Tango Argentino is a social dance therefore it has some protocols and etiquette to ensure smooth interactions on the dance floor. Here are some guidelines to get you started in your understanding of the culture of social milongas.
Traffic – Always dance counter-clockwise around the dance floor. In traditional milongas there is constant movement around the floor with nobody stopping in one place. Use the periphery of the dance floor. If you need overtake, move to the inside lane. Do not go in every which direction looking for space. Leaders, if you have to step backwards do it with utmost care. In general try to avoid any movement counter to the line of dance. Stay clear of the dance floor if you’re not dancing.
Courtesy – Both the leader and the follower are responsible for being aware of other dancers around them but the leader has a better overview of the dance floor. If you do bump into someone, apologise immediately and courteously. If you see someone is likely to bump into you take steps to avoid the collision.
Appropriate steps – Consider the amount of space available to you and your partner before leading fancy manoeuvres or making wild and dangerous embellishments. It is extremely unpleasant for other dancers to be speared by flying stilettos, kicked or stomped. Leaders consider the experience of your follower when leading steps. Showing off won’t work in tango as your follower still needs to understand your leading!
Practice – If you want to show your partner a new step or practice a particular step, move off the dance floor out of the way of other social dancers. Alternatively, save practice for practica sessions and relax at the social milonga. At a social dance, try not to give advice or instruction unless you are specifically asked. Remember that everyone starts as a beginner and an instructive comment, however well-intentioned, can destroy the already fragile confidence of a new tanguero/a.
Social etiquette – It is general practice for leaders to invite followers to dance but different milongas have different way of doing things. Typically, eye contact is made and then a nod when a dance is accepted. Should you not feel like dancing, look the other way. If you must decline a dance offer, do so sincerely. It’s rude to decline one offer and then accept another within the same tanda.
In Malta followers sometimes ask leaders to dance as we seek to foster a friendly atmosphere at the milongas. Isla del Tango promotes inclusive values so we wish our leader students to ask different followers at the milonga and not be selective to the point of exclusion!
It is customary to dance a whole ‘tanda’ (group of similar songs) with one partner. This usually takes about 9 minutes, so even if s/he is an awful dancer it’s not too much to grin and bear it. At the end of the tanda, take your partner back to her seat as considered rude to walk off leaving your partner in the middle of the floor.
Dancing close is not an invitation for inappropriate behaviour: be sensitive to your partner’s comfort-level with regard to personal space.
Cutting in is not on. Invitations to dance happen off the dance floor, not while two people are standing on the dance floor, talking between the songs in a tanda or worse, during a dance. The two people being approached are well within their rights to politely ask the person cutting in to please wait their turn.
A social dance is for dancing. If you want to talk with your partner, do it off the dance floor. Don’t apologise or chat during the dance. If you focus on the music, the traffic and your partner’s expressiveness, you’ll have plenty to do!
Hygiene – Be considerate with your use of aftershave and perfume some people are sensitive to them.
If you perspire, consider bringing a change of top and use a towel or handkerchief to mop frequently. Keep mints handy.
If you are a smoker, clean your teeth after your cigarette break, wash your hands and have a breath min. Besides being an irritant, some people are allergic to cigarette smoke.
If you’re having dinner before / during milonga, get your toothbrush & toothpaste with you.