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General Introduction to Tango

    What is Tango?
    A Touch of Tango Philosophy
    Reading Material
    My Tango Videos
    General Tango Videos

Tango Principles

    For Women
    For Men

How to Learn Tango

My Tango Syllabus

The Milonga (Tango Party)

General Introduction to Tango

Let’s start with terminology. For non-Tango dancers (Ballroom, for one), I have to use the qualifier “Argentine”. But if you learn the history of Tango, you will find out that all Tango variants (American, International, Ballroom, etc.) as well as all smooth couple dances were derived from Tango — thus, no qualifiers are necessary!

I wrote this Introduction to Tango hoping to save new-comers some of the frustrations I had experienced over my first few years — and that’s after having danced Ballroom for 25 years. I have observed that learning Tango consists of alternating between frustration/despair and exhilaration. My goal is to save you the frustration part. Although the material here only covers the tip of the iceberg, it can still keep you busy for a long while. So far I have taken 1000+ lessons with 100+ different teachers, and I am saying this here so as to give you a good idea of what it takes to plunge a little deeper into Tango.

The music you will hear in most Milongas is “Traditional” whose origin was in the Golden Age (1920-1950). Astor Piazzolla originated the Neuvo Tango music in the 1930’s. His music makes up a unique, original branch of Classical Music; he composed about 3,000 pieces of which I consider about 5% to be danceable. I will expand on the subject of Tango music in another write-up.

What is Tango?

Referring to Tango as yet another “dance” sounds semi-offensive to me because Tango has much more in common with Tai-Chi, Meditation, Aikido, Ballet, and Yoga than with any of the Ballroom Dances. I can say this as a 25-year "veteran" of Ballroom Dancing and of other physical-activity modalities. First, having Ballroom expertise isn’t necessarily helpful because there are too many technical aspects of Ballroom that a Tango dancer would need to unlearn. Second, Tango originates from the Music and not from the Dance. Third, it’s as much a Culture, Attitude, and Philosophy (about Human nature, needs, desires, inhibitions, etc.) as it is an art comprised of Music, Poetry, and Dance. For a Ballroom dancer, it’d be insightful to find out that all couple-based, lead-follow, Smooth Ballroom dances (except for Viennese Waltz) were derived from the Tango!

“Those Arms embraced Tango. They embraced pain, repentance, desires, hopes, longings... In every embrace there’s a story, and that’s what we dance to.”: Ciempiés in the Movie Fermín.

My own definition of Tango is: “A Magical Human Experience”. Tango takes many years to, first, “discover”/“understand”, and then to master, and it’s the most difficult dance of them all — in my opinion, and comparing it to all other dances I practice. However, if you start with the right teacher(s), and patiently proceed and learn — IN THE RIGHT ORDER, A to Z, as opposed to the other way around — you WILL keep on making progress, and you will NOT get frustrated.

Tango Bliss   Tango Bliss

A Touch of Tango Philosophy

Quoted from Naomi Hotta’s “A Tanguera’s Journey” Fermín: The embrace is magical. A tango is more or less 3 minutes per song. In a Milonga, we come together to embrace someone for 3 to 4 of these 3-minute songs.

To be able to embrace someone is a gift. We all come from different walks of life; some younger, some older, and from all around the world. When we embrace, we share a part of ourselves, our lives, and the stories we have lived. For these precious 3 minutes, we share “the moment”. The meeting of two people’s energies in an embrace, for me, is one of the most beautiful things in the world. If we are open to giving and receiving, the moment can be intense, the moment can be profound, the moment can be life changing, and it is magical. There are times, when the song comes to an end, and we linger… because we don’t want that moment to end.

