A significant part of the Tango culture – eminently the Traditional line – is subjected to tango “rules”. To protect your dance experience in these traditional [close-embrace] tango salons, from being ruined by someone else’s, tango codigos were developed. They are the unspoken etiquettes.

Whereas in the more Evolutionary line [Tango Nuevo, Non-Tango, Tango Fusion,…], there is a remarkable relaxation towards these limitations. In the neolonga’s one is allowed to express him/herself freely.

If this is your first visit to a traditional milonga, read them through. So you won’t be surprised by its customs. If you are already more advanced, likewise welcome to refresh your thoughts.

After all we don’t want any confusions and mixed up feelings. All we desire is a harmonious and enjoyable place to dance.


Is conducted entirely through eye contact. The man/leader initiates this dance hall foreplay by gazing at his intended partner from across the room. She/follower accepts by holding his gaze and he/leader seals the deal with a nod, a wink or the raise of an eyebrow. Although the man/leader appears to do the asking by nodding first, it does take two. For this silent conversation to work, women/followers have to actively scan the room to signal their availability. Both genders can either accept with a nod–or decline for any reason by subtly looking away or not looking to that person to begin with.

The cabaceo ensures that no one dances out of obligation, and avoids rejection and hurt feelings. In traditional milongas asking someone directly to dance is considered as rude and is usually turned down.

In venues where the cabaceo is difficult, the man/leader stands, to get a better view, or walks around in the room to get a closer to the women/followers he wants to invite for a tanda. But he still does the cabaceo from a distance and makes sure she has a mutual interest in dancing with him.
If she accepts his invitation, he walks over to meet her. He does not cut across the dance floor or disturb other dancers who are already on the floor. He treats the dance floor as a sacred space. The woman should stay seated and maintain eye contact with the man until he meets her. This will avoid embarrassing situations where the cabaceo was intended for someone sitting next to the lady.

At the end of the tanda, the leader will accompany his partner back to her seat or wherever she requests to be taken.

The cabaceo takes place at the beginning of the tanda, not during the cortina. This way, everyone is aware what kind of music they may be committing to. Not looking around the room for a cabaceo at the beginning of a tanda will result in missed invitations. If followers use all night the same seat, they can be easily located by leaders.

In traditional milongas, men and women wanting to dance with different partners are seated across from each other to make the cabaceo easier to do. Couples who only want to dance with each other sit at their table together. Other dancers will usually not invite them to dance.

It is polite to dance a full tanda with one person. However, if you start dancing partway through the tanda, you still end at the cortina. A tanguero who is not completely sure about a tanguera, can ask her partway through the tanda, So he can decide if he likes dancing with her without having to commit to a full tanda.

Inspired by the following websites:
• https://nancylearnsthetango.com/tag/cabaceo/
• https://www.siempremilonguero.org/tango-codigos-codes/3/


The dances proceed counter-clockwise around the dance floor, referred to as the ronda, line-of-dance. Typically there is an outside lane and if the floor is crowded second and third lanes may form.

Navigating in a cooperative way helps everyone feel safe and able to focus on their partners and the tango. Bad navigation causes dancers to spend their time protecting their partners from potential harm and collision prevention.

▪ Whenever possible start to dance at a corner of the dance floor. The leaders entering the floor – when others are already dancing – should make eye contact with the approaching leader to let him know that he wants to enter in front of him, go in his line-of-dance. If he acknowledges with a light nodding gesture that it is ok, you may start dancing in front of him. Followers, leaders are responsible for your safety. So allow him to take you on the floor when he decides it is safe.
▪ Share the dance floor responsible. Leaders must remain aware of the couples around them. Use your peripheral vision. Dance forward at the speed of the couple in front of you. Do not tailgate them. Try to keep a comfortable distance from the other couples. If there is a lot of space between you and the previous couple, try to catch up so as not to block the following couple. When the floor is very crowded, keep your steps small, keep your feet on the floor (no high boleos). If it is less crowded, you can increase the distance between you and the other couples and you may choose steps that use more space. In other words adapt the sizes of your movements and sequences to reflect the available space. Big stuff in small spaces is a no bueno. Is your space more compressed, call on your small space vocabulary. If everybody keeps this in mind, there is a steady flow of movement on the floor.
▪ Stopping for long periods of time to do numerous dance patterns is not acceptable since it blockades the line-of-dance and will frustrate the leaders behind you.
▪ Only overtake a dance couple in front of you, under ‘extreme’ circumstances. If you have to, do it on the left side only. Check the dancers on the line next to you and change line when it is safe. You may stay in that line, or change back after the ‘obstacle’.

Inspired by the following websites:
• http://alextangofuego.blogspot.com/2018/05/tango-floorcraft-graphics-handouts.html
• https://www.siempremilonguero.org/tango-codigos-codes/3/
• https://tango-dj.at/dancing/codigos.htm

More general rules

Monopolising back-to-back tandas with the same follower might be perceived as rude by other leaders. Sharing is caring.

▪ Talking while dancing is not accepted. Talking at the start of the song is. Focus on the dance and the music.
▪ Take time to connect with the music and your partner before you start dancing. Do not rush into the dance right at the start of the music.
▪ The leader will start the embrace when he is ready to begin the dance. Followers should wait for this.
▪ Do not dance during the cortina. Everyone should clear the floor during cortinas. Do not enter the dance floor until the cortina has ended.
▪ When you agree to dance with someone, it is understood that you dance with him the entire tanda. If however it turns out to be an extremely terrible experience or there is some inappropriate attitude, you can stop dancing with him/her. You do this by thanking them at the end of a song and walking back to your seat. Saying “thank you” before a tanda ends, is seen as “I do not wish to dance with you any longer”.
▪ Good leaders dance at the level of the follower they are dancing with. If you dance above her level to impress her, show off to others, or boost your ego, it is considered as rude.
▪ Resist the urge to teaching on the dance floor. It is disrespectful to your partner and disrupts the other dancers. Even a well-tended comment can ruin your partner’s evening. Also don’t ask for advice, corrections or teachings. Yes at practicas, never at milongas.
▪ No one likes being kicked, run into, hit or stepped on. Traditional milongas are reserved as a place where you can dance freely, comfortable and save. Keep your high boleos, gancho’s, jumps, leg sweeps, leg extensions for the neolongas and performances.
▪ If a collision occurs, be polite and friendly. Make eye contact and acknowledge the collision, even if it wasn’t your fault. If it was clearly your fault, apologise.

When you are not on the dance floor

▪ Do not obstruct the dance floor or the path of others with your chair or other objects.
▪ Avoid obstructing lines of sight for others. This is frustrating to those trying to cabaceo.
▪ Show respect to those who are dancing: do not walk across the dance floor, or stand talking on the floor. Loud conversations can disturb the other dance couples.

Personal hygiene

▪ Personal hygiene is essential for an enjoyable dancing experience. Bad breath, body odour and excessive perspiration are common offenders. Be sensitive. Likewise excessive use of after shave or perfume can be annoying as well and isn’t a replacement for bathing.
▪ When in the duration/course of the milonga, you have to go to the restroom, always wash your hands afterwards.
▪ Dress to impress. Be sophisticated as the music. Do not wear something that will make you feel uncomfortable when you dance close embrace. Avoid displaying any body parts not generally acceptable in public. If your wear jewellery, make sure they do not turn into assault weapons while dancing.
▪ If you perspire a lot, use a towel, take a break, bring an extra shirt and change into it at half time.
▪ If your wear glasses, consider contact lenses. Or remove them before dancing unless you cannot see without them.
▪ And ladies be aware that make up can ruin a man’s outfit.

Written by Kristin Daenen

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