man’s job to get the oncoming man’s attention before entering the dance floor.  Commentary:   Men:  A woman does not go into a revolving door first.  The man does.  He pushes and she follows.  Just like revolving door, the “Ladies First Rule” is NOT the rule of entering a dance floor.  Both the man and the woman's have their roles here.  Ladies, please leave entering the dancefloor to the man because he is the one who has to gage the traffic behind him.

Oncoming Traffic:  So let's say she does not pull him out on the floor, now what?  Unfortunately, the oncoming man may be thinking of driving his car in city traffic and not understand tango etiquette.  Just let him drive by.  You don’t want this guy behind you anyway.  I avoid entering where the majority of people enter the dance floor, which is usually closest to the majority of tables.  You will find your first steps more pleasant in a place which is not crowded.  You may even chose the two men who will be around you.  If the other men know me, we have just created what is called a “train” – and men who dance dangerously will not be allowed in.  Really poor dancers in some communities will even be squeezed off the dance floor by a train of men who do not appreciate their dangerous moves.  Both in the US and in Buenos Aires I have heard of this happening.

"It's Curtains for You!":  Cortina means "curtain."  A seasoned DJ has a short piece of music that is easily identifable as not tango as the "cortina."  Mostly it is non-dance music, which can confuse people who know different dance genres.  The cortina music is the sign to step off the dance floor (the stage of life), even if the you are going to do act two with the same person.  As mentioned above, certain dancers are waiting to hear the music after the cortina before they catch the eye of another dancer.  Eventually you will get a feel for the order of the DJ, which is often three tandas of tangos, and a vals tanda, followed by three more tandas of tangos and finally a milonga tanda.  Not every DJ does this; this is just a tradition (which some like to discard).  The cortina in the most traditional milongas allows the cabeceo to be seen across the room.  So get off the dance floor so that others can find their next love affair!

Escorting the woman back off the dance floor:  Treat her like a lady, and offer her your arm.  This is tango, and for a moment you are in Buenos Aires.  Commentary: I have learned that even though a woman appreciates being treated like a lady, one need not always take her very far because she might be scoping out the next cabeceo. Taking her to the edge of the dance floor is traditional for a very logical reason.  At a small milonga or when her man is waiting, I always take her back to her chair.  It is best not to make small talk after the end of the tanda and ruin your partner’s chance of getting another dance with a quality dancer.  The quality dancers are all gone for her (and you) if you are too slow to leave the dance floor. 

Chapter Six:  After the Milonga

Going for coffee (un cafecito):  This is code language for going out and staying up late but not from caffeine intake.

The man waiting for you with a smile at the bottom of the stairs:  See?  You didn't believe me about dancing three tandas in a row.  Now, he wonders why you act surprised when you deny going out for "un cafecito."

This is nothing to do with etiquette, but you stayed with me this far, so let me give you one other late night tango tip:

Your Aching FEET!!  Do NOT soak your feet in hot water.  I learned this from a woman who was born in stilettos:  You soak your feet in the coldest water you can stand.  Also, I know this from running many marathons too:  Hot water on swollen feet or muscles is only making things worse.  Cold water will have wonderful results if you are planning to dance again anytime soon.  I used to hate cold water on my feet, but now I love it because I know what it is doing to help me dance again soon and without soreness.

Happy dancing!

Appendix A

Tango Etiquette Links:
Resources for other Perspectives and Etiquette Wisdom

A shorter version "Los Códigos" 
(posted at the Cachirulo Milonga in in Buenos Aires)

Welcome to the best milonga in Buenos Aires. Tanguero friends, please pay attention.
  • Here we dance milonguero style tango, and we learn to respect the codes of the milonga.
  • We dance with a warm, respectful and close embrace.
  • We follow the line of dance, in a counter-clockwise direction.
  • We try not to step backwards into the line of dance, always walking forward, as it should be.
  • We do not lift our feet too much from the floor; this way we avoid hitting other dancers.
  • We invite women to dance through the classic “Cabeceo del caballero”.
  • Furthermore, and “very important”, respect is the first card we play in the game of the milonga.

Much to our regret, not respecting these codes will make it impossible to dance in Cachirulo.*
*A nice way of saying, "We will kick you out if you do not respect this etiquette."

Visiting Buenos Aires or bringing Argentina to your milonga?
I highly suggest a good orientation from this article, "Codes and Customs of the Milongas of Buenos Aires: The Basics"from Tango Voice.  And here is another very provocative thesis from the same author: "Do Milongas Exist Outside of Argentina?"

More on the cabeceo:  This is a great discussion on the cabeceo, especially if you are in Buenos Aires.  Also, note the authoress's view of the power of the cabeceo as being equally powerful for the man and the woman, which is counter to many perceptions (see discussion above also).  Here is the link:  http://tangoinhereyes.blogspot.com/2007/11/tips-for-success-with-cabeceo.html

Sage Tango Etiquette Wisdom:
Here is a link, which includes great insights and other links.  From Cherie in Buenos Aires:  http://tangocherie.blogspot.com/2011/04/more-on-codigos.html

Nay Melo's page was my first exposure to tango etiquette (códicos de tango) in English for me. Excellent:  http://www.close-embrace.com/invitingetiquette.html

Rusty Cline in Tuscon's "Tango Traditions" page:  http://learn-to-tango.com/tango-thoughts/tango-traditions/  

This one from Santa Fe is a quick overview which is also good.  (We disagree about saying "no."  Saying "no" means an automatic time-out for the man or the woman for this writer).  http://www.santafetango.org/tango_etiquette.html.  See solutions to equivocating above in the section on cabeceo.