And there! That is the beauty of tango; it does come to an end. For that reason, it’s important to be so fully present in the moment of the embrace. To embrace with everything you have, to give and then to be completely open to receiving from the other. The two energies flow and then merge. And once in a while, you encounter those unforgettable embraces, of a sensation of eternal connection; where it feels like the drapes that cover the heart sway open with the embrace, and the light comes flowing through to bring the inside and outside world together. Where the boundaries of yourself and the other don’t exist anymore, where everything in the room disappears and location and time don’t matter anymore, where everything else is forgotten, and what is present is just simply that “moment”. That beautiful sensation of being “exactly and simply present” in complete unity. That is the magic of the embrace. That is the magic of tango. What a blessing and joy to be able to dance tango every single day. Sharing our embraces. Sharing our stories.

Reading Material

Please read the attached “Tango History” which is the first “Class” material to be studied prior to even attempting a single step. Then, I suggest, read “In Strangers' Arms“ which I reviewed on Amazon: Fascinating book about falling in love with Tango. I also reviewed ”The Meaning of Tango: The Story of the Argentinian Dance” which I consider a Must-Have-and-Study book to learn the basics of the Tango Technique from. Yet, another little book I just discovered, and certainly recommend is “Tango Zen: Walking Dance Meditation“.

Technique means: posture, balance, connection, lead and follow, body lead, body angles, Contra-body postures and motions, Geometry, Kinematics, Energy transfer, Body Twisting, and a lot more. Only after you have mastered the basic Technique you will be able to focus on the Art!

Along your studies, you will want to refer to the “Tango Terminology” which is the Spanish-language list of most Tango moves and postures explained in English. Here is another excellent source, replete with photographs, on the Figures of Argentine Tango.

My Tango Videos

Here is a link to my Tango Videos Folder in which I keep a small sample of my 1000+ lesson videos. That's the best way for me to "send" a video to those who request some specific ones.

General Tango Videos

In this section I list some videos that I consider essential for getting the Flavor and Atmosphere of the Tango:
  1. Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo dance to Libertango by Astor Piazzolla whose music style is known as Nuevo Tango.
  2. Carlos Gavito (beware: really sexy!). Also, this one.
  3. Aoniken Quiroga Y Alejandra Mantiñan dance the Tango-Milonga in their ”Totally-Crazy” style.
  4. Claudia Miazzo Y Jean Paul Padovani dance to Piazzolla's Oblivion. As you might tell, I am hooked on Piazzolla's music.
  5. Chicho Y Juana, dance in the Contemporary Tango style to Piazzolla's Tanti Anni Prima.
  6. No-Rush Dancing by Gustavo and Jesica danced to Piazzolla's Milonga del Angel performed by the Cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Best is to download the Hi-Def version to your computer, then watch the file uninterrupted by your limited download speed. This is a one-of-a-kind artistic masterpiece!
  7. Unforgettable Performance of Sebastian Arce & Mariana Montes at Palais Ferstel, Vienna. Tango danced to Esta Noche de Luna by Pugliese; Milonga danced to Bien Porteña by Los Reyes Del Tango.
  8. Tango Para Mi Padre Y Marialuna - Ashram gorgeously danced by M.Filali y G. Galdi to a Non-traditional song.
  9. Natural Tango is the most-modern style of Tango. My understanding is that the initial ideas came from the late Norberto Ésbréz — nicknamed Pulpo (Octopus), and you can guess why. For me, the best representatives nowadays are Nick Jones and Diana Cruz. Please pay attention to the non-Tango music, Bach's Cello Suite No. 2, Prelude, played by Yo Yo Ma.
  10. There are Thousands of Tango videos on YouTube. Some are instructional but most are performances. Here is an example of an instructional one. Another excellent one (26 Tango Moves).
  11. Another Embrace style which I prefer.

Tango Principles

Most beginners will — unknowingly — have to contend with the Tango Maze as is lovingly sketched below. I inserted this cartoon here, just prior to plunging into the nitty-gritty — so as to give you the last chance OUT.

Tango Maze

Tango has some very-specific elements, principles, and ideas in it that don’t exist in other couple dances. In the following, I'll try to summarize the most-basic principles for Men and for Women. In Tango terminology the Leader is referred to as the Man and the follower as the Woman; these are names of roles, e.g., two Men dancing are still referred to as Man and Woman; and that’s how Tango actually started — Men dancing with Men (while waiting for Female "Services")!

