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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Códigos de la milonga #9 - La pista

Scenario 26
Imagine the scene at a milonga. The music has started, couples have begun to dance. You’ve just made eye contact with your next partner, with whom you haven’t danced for a while. Choose the most suitable behavior:
  1. The man rushes across the dance-floor to embrace his partner, narrowly missing a couple already dancing.
  2. You’re both on the dance-floor. Before taking up the embrace, you greet your partner and ask how they are, what they’ve been up to, etc.
  3. You meet your partner and make your way straight onto the dance-floor. The other dancers will accommodate you both.
  4. You meet your partner, find a safe gap in the lane of dancers, perhaps making eye contact with the couple approaching and then you merge quickly into the flow.
The correct answer isn’t rocket-science, particularly for most of us who have driver’s licences. (Option 4, in case you were unsure) Yet, it’s surprising how often people forget to consider their fellow dancers. Jan, of Tango Chamuyo provides some useful insights in La pista sagrada (the sacred dancefloor).
And while I’m on the topic of respect for other dancers, in Tango & Chaos in BsAs, Rick McGarrey shares excellent practical advice (replete with graphics) on the challenging skill of navigation. If you are a pusher, a dawdler, or simply see yourself as a free spirit on the pista, this is essential reading!


  1. Let us talk about the Tango Elephant that no one talks about:
    Respecting a Couple that is attached on and off the dance floor:

    It is interesting I have read so much about Tango Etiquette, Respect for other Dances the use of pista even the Do’s and Don’ts of inviting and the acceptance.

    These topics are spoken with such emotion that it draws one to believe that the Tango Dances actual are respectable this is not always the case.

    What I have seen is that the few Dancers do not respect Couples that are attached (on and off the dance floor) and the boundaries that they constantly flirted with andcross.

    More importantly the disrespect they have not only to the woman but also to the male.
    As I couple I see dances over stepping the most simple of rules in a couple relationships.
    Maybe we should be talking about the Respect and Etiquette of a couple’s on and off the dance floor.

    As a dancer I respect not only my partner but also other couple’s (married etc) what are the rules here.

  2. Thanks for raising this question, Anonymous.

    The codes in traditional Buenos Aires milongas are very clearcut. Etiquette in traditional tango, as in most areas of social behaviour, has developed to reduce friction, protect participants and make interactions more enjoyable for all involved.

    Even though respectful behaviour is encouraged in milongas outside of the traditional BsAs setting, it is impossible to reproduce the social context experienced there. Therefore, we might need to adapt to our own setting. Much more about this in an earlier blog called Tale of two cities & the cabeceo

    Couples can indicate their wishes non-verbally. An an unwanted invitation via the cabeceo can simply be ignored - with no embarassment caused to either party.

    "Walk-up" invitations are a bit trickier, if one wishes to protect the feelings of the other parties. You could ask the other half if you may dance with his/her partner. However, your prospective dance partner may not want to dance with you. Before you do this, you might ask yourself whether you prefer a "charity dance" or a refusal.

    Of course, couples are free to choose their responses to this situation.

    Hope this helps,


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