National Geographic's photo- and audio-magazine (See "Codes of Conduct" chapter). http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0312/sights_n_sounds/media2.html 

Appendix "B is for beginners"
Beginners need to know a few things that hopefully are already clear to others:

What is Cabeceo?  A nod of the head (head = cabeza) which means "let's dance."  It is erroneously believed that only men initiate the cabeceo to get a dance.  Smart women have been getting what they want with their eyes, a smile and a nod from the beginning of time.  Nothing changed in Argentina or in tango.  Attempt to avoid asking for a dance with words; the cabeceo will keep you out of trouble.  I don't expect you to believe me, but now I have told you so.

What is a Tanda?  A grouping of songs, during which you stay with the same partner.
Depending on the DJ, a tanda is a group of three or four songs.  Unlike salsa and other dances, in tango we dance with the same person for the entire tanda.  This is why the cabeco is so important!  Walking away after one song is an insult!

What is a cortina?  After the end of a tanda, just like in the theater, you have a signal of the end of a scene (tanda) by the curtain closing.  Tangueros use the term “curtain” -- in Spanish, cortina -- for the brief musical interlude between tandas.  Leave the floor!  It’s time for a clean slate!  This is when you say "thank you," and not before!  Think of it like the etiquette of clapping only after the end of last movement of a symphony.  "Thank you" after the first song means, “I am not enjoying this at all, goodbye.”  You must accept this "thank you," of course.  But this rejection can be tough.  I am suggesting some reading for feeling of rejection:  Click here.  I call it a challenge to build ego strength, rather than just putting your tail between your legs and leaving tango.

Regarding “Snotty” Advanced Dancers:
Do not expect that an advanced dancer will continue dancing with you if you happen to get one dance with him or her.  A welcome dance is great and a way to say hello.  But he or she has a long list of friends and favorite partners.  Don’t take it personally if you only get one dance.  Keep working on getting better.  It may happen again.  If not, build your own friends and favorites.  These people are your cohort.  Eventually you will be an advanced dancer and have your own well-established cohort.  You will meet your cohort in classes and by regular attendance at milongas.  Likewise, do not ask your teacher to dance.  She/he needs to be there for her/his own mental well being not as part of work.  You very well may end up dancing with your teacher, but be cautious about breaking this rule.  Only a great cabeceo should initiate it, and expression of joy should ensue from the teacher to accept.  If that does not happen, don't do it again.  Few teachers want to bring their work to milonga.  Dancing is a way to reconnect to one's soul; so don't obligate them for a free lesson!

What is a milonga? In Spanish I know of four things that "milonga" means.   A "milonga" in Mexico is a drink.  In Argentina it is one of three things:  A dance, a type of music, or a tango dance party.

Milonga as Music:  The underlying rhythm is always.  Tap this 8-count rhythm out slowly and then get faster:  1**45*7* |  1**45*7*.  Try clapping this rhythm out and try to recognize it.  The stars (*) are rests.  Also notice a milonga does not look like tango or the vals (tango waltz).  Get the tempo up on your clapping.  This rhythm is four beats per second for a slow milonga; so count fast!

Vals Cruzado (tango waltz, of called just vals): Most tangueros do not think of the vals as being in twelve-beat phrases, but even as a beginner, I recommend that you understand that the vals, also called the vals criollo or vals cruzado (tango waltz), is truly in 12, felt in 12, played in 12, although it is written in 3.  It feels like this:  (1**| 4**| 7**| 10**), and you step on 1/4/7/10 for starters.  If that seem hard, cut it in half to 1**|4**, a six beat pattern.

Note:  In tandas of vals or milonga there are usually only 3 songs, whereas tandas of tangos are often four songs.  Both the vals and milonga rarely have pauses of any length, hooks (ganchos), sweeps (barridas) or slower parts to them as with tango.  Stay in the rhythm for the vals and the milonga.

Glossary of Tango Terms:
If you have questions about tango terminology, please save this as one of your favorites -- a glossary of tango nomenclature:  http://www.tejastango.com/terminology.html.

In fear that TejasTango might close down (no updates for years), I am reprinting what John has on his page. All links go back to his page.

-----From TejasTango borrowed from Ed Loomis for Sacremento Tango---->

A Guide to Tango Terminology

compiled by Ed Loomis for Sacramento Tango
Last updated 13 December 2005
This list is part of an ongoing effort to educate and assist the friends and enthusiasts of Sacramento Tango in their pursuit of the lovely dance called Tango. It is intended to be used as a tool for students to use when encountering new or conflicting terms in class and should not be viewed as a final authority on the subject. Major sources for this information are Daniel Trenner's Spanish-English Dance Vocabulary, Cyber-Tango'sFAQ- Definition of Tango Terms, Tango Times published by Danel and Maria, Mrs. Barbara Garvey, señora Nora Dinzelbacher, señor Orlando Paiva, Mrs. Gigi Jensen, Ms. Christy Coté, Ms. Debbie Goodwin, señor Mario Poli, señor Alberto Paz, Mr. Arthur Greenberg, Ms. Michelle Wright, señor Polo Talnir, Mr. Stephen Brown and señor Salvador Zuccala. As an ongoing project, the effort may never be complete so additions, corrections, and suggestions will always be welcome. Many Happy Tangos. – Ed LoomisPronunciation Guide:
• In Buenos Aires 'll' or 'y' is pronounced 'zh', almost an English 'j';
• a 'qu' sounds like the 'c' in cat;
• a 'z' is pronounced like 's';
• and a Spanish 'j' is a hard, throaty 'h' sound.