For Women

I cannot emphasize this strongly enough: Tango is ALL about principles and technique — not about steps!!!
Since Men need to, first, learn to follow before they learn to lead, this material is as applicable to Men.

  1. You are always 100% on either your Right or your Left vertical Axis — wherever the Man led you last. Your axis is the vertical line drawn from the ball of your standing/supporting foot and the crown of your head. Stretch the whole side of your body on the side of the supporting leg so as to laterally place/shift your chest over the ball of that foot. You will notice that the weightless leg — referred to as “The Working Leg” — indeed becomes weightless. Relax (unlock) the knee of the supporting leg. Counter-intuitively, straighten (almost lock) the knee of the Working Leg which will force you to straighten UP! Here is a good example of this skill.
  2. In Close-Embrace (Salon Style), you’re leaning slightly (1-2 degrees) forward so that you are on the ball of your standing foot balancing yourself from falling forward. It’s the man’s chest that gives you extra stability but you shouldn’t fall if he walks away. The axis of your forward (slight) lean is your ankle; your body (and head) is straight from the ankle up — though at 1-2 degrees to the vertical. As you progress, you will find yourself dancing on your tiptoes without touching the heels to the floor for the whole dance — except when led to "sit" back. Don’t “try” to get taller! I am only talking about being tall from the waist up.
  3. The lean mentioned above is more of an optical illusion than an actual lean. Both dancers, SHAPE their bodies by arching backwards — exaggerating the “small of the back” — sticking the butt slightly out (backwards) but keeping the pelvis forward. Keep the upper body (from the waist up) vertical to the floor. Please study the picture below:

    The Tango Embrace
    The Tango Embrace

    From pg 167 of “The Meaning of Tango“ by Christine Denniston (pls see Reading Material above): If the torsos are completely vertical then the forces between the two bodies are completely horizontal, and even if the two dancers are actually leaning on each other the position remains comfortable. If one dancer slumps the shoulders even slightly, this introduces a downward component of the force between the two bodies, and the relationship can become almost intolerable to the other dancer. This is true whether the slumped person is the leader or the follower. The person slumping will almost certainly be completely unaware that they are becoming heavy and uncomfortable to dance with.

