This post is long overdue and my massive apologies to my faithful readers. Here it is – a post bringing closure (for now) to my discussion of códigos and floorcraft. And while I still believe that the Códigos from Cachirulo that I talked about earlier on these pages, are all that is needed for experienced dancers — and yes, they remain prominently posted in multiple languages at Cachirulo’s new location at Villa Malcolm — these same códigos don’t necessarily work for beginners. They leave too much open to personal interpretation. So to compliment the simple, but effective list I already shared here, I’ve developed a separate list for beginners and the uninitiated who should be able to comfortably dance tango at any milonga simply by paying attention to the following. No list is ever perfect, but at least this is a good place to start.
First, here are some tango definitions for beginners:
Milonga – A word used to describe two different things: (1) a tango social dance event in general, and (2) a specific style of tango music that is a lively, syncopated eight-beat rhythm (an ‘excited’ habanera). At a Milonga (tango social dance), music is usually played in tandas or sets of three or four songs. Dancers typically stay with the same partner until the tanda is finished. On the other hand, the milonga style of music is usually played along with the other two principal styles of traditional tango music — tango and vals.
Tanda – A set of tango songs — usually three or four songs — of a particular style and usually from the same orchestra and the same period, lasting 10-12 minutes. At milongas, couples typically dance a complete tanda together, before returning to their tables to prepare for the next set of songs (tanda).
Cortina – A break song or transition song of an entirely different musical style lasting at least 30 seconds that signals to the dancers that the tanda is over and the next tanda will begin shortly. During cortinas, couples thank each other for the dance and return to their seats so they can prepare for the next dance. Cortinas can also be viewed as “palette cleansers” to help dancers transition their bodies from one style of music to another.
Códigos – Tango ‘codes of ethics’ or floorcraft guidelines for a milonga. These guidelines govern people’s behavior throughout the evening at a milonga — entering, being seated, chosing a partner, dancing, watching others dance, and leaving the dance. Respecting the tango códigos provides some discipline on the dance floor, and allows everyone to more fully enjoy their time at the milonga.
Typically, the man asks the women to dance, instead of the woman asking the man.
If possible, use the cabaceo method to find a partner, which helps people “save face” when choosing a dance partner. (The cabaceo is agreeing to dance through the subtle inclination of the head, through eye-contact or a wink.)
After two people agree to dance, the man should approach the women while she remains seated. The man stops near the edge of the dance floor closest to where she is sitting, the woman stands up, approaches her partner, and they prepare to dance.
If the floor is crowded, the lead should make eye contact with the lead approaching his spot on the dance floor, before he enters the floor, so the couple can join the line of dance with minimal disruption.
More experienced couples dance around the edge of the dance floor. Less skilled dancers dance in the middle.
When dancing, don’t confuse the social dance floor with a stage (details below).
At the end of a tanda, the man accompanies the women to her seat, before chatting with others or returning to his seat.
Milonga Floorcraft (or how to respect the line of dance)
All milongas have a line of dance, where couples slowly circulate around the outside of the dance floor in a counter-clockwise direction.
Everyone should stay in their lane and maintain their same position in the line of dance where they started the dance, until the end of a tanda. No zig-zagging in and out of the line of dance.
Avoid passing the couple in front of you. Never pass a couple on their right side. If a couple stops in front of you or is moving slower than you’d like, dance in place with your partner until the other couples starts moving again.
Leads should not teach at a milonga, follows should not ask for tips and no one should ask for suggestions from their partner. Milongas are social events for enjoyment and pleasure, while practicas, workshops and classes are places to learn how to dance and for tips or questions. Milongas are not places to call attention to what others are doing wrong.
During a dance, particularly on a crowded dance floor, keep your feet on the floor. No boleos on a busy floor. That helps avoid injuries to other dancers with a mis-directed spiked heel.
Respect the space of others in front of you and others behind you in the line of dance. There is a small amount of space around you – perhaps a 2’ to 3’ circle – that belongs to you, while the rest of the space is shared space and access is negotiated in the moment with other dancers around you. It is up to you to understand the difference.
Don’t disrupt the dance of others. Your responsibility is to keep circulating without bothering other dancers on the dance floor. If you want to stop talk or work on something, either leave the dance floor or go to the middle.
Practica – A guided tango practice session where dancers can work on new steps and where they can iron out problems with their dance. Music is usually played continuously during a Practica and someone is usually available to assist dancers, as needed. Milongas, which are more structured, should not be confused with Practicas.