Alphabetical Index



Academic Basic — Another name for the8-count basic which is the the first figure usually taught to beginning students after the walking steps. See8-Count Basic,Basico.Abrazo — The embrace; a hug; or dance position.Adelante — Forward.Adorno — Adornment; embellishment. See Firulete.Aficionado — From afición - liking; amateur; fancier: An enthusiastic admirer or follower; a devotee or a fan of something, such as tango.Agujas — Needles: An adornment for the man done with the working foot vertical with the toe into the floor while pivoting inside a molinete.Al costado — To the side.Amague — (from amagar - to make a threatening motion) a feint: An amague is used as an embellishment either led or done on one’s own, and may be used before taking a step. An example of an amague may be a beat (frappé) before taking a step. SeeCuatro.Apilado Style — Piled on: As used in tango, the reference is to the way a jockey is "piled on" his horse, when racing—hugging the neck. See Milonguero Style.Arrabal — The slums.Arrabalero — A person of low social status. A person of simple and direct ways who speaks plainly and uses coarse language. A slum dweller.Arrastre — From arrastrar - to drag. See Barrida.Arrepentida — Repentant; To change one’s mind: A family of steps which allow a couple to back away from a collision or traffic jam in a minimal amount of space and on short notice.Atrás — Backward.


Bailar — To dance.Bailarin — A professional or very accomplished dancer.Bailongo — A lunfardo word to describe a place where people dance, i.e. a milonga.Balanceo — A deep check and replace. See Cadencia.Baldosa — A walking box figure named after the black & white checkerboard tile floors which are common in Buenos Aires. See Cuadrado.Barrida — A sweep; a sweeping motion: One partner’s foot sweeps the other’s foot and places it without losing contact. Barridas are done from either the outside or the inside of the foot of the receiving party. The technique is different for the inside and outside barridas. See Arrastre and Llevada.Bandoneón — An accordion like musical instrument originally created to provide missionaries with portable pipe organ music for religious services in remote locales which has been adopted by tango musicians to create the mournful and soulful sound of modern tango music.Barrio — A district or neighborhood.Basico — The basic pattern. There are several basic patterns, the most common of which is the 8-count basic.Bicicleta — Bicycle: A circular movement of the feet led by the man in the vertical plane with the couples feet pressed together as in a barrida.Bien Parado — Well stood (literally), standing straight up. Elegantly and gallantly presented. See Pinta,Postura.Boleo — From bolear - To throw: a boleo may be executed either high or low. Keeping the knees together, with one leg back, swivel and return on the supporting leg with a whipping action of the working leg. Sometimes spelled Voleo. See Latigazo.Brazos — Arms.