  4. Make sure the Man knows which axis (foot/leg) you’re on (after he had established your axis) at any instant. Even if you realize that the Man meant to lead you to a weight change and you didn’t, do NOT try to adjust your weight to the “correct” side; the Man WILL adjust himself to you. This is like choosing a lane on the Freeway; whatever lane you are in, stay in it; if you want to switch lanes, let the other drivers KNOW that!
  5. There is no lean nor shaping (as explained above) in a non-close Embrace (I am not saying “Open Embrace” because there are many forms of embrace). You are then 100% responsible for your own balance; so make sure you don’t push or pull the man out of his balance.
  6. In principle, consider each step to be your Final Destination (the last step of the dance); this means that you stabilize on your most-recent step with no left-over kinetic energy — lateral or angular; specifically, don’t “fall” onto the Working leg. The man can also lead you to take a few consecutive steps without any pause; it depends on how much kinetic energy he is giving you and on his rhythm of acceleration/deceleration.
  7. Maintain your existing axis/balance until you receive a lead. Please have PATIENCE!!!
  8. Don’t let your hip collapse outward (sideways) on the side of the weighted leg. Always THINK “UP” (on the standing, weight-bearing leg)!!!
  9. Don’t try to predict his next move; just wait for his lead; he might be waiting for the musical phrasing, or for traffic on the floor, or for finding his or your balance. This is for YOUR SAFETY! The man is improvising based on his knowledge and on many other considerations. Think of it this way: A car driven by two drivers WILL eventually crash!
  10. The man can lead you to only 3 possible lateral movements out of your current axis (forward, backward, and sideward). Also, he can pivot you, go around your axis (rotating you), lean, lift, slide, and lower/raise you. He can also Pause/wait (remember “patience”?)
  11. Do NOT try to memorize, or think of steps or patterns; leave that, and all other worries to the man!
  12. Close your eyes and erase all thoughts from your mind. Focus only on the motion (or stillness) conveyed by his/your chests, legs, and arms connection; 90% of the lead comes from his chest motion. Meditate on the Mantra — which is the lead coming from the man’s chest/belly (the contact area); his lead can also come from his legs (for Ganchos, Boleos, Sits, etc.) and sometimes from his arms/hands.
  13. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO MAINTAIN BELLY/CHEST CONTACT AT ALL TIMES. It’s NOT the man’s job to pull you onto himself in order to maintain contact. In principle, you both should be able to dance keeping your arms behind your backs!!! and that’s how you should first learn Tango anyways.
  14. By default, keep your chest parallel to his; that could sometimes require lots of twisting at your waist. Also, keep your shoulder line horizontal; NO tilting right or left.
  15. In your “Neutral” position, the non-weighted (Working) leg is locked-kneed, and stretched down to the heel (toes curled upwards) as if you intend to drive a nail through the floor with your heel (though there is no weight on that heel). The Man can “convert” that leg into either, a) a “dead weight” dangling like a tail from your hip; it then responds to your hip motion that amplifies your chest motion — as it is lead by the man’s chest, or b) lead you to take a back or a side step (3 possible lateral directions).
  16. When you get a lead to take a step back, think of your Working leg as if it starts from your belly button (your core) and that’s where you send it from — not from the hip, nor from the gluts! Reach back (or sideways) just with your straight, almost-locked knee, stretched leg; actively resist letting your hip turn WITH your leg; reach as far as you can while keeping the ball of your Working leg in contact with the floor and NOT lowering your body in an attempt to reach farther. At that point, increase your pressure on the Man's chest (in response to his increased pressure), and let HIM roll you onto the heel of that foot. Another, more advanced technique would be to help propel yourself backward by pushing off from your supporting leg.
  17. When you prepare to take a step back, send your Working leg backwards and, laterally, towards the other side of your spine as if you are walking on a Tightrope. Example: if you take a step back with your Right leg, send it back and in line with your supporting Left leg.
  18. Keep your head straight up and looking forward — in line with his Right shoulder. Depending on your relative heights, the right side (sometimes, the front) of your forehead might lightly press against the right side of his forehead/cheek/chin, so that the heads become a part of the Connection and thus a part of his lead.
  19. Keep your Left elbow at about the height of your own left shoulder so that your left hand lightly touches his right Lat (Latisimus Dorsi) from behind (not in front of his shoulder). Depending on your arm flexibility, you can turn your hand at the wrist so that it’s either your palm, or the thumb-side, or the back-side of your hand that’s touching his Lat. You can also stretch that arm out in the air to your Left side and not touch him at all. Avoid putting pressure down on his right arm. First, it's painful to the Man's shoulder; second, this means that you aren't maintaining your axis! Here is some more on this subject.
  20. Keep your right hand (and his left hand) between you, and close to your bodies. Elbows DOWN — not out to the side like in Ballroom. Just maintain medium pressure between your hands, but do NOT push his left arm away from you beyond the center plane between you.
  21. Fun video: Five Worse Argentine Tango Habits for Followers.
  22. NO RUSH! RELAX! THINK and SAVOR EACH STEP as if it’s an adventure all by itself!

