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Friday, 10 April 2009

Códigos de la milonga (milonga etiquette) – Have your say!

Lately, a number of dancers have been reflecting on some etiquette-related experiences at milongas. Maybe they’ve chosen to share their thoughts because we’ve written about the códigos in the past, or because maybe it’s because we seem just a tad fanatical about them. But basically, the codes are about facilitating the enjoyment of everyone at the milonga …. and often, plain good manners. Oops, here we go again!!

So following a lively discussion in the pub after class the other night, we thought it would be fun to do a somewhat provocative & progressive quiz. Just two questions this time, more to come every few days. Comments, sharing experiences, etc. are encouraged! (By the way, if you’re a little shy, comments can be posted anonymously.)

Scenario #1

A woman is invited to dance, but has already turned another man down, saying she needed a break from constant dancing. She should:

  1. Jump at the chance to dance with a man she sees as a better dancer
  2. Politely refuse, saying that she’s already turned someone down
  3. Politely refuse, saying she’d be happy to dance a tanda later.
  4. Before the man approaches, make it clear from body language, intense conversation with her neighbour, and avoidance of eye contact, that she’s not interested in dancing this tanda.

Scenario #2

A woman "misses" a lead during a figure. The man should:

  1. Continue dancing while telling her the name of the figure that she had missed.
  2. Stop dancing, and take her through the steps in the figure; rehearse them a few times on the dance floor while explaining the details to her.
  3. Ignore the ‘mistake’ and see it as an opportunity to improvise so that the dance continues without disruption.
  4. Continue dancing and at the end of the tanda, take her aside and give her tips on how she can improve her tango.

Over to you - what do you think?

Bob & Pat


  1. Scenario 1: seems the smoothest thing is to do no.4, but most interactions I see still involve going up to someone and asking (yes, and sometimes getting knocked back! and thus your earlier point about the subtle refusal powers of el cabaceo), so I reckon 3 would be the next best thing. BTW, I think this could be a good reason for women/followers to do the asking, so they can engage and get on the floor with people they want to dance with.

    As for scenario 2, it's response 3 hands down i reckon. Can the man/leader be sure that the mistake is not his? In any case, a milonga isn't the ocassion for instruction. You wouldn't correct someone's grammar in casual conversation, would you, unless you both agreed beforehand that you were meeting for English practise?

  2. Ohhh...in the first case I can't do anything else but think about the advantages of the "cabeceo" which sadly is not applied everywhere but in BsAs.
    And in the second case, in my opinion and without any doubt, the nº 3 option should (must)be choosed

  3. Thanks for your comments, Mike and Constantino.

    Yes, there's definitely much to be said for the cabeceo. Option 4 in the first scenario has the woman doing her part by showing she's unavailable. The guy just needs to be a little observant, or risk public rejection, as well as putting her under pressure.

    Mike, you suggested that women should do the asking? Well, my view is that they can play a very active role in the cabeceo. How do they play an active role, without asking directly? Use their body language & eye contact to indicate interest and availability ... or not, as the case may be. It doesn't involve asking directly. Of course, asking anyone directly, carries with it problems like the risk of public refusal, or dancing with someone who really doesn't want to be dancing with you or to that music at the time. We all use body language every waking moment. Tango is no different. No special skills required. Various tips appear in our earlier blogs.

    As for instruction at the milonga - no thanks!


  4. Yes, agreed. The cabaceo is the most subtle way of negotiating this dance-floor meeting. I would change slightly the way the cabaceo is described though, from 'man looks, hunts with his gaze, and woman turns away or not', I would change this to a mutual gazing, where the woman is just as active in seeking a partner. Maybe this is the same as what you are suggesting.

  5. Yes, I agree with you Mike. The cabeceo definitely involves mutual gazing. One of my blogs from last November while in BsAs described the process in some detail from my perspective. The ladies are by no means passive in this!

  6. Oooh, missed one! I love quizzes.

    Scenario #1: 1. Of course, when you decline a dance, you shouldn't give an excuse unless it's genuine. But if you have declined to dance with one person, there is no reason why you shouldn't dance with another. And some people are so pushy, that after saying "no, sorry, no thank you" four times and hearing "why, why, why?" repeatedly, you may end up giving an excuse. In any case, no one can hold you prisoner or be a dog in the manger "if you don't want to dance with me, I will not let you dance with anyone! I want you to be miserable!" That's not a sentiment that belongs at the milonga.

    Scenario #2: 3. If the man does 1 or 3, she should break tanda with him and if 4 not dance with him again.

  7. The image of "holding you prisoner" is so apt - unfortunately some guys have been known to do just that. Sadly however, those ladies have not learned the power of a simple and polite "no, thanks".


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