Cabeceo — (from cabeza; head): Traditional technique for selecting dance partners from a distance at the milongasin Buenos Aires by using eye contact and head movements. Also seeCodigos.Cadena — The chain; enchainement: An athletic and very theatrical turning figure which moves rapidly across the floor turning left or right, in which the couple alternate amagues (cuatros) or ganchos. Another variation involves the man stepping outside left or right in crossed feet and leading the lady in a change of direction to keep her in front of him as he turns, alternately going around her and bringing her around him.Cadencia — A deep check and replace, usually led by the man as he steps forward left. Useful for avoiding collisions and making direction changes in small spaces. May also refer to a subtle shifting of weight from foot to foot in place and in time with the music done by the man before beginning a dance to give the lady the rhythm he intends to dance and to ensure that she will begin with him on the correct foot. See Balanceo.Caida — Fall: A step in which the man steps backward, sinks on his supporting leg, and crosses his working leg in front without weight while leading the lady to step forward in outside position, sink on her supporting leg and cross her working leg behind without weight. Caida may be done to either side.Calesita — Carousel; the merry-go-round: A figure in which the man places the lady on one foot with a lifting action of his frame and then dances around her while keeping her centered over, and pivoting on, her supporting leg. Sometimes referred to as theStorkwhen the lady’s leg is lifted in thecuatro position.Cambio — Change: as in cambio defrente, change of the front or face; or cambio parejas, change the couple (change partners).Caminada — The walking steps; a walking step.Caminando (Caminar) Valsiado — A crossing and walking step which the man initiates at 3 of the 8-count basicas he steps forward right in outside right position, pivoting to his right on his right foot and leading the lady to pivot on her left foot, stepping side left (side right for the lady) and drawing his right leg under him with weight (the lady mirroring with her left). The man then steps forward left in outside left position, pivoting to the left on his left foot, stepping side right and drawing his left foot under him with weight (as the lady dances the natural opposite). The man returns to outside right position and either continues the figure or walks the lady to the cross. May be danced in tango or vals.Caminar — To walk: The walk is similar to a natural walking step, but placing the ball of the foot first instead of the heel. Sometimes taught that the body and leg must move as a unit so that the body is in balance over the forward foot. Another style requires stretching the working leg, placing the foot, and then taking the body over the new supporting foot regardless of direction. Walks should be practiced both forward and backward for balance, fluidity, and cat-like gracefulness.Candombe — A type of dance originally danced by the descendants of black slaves in the Rio de la Plata region and still performed in Montevideo, Uruguay. Music of African origin with a marked rhythm played on a "tamboril" (a kind of drum). It survives today as a rhythmic background to certainmilongas such as Azabache by Miguel Caló, Carnavalito by Lucio Demare, Estampa del 800 by Francisco Canaro and the very popular recordings by Juan Carlos Cacérès. For more information, see theCandombe webpage.Cangrejo — The crab: A repetitive pattern of walking steps and or sacadas in which the man advances turned nearly sideways to his partner.Canyengue — A very old style of tangofrom the 1900s to the 1940s. The music from this era had a faster or peppier 2/4 tempo so the dance had a rhythmic flavor similar to that of modernmilonga. A very close embrace was used as well as some unique posture and footwork elements. The tango of the arrabal. Also see Stephen Brown's Styles of Argentine Tango.A lunfardo word with several meanings. It refers to somebody or something from the slums, i.e. low class. It also describes a gathering where people from the slums dance. It is also a certain way to perform or dance the tango with a slum attitude. Finally, it is a rhythmic effect created by Leopoldo Thompson by hitting the string of the contrabass with the hand or the arch of the bow.Carancanfunfa (also carancanfun) — In the lingo of the compadritos, the dance of tango with interruptions (cortes) and also those who dance it that way in a very skillful manner.Caricias — Caresses: A gentle stroking with the leg or shoe against some part of the partner's body. They can be subtle or extravagant. See Adorno, Firulete, andLustrada.Carousel — A term used for molinete con sacadas to the man’s left, the lady’s right, with ochosand or ocho cortado to exit.Carpa — The tent: A figure created when the man leads the lady onto one foot as in, or at the end of, calesitaand then steps back away from her, causing her to lean at an angle from her foot to his frame. See Inclinada,Puente.Castigada — (from castigar - to punish) a punishment: A lofting of the lady's working leg followed by flexing at the knee and caressing the working foot down the outside of the supporting leg. Often done as an adorno prior to stepping forward, as in paradaor in ochos.Chiche — (pl. chiches) Small ornamental beats done around the supporting foot with the working foot in time with the music, either in front or in back as desired. See Adorno,Firulete.Cintura — Waist.Club Style — See Milonguero Style. Also see Stephen Brown's Styles of Argentine Tango.Codigos — Codes: Refers to the codes of behavior and the techniques for finding a dance partner in the milongasin Buenos Aires. Civility, respectfulness, and consideration are the hallmark of the true and serious milonguero. See Cabeceo.Colgada — A spinning move executed by a couple at the end of an inside barrida in which both dancers lean out away from each other and spin rapidly until the man leads out with a back step.Compadre — A responsible, brave, well behaved, and honorable man of the working class who dresses well and is very macho.Compadrito — Dandy; hooligan; street punk; ruffian. They invented the Tango.Compás — Beat, as in the beat of the music. The walking count or impulse of each measure, the simplest element of each piece of music. SeeRitmo.Confiteria Bailable — A café like establishment with a nice atmosphere where one can purchase refreshments and dance tango. A nice place to meet friends or a date for dancing.Confiteria Style — May refer to a smooth and simple Salon Style as in Tango Liso or to Milonguero Style.Corrida — (also: corridita, a little run) from correr: to run. A short sequence of running steps.Corrida Garabito — A milonga step in which the couple alternately step through between each other, the man with his right leg and the lady mirroring with her left in espejo, then pivot to face each other as they step together. May be repeated as desired.Corte — Cut: In tango, corte means cutting the music either by syncopating, or by holding for several beats. May refer to a position in which the torso is erect over a flexed supporting leg with the working leg extended forward to a pointe with the knees together which the man assumes when touching the lady’s foot with his in parada. The lady moves to the same position from parada as the man closes over her working foot in mordida, and pivots on her supporting foot in this position whenever the man leads an outside barrida. May also refer to a variety of dramatic poses featuring erect posture, flexed supporting legs, and extended dance lines by both dancers, used as a finale. See Cuartas.Cortina — Curtain: A brief musical interlude between tandas at a milonga.Contrapaso — A step produced when you lock one foot behind the other. For instance right foot steps forward, left foot locks behind right. Now right foot steps forward again. This can be done in single or double time, in one instance or repetitively. Also seeRabona and Traspie.Crossed Feet — Occurs whenever the couple are stepping together on his and her right feet and then on his and her left feet, regardless of direction. The opposite of parallel feet.Cruzada — From cruzar - to cross; the cross: A cruzada occurs any time a foot is crossed in front of or in back of the other. The lady’s position at 5 of the 8-count basic. May also be called Trabada.Cuadrado — A square; A box step: Used mostly in Milonga,Canyengueand Milonguero- and Club-styletango. See Baldosa.Cuartas — Poses: Dance lines struck and held as dramatic flourishes at the end of a song. Large dramatic ones are used for stage or fantasia dancing, smaller softer versions occasionally in Salon style, and not used in Milonguero styleat all. See Corte.Cuatro — A figure created when the lady flicks her lower leg up the outside of the opposite leg, keeping her knees together, and briefly creating a numeral 4 in profile. This can be led with a sacada or with an arrested rotational lead like a boleo, or it can be used, at the lady’s discretion, in place of a gancho or as an adornment after a gancho. See Amague.Cucharita — The spoon. A lifting of the lady’s foot with a gentle scooping motion by the man’s foot to the lady’s shoe, usually led during forward ochos to create a flicking motion of the lady’s leg.Cuerpo — Body; torso.Cunita — Cradle: A forward and backward rocking step done in time with the music and with or without chiches, which is useful for marking time or changing direction in a small space. This movement may be turned to the left or right, danced with either the left or right leg forward, and repeated as desired. See Hamaca.


Dedo — Toe or finger.Derecha — Right (the opposite of left).Derecho — Erect, straight, forward. See Postura.Desplazamiento — Displacement: Displacing the partner’s leg or foot using one’s own leg or foot. See Sacada.Dibujo — Drawing; sketch: A dibujo is done by drawing circles or other small movements on the floor with one’s toe. See Firulete,Lapiz and Rulo.