For Men

Remember? All the Women’s Principles also apply to Men. So the list of issues below applies to you in addition to those listed for Women.
  1. Always make clear to the woman which axis you want her to be on (and maintain). Think of what you want her to do and not about your own motion. YOU can be on one or two legs at any given instant. You can change your weight at will — as long as you don’t confuse her by moving your chest; that’s body isolation at its best!
  2. When you initiate a Lead, focus your attention on her response and adjust your lead in Real-time accordingly. Adjusting means that you might need to change your PLAN and end up leading another move. For you, Engineers, this process is called Closed-Loop Control via Negative Feedback.
  3. By default, orient your chest to be parallel to hers; that usually requires LOTS of twisting at your waist.
  4. Your goal is to lead her and show her off — whatever it takes. Everything IS “legal”!
  5. Nominally, you lead every lateral step so that you both arrive with no leftover kinetic energy (don’t let her “fall” onto the other leg — “lift” her). Most of the times, you will want to continue from one motion to the next one without any pause at all so that the whole dance feels as one continuous motion.
  6. You are multitasking: You listen and phrase your dancing by the music; you navigate on, usually, a crowded floor; you (try to) keep in the line(s) of dance; you keep her SAFE; you lead her so you both don’t touch other dancers; if you or she does, YOU apologize to the other man by a head nod or an eye contact with him.
  7. In Milongas, you will usually only use a very-small subset of your simplest patterns — between 5 and 10. If you have lots of room, you can use many more of your patterns.
  8. Think of your partner as if she is a baby you are cradling for comfort, love, closeness, and for enjoying and responding to the MUSIC together — because the music is the driver for everything in Tango. You plan your last step to coincide with the last beat of the music.
  9. MUTUAL TRUST is the underlying basis for Tango, and Trust isn’t easy to build. Take it slow — especially with Women you don’t know. Do simple moves first in order to establish Trust and Rapport.

How to Learn Tango

Choosing the right teacher(s) is CRUCIAL! Otherwise, you learn and practice on reinforcing bad habits that will take you the rest of your life to undo.

My current teachers are Gustavo and Jesica. Please watch the videos on their website. They aren’t only TOP performers (US 2012 Stage-Tango Champions), but they are also superb teachers — which is a very-rare combination to find. However, just taking their beginner’s lessons (and/or Advanced) isn’t enough to cover the fundamental “Technique”, and Tango is ALL about Technique and NOT about steps or patterns.

Another excellent teacher to learn the fundamental technique from is Igor Polk. It’s very important to understand that Tango cannot be learned in a class format alone! It requires private instruction, and Igor — I believe — is excellent to take private lessons from for the first 3-4 years — which I did! In parallel with that, and especially if you are going to compete, Gustavo and Jesica are your ultimate choice for teachers — while, or after you have already mastered the Fundamental Technique!

For general info about Tango activities in the SF Bay Area, see TangoMango. There are 10-20 Milongas and lessons every day of the week, but I don’t necessarily recommend taking lessons in every venue (and teacher) you go to.

The “tragedy“ of Tango is that it takes the average beginner about 3 years to figure out the obvious — which is that they actually need to start from the beginning and not from the end (by learning complicated figures). This is analogous to the "Chicken and Egg Paradigm": what happens first? You dance Tango before you know how to — and frustrate yourself — or, you fall in love with Tango, and only then you make the logical decision to start learning/building it from the Ground UP?

My Tango Syllabus

  1. First, I teach you (Men and Women) to pay attention to your Balance: balance in the right/left (R-L) plane, and in the forward/backward (F-B) plane.

    Controlling your weight in the R-L plane is well-explained in the Women's Principle No. 1, so I won't expand on it here except for introducing one essential exercise.

    Exercise (R-L): Stand on your Right leg; relax (unlock) the Right knee; try to reach the ceiling with your stretched Right arm while stretching your Left arm to your Left. This will cause you to stretch the entire Right side of your body from the waist and up to your fingertips while still keeping your shoulders level. Your purpose is NOT to get taller but only to stretch your Right side from the waist up.

    You will notice that your weight is now 100% on your Right leg and that there is no weight at all on the Left leg. Now, while you maintain your body in this exact position and you take note of how your stretched body feels, drop both arms. Make sure to keep your shoulders Level throughout. This is how your body should feel after having taken EACH and EVERY "Slow" step in Tango (Slow, in terms of timing equals two Quick steps). Repeat the same on your Left side. If all you do is switch your weight between Right and Left, you will notice that your chest/head describes a trough-like arc in the vertical plane. Your head will be about 2 cm higher at the two ends of the arc as compared to the arc's center point.