8-Count Basic (Academic Basic) — The first figure usually taught to beginning students after the walking steps. See Basico. The 8-count basic includes elements which are used throughout the dance, although the complete figure itself is not much used for dancing socially. The name refers to counts in music, however, the man is not constrained to rigidly mark a step on each count or beat of the rhythm. He is free to hold or to syncopate, or cut the beat, as the music moves him or as space on the floor around him allows. The figure may be danced into or out of at various points and is not always entered at the beginning and there are shortcuts within the 8-count basic. For instance, the man may lead the lady from thecruzada at 5 directly to 2, or he may close his left foot to his right without weight on 7 and step side left directly to 2. So in actuality the positions which the dancers move through at each step are numbered as reference points.In closed dance position, the steps are as follows:
1. The man settles his weight on his right leg, placing the lady on her left, and holds. Or, variations: the man steps back right, the lady forward left. Also, the man may settle on his right leg, placing the lady on her left, quickly extending his left leg to his left side to point then closing back to his right leg without weight, as the lady mirrors his action with her right leg. Or the man may step through with his right leg between the partners, leading the lady to mirror his action (espejo) by stepping through with her left leg, remaining in closed position although briefly resembling promenade position.
2. The man steps side left, the lady side right, with the man stepping slightly further than the lady.
3. The man steps forward right in outside right position keeping his upper body turned toward the lady in contra-body, the lady back left paralleling the man and also in contra-body. This is a common point of entry to the figure which the ladies should be aware of.
4. The man steps forward left, the lady back right stretching slightly more and seeking the man’s center.
5. The man closes his right foot to his left with weight and rotates his upper body to face forward, leading the lady to cross her left foot in front of her right with weight (cruzada) as she finishes moving back in front of the man. Many variations for the lady begin from this position.
6. The man steps forward left inside his partner (to her center), the lady back right.
7. The man steps side right, the lady side left.
8. The man closes his left foot to his right with weight, the lady her right foot to her left.
Steps 1 through 3 (sometimes 1 through 5) are known as the salida. Steps 3 through 5 are known as "walking the lady to the cross." Steps 6 through 8 are known as resolución.
Eje — (pronounced ay-hay) Axis or balance. See Postura.Elevadas — Dancing without keeping the feet on the floor. This was the style before the turn of century when tangowas danced on dirt surfaces in the patios of tenements, low-class taverns, and on the cobble stone streets. Once tango went uptown enough to actually be danced on floors (wood, tile, or marble) the dancers fell in love with the floor, thus we now refer to 'caressing the floor'. Characteristic of canyengue or orillero-styletango.Embutido — Filler or inlay: a foot swinging behind other foot after an enrosque.Enganche — Hooking; coupling; the little hook: Occurs when a partner wraps a leg around the other’s leg, or uses a foot to catch and hold the other’s foot or ankle.Enrosque — From enroscar - to coil or twist: While the lady dances a molinete, the man pivots on his supporting foot, hooking or coiling the working leg behind or around in front of the supporting leg.Entrada — Entrance: Occurs when a dancer steps forward or otherwise enters the space between their partners legs without displacement.Entregarme — Surrender: To give oneself up to the leader’s lead.Espejo — Mirror: To mirror the movement of ones partner as in "ochos en espejo", a figure where the man and woman both do forward ochosat the same time.


Fanfarron — A rhythmic tapping or stomping of the foot in time with the music for dramatic and emotional effect. Boisterous behavior. See Golpecitos.Firulete — An adornment; a decoration; an embellishment: Complicated or syncopated movements which the dancer uses to demonstrate their skill and to interpret the music. See Adornoand Lapiz.Freno — To stop and hold; brake.


Gancho — Hook: Occurs when a dancer hooks a leg sharply around and in contact with their partners leg by flexing the knee and releasing. May be performed to the inside or outside of either leg and by either partner.Garcha — A rather rude lunfardo term to be used only among friends; noun, 1. penis, pija masculino; 2. worthless or of bad quality, trucho comprar; 3. bad luck: ¡Qué garcha! This sucks! cagada malo garchar; verb, 'to screw' coger sexo. In tango, it may refer to a blind step against line of dance causing a collision for your partner, a garcha! May also be used as a pejorative, as in "Politicians are all garchas!" Akin to "screw-off" or "screw-up" in English slang (yes, this has been cleaned up a little:-).Giro — Turn: A turning step or figure.Golpecitos — Little toe taps: Rhythmic tapping done with a flat foot on the ball or underside of the toe as anadorno. See Fanfarron and Zapatazo.Golpes — Toe taps: With a tilted foot tap the floor with the toe and allow the lower leg to rebound keeping the knees together. See Picados and Punteo.Grelas — A lunfardoterm for woman. See Mina.Guapo — Handsome: A respectable and desirable man. A compadre.


Habanera — A side together side together stepping action entered with a side chassé, commonly used by the man as he leads backward ochos for the lady in crossed feet. An Afro-Cuban dance from the mid-19th century which contributed to tango.Hamaca — Another term for Cunita.


Inclinada — Tilt, tilting. See Carpa,Puente.Izquierda — Left (the opposite of right).


Junta — (from juntar - to join or bring together as in, one’s feet or knees) close: In Tango it is essential that the ankles and knees should come together or pass closely by each other between each step to create an elegant appearance, preserve balance, and to communicate clearly the completion of the step to one’s partner. This applies equally to the man and the lady.


Lapiz — Pencil: Tracing of circular motions on the floor with the toe or inside edge of the working foot, while turning or waiting on the supporting foot. These may vary from small adornments done while marking time to large sweeping arcs which precede the lady as she moves around the man in molinete. SeeDibujo,Firuleteand Rulo.Latigazo — Whipping. Describes a whipping action of the leg as in a boleo.Latigo — The whip; also used to describe the whipping action of the leg in boleos to front or back, when led with energy and speed. See Latigazo and Boleo.Lento — Slowly.Liso — Smooth, as in Tango Liso, an early term for Tango de Salon.Llevada — From llevar - to transport; a carry; to take with: Occurs when the man uses the upper thigh or foot to“carry” the lady’s leg to the next step. Barridasinterspersed with walking steps in which the man takes the lady with him across the floor.Lunfardo — The Spanish/Italian slang of the Buenos Aires underworld which is common in tango lyrics and terminology.Lustrada — From lustrar - to shine or polish; the shoe shine: A stroking of the man’s pant leg with a shoe. May be done by the lady or by the man to himself but is never done to the lady.


Marcar (also Marca) — From Marque; to plot a course; guide: To lead. La marca is the lead.Media Luna — Half moon: A sweeping circular motion of the leg similar to a ronde in ballroom but always danced in contact with the floor, never lofted. Usually danced by the lady and often led with a sacadato the lady’s leg. May be used to bring the lady to an inside gancho.Media Vuelta — Half turn, literally: Usually done when the man’s right foot and the lady’s left foot are free. The man steps forward outside right (3 of 8-count basic), leading the lady to step back left and collect, then side right across his center, and forward left around him as he shifts weight first to his center, then onto his right foot as he then pivots on both feet ½ turn with his partner, the lady pivoting on her left foot. Media Vuelta is used by itself to change direction or maneuver on the dance floor and as an entrance to many combinations.Milonga — May refer to the music, written in 2/4 time, or to the dance which preceded the tango, or to the dance salon where people go to dance tango, or to a tango dance and party.Milonguero (feminine; Milonguera)— Refers to those frequenting the milongas from the early 1900s to the present who were or are tango fanatics. A person whose life revolves around dancing tango and the philosophy of tango. A title given by other tango dancers to a man (woman) who has mastered the tango dance and embodies the essence of tango.Milonguero Cross — A step in which the man leads the lady to step side left around him, reverses before she completes the step, and leads her back into the cross. Also known as ochos cortados.Milonguero Style — A term originally given by Europeans and some North Americans to the style of dancing in a very close embrace; also referred to as confiteria style, club style, apilado style, etc. Usually used in the very crowded clubs frequented by singles in the center of Buenos Aires. Milonguero Style is danced in a very close embrace with full upper body contact, the partners leaning into each other (but never hanging on each other) while using simple walking and turning steps. This style relies on music of the more rhythmic type as characterized by orquestas like those of D’Arienzo or Tanturi. Also see Stephen Brown's Styles of Argentine Tango.Milonguita — Questionably, an affectionate diminutive for themilonga. Milonguita is also a name used for the young girls brought from eastern Europe and France (Madame Yvonne) with the promise to marry a rich Argentinean, or the poor girls from the conventillos, all of whom ended up as a hostess’or prostitutes in the tango bars.Mina — A lunfardoword for woman. See Grelas, Paicas, or Pebeta.Mira — From mirar - to look; see; observe; take notice: ¡Mira! Look at this. Observe.Molinete — Windmill; wheel: A figure in which the lady dances a grapevine on a circumference around the man, stepping side-back-side-forward using forward and back ochotechnique and footwork, as the man pivots at the center of the figure. This is a very common figure in tango which challenges both the man and the lady to maintain good posture, balance, and technique in order to perform it well. One of the central codes of tango.Molinete con Sacadas — An exciting and more complicated form of molinetein which the man steps into the lady’s space, displacing her leg with his, and pivots on a new center to face her as she continues around him. Many combinations are possible.Mordida — From morder: to bite; the little bite: One partner’s foot is sandwiched or trapped between the other partner’s feet. If the other partner’s feet are also crossed it may be referred to as Reverse Mordida. Sometimes called Sandwicheor Sanguchito.Mordida Alto — A variation of mordidain which a dancer catches a partners knee between both of their own.


Ocho — Eight (pl. ochos); Figure eights: A crossing and pivoting figure from which the fan in American tango is derived. Executed as a walking step with flexed knees and feet together while pivoting, ochos may be danced either forward or backward and are so designated from the lady’s perspective. El Ocho is considered to be one of the oldest steps in tango along with caminada, the walking steps. It dates from the era when women wore floor length skirts with full petticoats and danced on dirt floors. Since the lady’s footwork could not be directly observed the quality of her dancing was judged by the figure she left behind in the dirt after she danced away.Ocho Cortado — Cut eight: change of direction: Occurs when a molinete or an ocho-like movement is stopped and sent back upon itself. Typical in club-styletango where many such brakes are used to avoid collisions. Describes a movement done on either foot, pivoting forward of backward, and going either left or right.Ocho Defrente — Ocho to the front: Forward ochosfor the lady (i.e., crossing in front).Ocho para Atrás — Ocho to the back: Back ochosfor the lady (i.e., crossing behind).Ochos Cortados — Cut eights: A common figure in Milonguero- or Club-StyleTango which is designed to allow interpretation of rhythmic music while dancing in a confined space. See Milonguero Cross.Ochos en Espejo — Ochos in the mirror: The man and the lady execute forward or back ochossimultaneously, mirroring each others movement.Orillero — Outskirts; suburbs.Orillero Style — The style of dance which is danced in the suburbs, characterized by the man doing many quick syncopated foot moves and even jumps. See Seguidillas. Also see Stephen Brown's Styles of Argentine Tango.Orquesta — Orchestra: A large tango band like those of the "Golden Age" of tango frequently referred to as "Orquesta Tipica."Otra vez — Another time; repeat; do again.