    Women's control of their own balance in the F-B plane is well-explained in the Women's Principles No. 2 and 3; here is one essential exercise for that.

    Exercise (F-B): Stand balanced on both legs. Tilt your whole straight body Forward — from the Ankles and up — until you almost fall forward. You will notice that your heels come OFF the floor. Now, similarly, tilt your body Backwards so that your toes curl upwards. Switch between these two extreme tilts so as to make yourself VERY AWARE of where your weight is with respect to the vertical. Also, notice that your head will move back and forth within a span equal to the length of your foot (heel to toe)!

    In the sequel, I will sometimes just refer to the previously-listed Principles for Men (Men Principle No... ) and for Women (Women Principle No...), e.g., controlling your weight in the F-B plane: see Women's Principles 2-5.

  2. Tango Walk is the most important and essential part of Tango. Although it might sound simple, it IS the most elaborate and misunderstood part of Tango. Teaching it is the same for both Men and Women. Here is a short description of how to, individually (not as a couple), take a forward step with your Left leg:

    (1) Shift your weight 100% to your Right leg; twist your upper body so that your Left shoulder rotates about 30° Counter-Clock-Wise (CCW). With almost-locked Left knee, point your Left foot Forward and to the Right of your Centerline. This will result in stretching the whole Left side of your body — from the Left Big Toe to the Left Shoulder. At this point, you can still reverse/undo the twist and return to Neutral standing position. Make sure to keep your knees together throughout.

    (2) To actually take a step, you propel yourself Forward by gradually pushing off your Right leg so as to shift your weight onto the Left, forward-stretched leg. Think UP so that you end up transferring 100% of your weight onto your left leg. While you do that, you relax the Left knee, undo the initial upper-body twist, and leave the Right leg trailing behind.

    (3) Collect the Right leg — first the knee, then the lower leg — so as to complete one step and return to Neutral.

    (4) At this point, you are back to the starting position, except that you will now repeat the same with your Right leg.

  3. Descending Staircase Backwards: The most-effective exercise for Women's walk — ever!

    Stand on the 4th step (counting from the bottom) of a Staircase while you face, and slightly tilt your body FORWARD towards upstairs. Shift your weight to your Left leg/axis and bend it until you can reach one step lower with the ball of your stretched Right leg and without changing your forward tilt. Carefully, and controllably shift your weight to your stretched right leg on the 3rd step. You do that by pushing off your left leg and gradually shifting your weight 100% to establish your new axis on the right leg on the lower step.

    You can do this exercise with any number of stairs you want; even going down one step will do. It's OK to initially also push off the railing with your arm/arms which, in this case, substitute the Man's chest (the Man can wait for you at the bottom to catch you in case you fall ❦ ).

  4. I teach CONNECTION as explained in Women's Principle 3 (remember that Men have to first learn the Women's Principles?) One exercise I use here is to place a short stick or an empty Gallon (milk) jugs between each couple (Men or Women) while they lead each other to take a few Forward/Backward walking steps — without letting the jugs slip down to the floor.
  5. Next, I teach Women how to stand and shape their body in Neutral position prior to receiving any lead. That follows Women's Principles 3-5.
  6. I teach Women how to respond to a lead for taking a step backwards as described in Women's Principles 4-10. In addition to the Descending Staircase exercise, I also like to use the Mat Exercise:

    Use a mat to lay flat on the floor on your stomach and raise your straight, locked-kneed legs, one at a time, towards the ceiling. Notice that your pelvis is in full contact with the floor on both sides, i.e., you RESIST turning the hip upward on the same side of your lifted leg. This is a typical Gym exercise meant to strengthen your back muscles. I use it here in order to give you an exaggerated feel of which muscles you need to use in order to extend your leg behind your body on getting a lead to take a step backwards. It teaches you to always keep your lower body (under the waistline) behind your chest!
  7. The Bungee-Cord exercise, for Men and Women, is meant to teach you how to keep your knees together. Loosely tying your knees together with a short Bungee Cord forces you to keep your knees touching each other most of the time.
  8. The Tightrope Walking exercise for both Men and Women (pls see Women's Principle 17) is meant to teach you how to walk on a Straight Line, and that's as opposed to wobbling from side to side with each step. Generally-speaking, when you take a step forward or backward, you place your Working (unweighted) leg on the other side of your spine.
I believe that the above list provides you with a sampling of, both, the material I teach, and the teaching methods I use. Actually, each one of the Women's and Men's Principles listed earlier spawns a few exercises meant to drill the corresponding issue.

The Milonga (Tango Party)

Milonga means two things: 1.) A Dance/Music form — under the general umbrella of Tango, and 2.) A Tango Dance Party. Here, I am talking about the Party.

The Rules (Etiquette) for Milonga are quite elaborate — AND they are absolutely necessary!!! Ballroom Dancers, please beware: these are NOT the Etiquette Rules you see posted in the Men's Room of most Ballroom venues. The Milonga Rules have sprung out quite naturally because, without them, dancing in a Milonga would have become UNPLEASANT; in plain English: a Mess!

The music is served in Tandas. A Tanda is a series of 3-4 songs of the same type/mood which are usually performed by the same Orchestra/Conductor (e.g., the Orchestra of Carlos Di Sarli). The reason is that people often make up their minds — about dancing or not dancing the coming Tanda — while hearing the beginning of the first song. You dance the whole Tanda (8-12 minutes overall) with the SAME partner — which feels like a mini marriage. At the end of the Tanda, say “Thank you“ (plus mutual compliments); Men escort their Women OFF the Dance Floor. It's considered OFFENSIVE to break off in the middle of a Tanda. In case your dance becomes intolerable for any reason, just suffer quietly until the end of the current song and then pretend as if you mistook the end of the song for the end of the Tanda; say "Thank You" and walk away. Please remember NOT TO SAY “Thank you“ unless it's the end of the Tanda or you are very uncomfortable and can't continue dancing with the current partner. Here is a detailed essay about the Do's and Don'ts of Inviting and Accepting in a Milonga.

Between Tandas, the DJ would play a Cortina (Curtain Time in Theater productions) which is a 40-60-seconds piece of music that is clearly NOT a Tango song. Dancers clear the floor during the Cortina while walking around looking for Cabeceos.

A Cabeceo (Head Nod) means creating an eye contact between prospective partners, and confirming the eye contact with a Head Nod. Depending on the room lighting, this eye contact can happen across the length of the whole dance floor. This is why people need to VACATE the floor at the end of each Tanda so as to “Start afresh“.

Both Men and Women watch other dancers on the dance floor and make up their minds about which partners they would want/agree to dance with — in advance! Women usually sit at a table and keep themselves “busy” by talking with each other, working a plate of food, consulting their cellphones, or by whatever other distraction that keeps them from appearing interested in dancing. In other words, they only look OUT towards the floor when THEY want to create a Cabeceo with one of their pre-qualified Men.

Men walk around the perimeter of the floor looking for a Cabeceo from one of THEIR pre-qualified “list”. Although it would APPEAR as if it's the Man who is asking the Woman for the next Tanda, IT IS THE WOMAN WHO INITIATES THE CABECEO — NOT the Man!!! She does that by LOOKING in the direction of the Man she wants to dance with, hoping that He will notice her gaze and Cabeceo her. SHE, IMPLICITLY, ASKS HIM TO ASK HER! This Tactic works well because, vision-wise, a person can notice someone looking at him from a Field-of-View of almost 180 degrees. Noticing, however, doesn't mean acknowledging. Thus, ignoring a peripheral-vision gaze from someone you knowingly prefer to ignore won't offend that Man or Woman because there was no acknowledgement. Yet another important tip: the eye contact part of the Cabeceo is a VERY-FLEETING MOMENT; meeting someone's gaze in mid-air might literally last less than ONE SECOND! Be alert during the Cortina so you don't miss this precious split-second! (This is very reminiscent of playing Musical Chairs.)