Paicas — A lunfardoword for girl. See Mina or Pebeta.Palanca — Lever; leverage: Describes the subtle assisting of the lady by the leader during jumps or lifts in tango fantasia (stage tango).Parada — From parar - to stop; a stop: The man stops the lady, usually as she steps crossing back in back ochosor molinete, with pressure inward at the lady’s back and at her balance hand and with a slight downward thrust, preventing further movement. When properly led the lady stops with her feet extended apart, front and back, and her weight centered. The man may extend his foot to touch her forward foot as an additional cue and element of style or he may pivot and step back to mirror her position (fallaway).Parallel Feet — The natural condition when a couple dance in an embrace facing each other, the man stepping on his left, the lady on her right foot, and then the man stepping on his right, the lady on her left foot, regardless of direction. The opposite of crossed feet.Parejas — Couple: The two partners in a tango.Pasada — Passing over. Occurs when the man has stopped the lady with foot contact and leads her to step forward over his extended foot. Used frequently at the end of molinete or after a mordida. The lady may, at her discretion, step over the man’s foot or trace her toe on the floor around its front. Pasada provides the most common opportunity for the lady to add adornosor firuletes of her own and a considerate leader will give the lady time to perform if she wishes.Paso — A step.Patada — A kick.Pausa — Pause; wait: Hold a position or pose for two or more beats of music. See Titubeo.Pebeta — A lunfardoword for young woman or girl. See Mina or Paicas.Pecho — Chest.Picados — A flicking upward of the heel when turning or stepping forward. Usually done as an advanced embellishment to ochos or when walking forward. See Golpes.Pie — A foot.Pierna — A leg.Pinta — Appearance; presentation: Includes clothes, grooming, posture, expression, and manner of speaking and relating to the world. See Bien Parado.Pisar — to step.Piso — FloorPista — The dance floor.Planchadoras — The women who sit all night at the milongaswithout being asked to dance. The main reason for that, is because they don't know how to dance well enough. Yes, it may seem cruel but one of the many tango lyrics actually says something like, "let them learn as a consequence of sitting all night."Planeo — Pivot; glide: Occurs when the man steps forward onto a foot, usually his left, and pivots with the other leg trailing (gliding behind) as the lady dances an additional step or two around him. May also occur when the man stops the lady in mid stride with a slight downward lead and dances around her while pivoting her on the supporting leg as her extended leg either trails or leads. Can be done by either the man or the lady.Porteño (feminine; Porteña) — An inhabitant of the port city of Buenos Aires.Postura — Posture: Correct posture for tango is erect and elegant with the shoulders always over the hips and relaxed, and with the center carried forward toward the dance partner over the toes and balls of the feet. See Derechoand Eje.Potranca — A young female racehorse: Sometimes used to refer to a beautiful long-legged Argentine woman.Práctica — An informal practice session for tango dancers.Puente — Bridge; See Carpa,Inclinada.Punteo — Point; with the point; peck: Rhythmic toe taps to the floor done with the toe, or point, of the shoe while the foot is moving over the floor in a sweeping movement as in boleoor planeo. See Golpes.


Quebrada — Break; broken: A position where the lady stands on one foot with the other foot hanging relaxed behind the supporting foot. Sometimes seen with the lady hanging with most of her weight against the man. Also a position in which the dancer’s upper body and hips are rotated in opposition to each other with the working leg flexed inward creating a broken dance line.


Rabona — A walking step with a syncopated cross. Done forward or backward the dancer steps on a beat, quickly closes the other foot in cruzada, and steps again on the next beat. Adapted from soccer. See Contrapasoand Traspie.Resolución — Resolution; tango close: An ending to a basic pattern similar to a half of a box step. 6, 7, and 8 of the 8-count basic.Ritmo — Rhythm: Refers to the more complex rhythmic structure of the music which includes the beat or compásas well as the more defining elements of the song. See Compás.Rodillas — Knees.Ronda — (La ronda) Line of dance: Refers to the etiquette of dancing in the line of dance by moving counter clockwise around the dance floor, and using concentric lanes in the traffic to facilitate dancing in close proximity with one another. See Codigos.Rulo — A curl: Used frequently at the end of molinete when the man, executing a lapizor firulete ahead of the lady, curls his foot in around the lady and extends it quickly to touch the her foot. An older term for lapiz.


Sacada — The most common term for a displacement of a leg or foot by the partner’s leg or foot. Occurs when a dancer places their foot or leg against a leg of their partner and transfers weight to their leg so that it moves into the space of and displaces the partner’s leg. See Desplazamiento.Salida — From salir - to exit; to go out: The first steps of dancing a tango, or a tango pattern, derived from “¿Salimos a bailar?” {Shall we (go out to the dance floor and) dance?}.Salida de Gato — A variation on the basicoin which the man steps side left, forward right outside the lady, diagonal forward left, and crossing behind right with a lead for forward ochosfor the lady. The lady is led to step side right, back left, diagonal back right, and crossing forward left, beginning ochoson her left foot. This figure enters ochos without using cruzada.Saltito — A little jump.Sandwiche — See Mordida.Sanguchito — See Mordida.Seguidillas — Tiny quick steps, usually seen in orillero style. May also be called corridas.Seguir — To follow.Sentada — From sentar - to sit. A sitting action: A family of figures in which the lady creates the illusion of sitting in, or actually mounts, the man’s leg. Frequently used as a dramatic flourish at the end of a dance.Stork — See Calesita. Not used often or much recommended but refers to a position of the lady where the working leg is held with the lower leg lifted and horizontal in a figure four, or cuatro, position.Suave — Smooth, steady and gentle, soft, stylish. A major objective in tango.Syncopation — Syncopate; syncopated; syncopa: A musical term adopted by dancers and used in a way which is technically incorrect, musically, and leads to endless arguments between dancers and musicians. Musically it refers to an unexpected or unusual accenting of the beats in a measure such as the two and four beats of swing music rather than the more common accent on the one and three beats. Dancers have come to use the term to describe cutting the beat, or stepping on the half-beat, which annoys musicians all to heck. Maybe if they could dance the tango we would pay more attention to them.Sube y Baja — Literally, to go up and down: A milonga step in which the couple dance forward-together and back-together in outside right position with a pendulum action of the hips. SeeVen y Va.


Tanda — A set of dance music, usually three to five songs, of the same dance in similar style, if not by the same orquesta. The tandas are separated by a brief interlude of non-tango music called a "cortina" (or curtain) during which couples select each other. It is customary to dance the entire tanda with the same partner unless the man is rude or very disappointing as a dance partner, in which case the lady may say gracias (thank you) and leave. See Codigos,Cortina.Tango — Popular music from the Rio de la Plata region dating back to 1885-95, defined by a 2/4 rhythm until the 1920s when a 4/8 rhythm became common. A popular dance originating in the mid-19th century which descended from Candombe,Habanera,Milonga, and, according to some tango scholars, the Tango Andaluz. The exact origins of Tango are a historical mystery. Also see Susan August Brown's Argentine Tango: A Brief History.Tango de Salon — An elegant and very social style of tango characterized by slow, measured, and smoothly executed moves. It includes all of the basic tango steps and figures plus sacadas, girosand boleos. The emphasis is on precision, smoothness, and elegant dance lines. The dancing couple do not embrace as closely as in older styles and the embrace is flexible, opening slightly to make room for various figures and closing again for support and poise. Also see Stephen Brown's Styles of Argentine Tango.Tango Fantasia — This is a hybridtango, an amalgam of traditional tango steps, ballet, ballroom, gymnastics, ice-skating figures, etc. This is what most people see when they buy tickets for a tango show. The moves include all of the basic tango moves plus, ganchos, sacadas,boleosof every kind, sentadas, kicks, leaps, spins, lifts, and anything else that the choreographer and the performers think that they can get away with. Alas, this style of dancing shows up from time to time at the milongas, usually badly performed by ill-behaved tango dancers and frustrated tango performers who insist on getting their money’s worth even if they have to kick, step on, bump into, or trip every other dancer on the floor. This behavior is NOT socially acceptable. Also see Stephen Brown'sStyles of Argentine Tango.Tango Liso — Literally, tango smooth: A way of dancing tango characterized by its lack of fancy figures or patterns. Only the most "basic" tango steps and figures, such as caminadas, ochos,molinetes, etc., are utilized. Boleos,ganchos,sacadas,sentadas, and other fancy moves and acrobatics are not done. A very early term for Tango de Salon.Tanguero — (feminine; Tanguera) Refers to anyone who is deeply and seriously passionate about any part of tango, such as its history, music, lyrics, etc. In Argentina most tangueros are scholars of lunfardo, music, orchestrations, Gardel, etc. One can be a tanguero without being a milongueroand a milonguero without being a tanguero (very few milongueros would be referred to as tangueros). And of course, one can be an extremely good tango dancer without being either, such as stage dancers, who are quite disdained by real milonguerosand tangueros, unless they go the extra distance and become milonguerosby going to the milongas, and/or tangueros as well. An aficionado.Tijera — Scissor: A movement, usually danced by the man, in which an extended leg is withdrawn and crossed in front of the supporting leg without weight so that it remains free for the next step or movement. May also refer to a figure in which the man steps forward in outside position (left or right) caressing the outside of the lady’s leg with his leg (as in 3 of the 8-count basic), then crosses behind himself which pushes the lady’s leg to cross in front. May also refer to a jumping step from tango fantasia (stage tango) where the lady swings her legs up and over with the second leg going up as the first leg is coming down (frequently seen as an aerial entry tosentadas).Titubeo — Hesitation. See Pausa.Trabada — Another term for cruzada.Traspie — Cross foot; triple step: A walking step with a syncopated cross. Using two beats of music the dancer does step-cross-step beginning with either foot and moving in any direction. See Contrapaso and Rabona.Truco — Literally, trick or stunt: May be used to describe fancy athletic movements in addition to lifts for stage or tango fantasia.


Vals — Argentine waltz: Sometimes referred to as Vals Criollo, or Vals Cruzada, and danced to what is arguably the most beautiful dance music anywhere (editorial bias!:-).Vareador — From horse racing; a man who walks the horses but is never allowed to mount them: In tango, it refers to a man who dances and flirts with all the ladies but never gets involved with anyone. May also refer to a man who is a clumsy or inconsiderate lead who “might just as well be walking a horse.”Vén y Va — Come and go. SeeSube y Baja.Viborita — Viper; the little snake: A figure in which the man places his right leg between his partners legs and takes a sacadato first her left and then her right legs in succession using a back and forth slithering motion of the right leg and foot.Volcada — from Volcar - to tip-over or capsize; a falling step: The leader causes the follower to tilt or lean forward and fall off her axis before he catches her again. The process produces a beautiful leg drop from her. The movement requires the support of a close embrace.Voleo — See Boleo.


Yumba (zhoóm-ba) — A phonetic expression that describes the powerful, dramatic, and driving musical accent of a moderate or even slow tempo which is characteristic of the music of Osvaldo Pugliese.


Zapatazo — Shoe taps: A dancer taps their own shoes together. See Adorno, Fanfarron, and Golpecitos.Zarandeo — A vigorous shake to and fro; a swing; a push to and fro; to strut about: In tango, it is the swinging back and forth, pivoting in place on one foot, marked to the lady in time with the music.

Photo credits:

Chapter 1

   Girl in mom's shoes: http://jeffandlisaphotography.com/ 

Chapter 2:
   Arriving on a bicycle http://www.cyclelicio.us/labels/new%2Byork.html
   Cabeceo eye photo: http://www.patiodetango.com.au/ under "music & etiquette," yet another link for you!

Chapter 3

 Part 1:   On the Dancefloor, photo, Tango-Beat.
Part 2:  Tango Zoo: http://m2tango.dk/en/event/tangozoo/

 Chapter 4:
   Near the table at the milonga:

Chapter 5:
   Little boy and girl dancing.

Chapter 6: After the milonga:
   Tango sombra BsAs:


  1. Hello,
    I am female and due to all the Milonga machista rules (which I'mn willing to follow just because I love the dance), I do not ask any men to dance and wait to be asked. However, I believe it is a good business policy for a teacher to ask a student to dance a tanda with him/her. It doesn't have to be "a class" but a good gesture. After all the student is spending a lot of money in lessons and supporting the Milonga effort too.


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