In a Milonga, the dancers move in a single circle — the Line-of-Dance (LOD) — in a Counter-Clock-Wise (CCW) direction. One compelling reason is that the Men's vision is mostly restricted to about the 90-degrees segment he can see over the Woman's right shoulder (depending on their relative heights). Whenever the Man notices a vacant space in front of him he should fill up the "gap" so as to allow everyone behind him to move.

As the floor becomes more crowded, parallel inner circles are formed — analogous to driving on a Highway with multiple lanes. Ideally, no one should pass a slow couple in front of them. That's why experienced Men learn to dance basically in place and without progressing along the LOD at all. Please watch Dancing on a Table to understand the concept.

The following Chart summarizes the above principles:

Milonga Lanes

Milonga Q&A

Q-1: What happens if the Man Cabeceos a woman who sits next to, or along the same line of sight of another woman who thinks that the Cabeceo was meant for her, and she stands up first?

A-1: The Man pretends as if his Cabeceo was intended for the woman who stood up first. The Corollary here is that, if the woman wants to avoid any such unpleasant surprise, she better stand up (in place) after having concluded the Cabeceo “Agreement“. That way, she ensures that no other woman will respond to the same Cabeceo.

Q-2: What happens if the lighting (or your vision) is so low that, as a Man, you can't Cabeceo from more than 1, 2-meter distance?

A-2: You go close, and in front of the woman you want to dance with in order to make sure she notices you looking at her; she can still look the other way, though. Never touch a woman you don't know in order to get her attention.

Q-3: Is a Man expected to buy the Woman a drink, or anything at all?

A-3: The Milonga Culture is such that Men aren't expected to treat Women as if they are in an English Pub. Dancers usually don't drink (and, certainly, don't smoke) in a Milonga. However, Tango dancers DO, traditionally, bring (and sometimes actually drink) mostly Red Wine. That's more of a ceremonial gesture than an actual drinking binge. I, for example, am known for consistently bringing the very-same bottle many times because I haven't uncorked it yet; for a good reason, I will!

Q-4: What's the difference between Milonga and Practica?

A-4: In a Milonga you are expected to dance — not to teach! Traditional Music can have quite a long Intro. (up to 1 minute). Couples get into a light chit-chat during that time, such as: Where do you usually dance? Where are you from? where did you learn to dance? Do you dance other dances? A low-level lighting usually creates a romantic atmosphere.

Q-5: Is a Teacher running a Milonga supposed to dance with any of the attendees?

A-5: ABSOLUTELY NOT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! An inexperienced partner will sure drag the Teacher DOWN to their level, thus make him/her look BAD, and may even precipitate an injury to both or to others (it happened to me!).

As opposed to a Milonga, a Practica is meant for learning and practicing. So, it's certainly OK to talk, teach, and even argue. Lights are normally on with no attempt to create any special ambiance. The music is usually continuous without Tandas and Cortinas.

Q-6 (from a Man): On starting the first dance of a Tanda, the Woman places her Left hand on the front of my Right shoulder explaining that she prefers to dance in Open Embrace. For me, this isn't Tango, plus, nothing that I know/want to lead can be led in Open Embrace. What should I do?

A-6: Two possibilities: 1.) Suffer and fake through that first song; at the end of it say "Thank you" as if it were the end of the Tanda, Or 2.) Excuse yourself immediately (prior to taking a single step) saying "Sorry, I don't know how to dance in Open Embrace". In both cases walk with her off the floor.

As opposed to a Milonga, a Practica is meant for learning and practicing. So, it's certainly OK to talk, teach, and even argue. Lights are normally on with no attempt to create any special ambiance. The music is usually continuous without Tandas and Cortinas. No line-of-dance discipline is followed.

I'll post more QA's as they come up.

Please feel free to contact me at: ybalias-tango at yahoo dot com