Milonga Etiquette: 8 Things to Know Before You Tango
Article by Sharon Salt.
To many outsiders and first-timers, milongas are uncharted territory: dark and smoky halls brimming with lust, loss, and longing. Everyone, it seems, knows everyone else; and everyone, it seems, knows how to dance perfectly, or at least much better than you.
And yes, some milongas are dark, some milongas are smoky, and some milongas play host to such an old, tight-knit crowd that they will sniff you out in seconds. But I assure you, not everyone dances perfectly and you are definitely welcome, so long as you know the rules.
I’ve compiled for you here the very basics of milonga etiquette, most of which would otherwise go unspoken:
You Don’t Have To Dance
Why oh why does everyone assume milongas are for dancers only? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve invited a friend to a milonga only to hear: “Nah, I don’t dance.” Guess what? I don’t really dance either. If you don’t want to dance, you don’t have to. In fact, very few people will ask you unless you happen to be wearing tango shoes, and those are very hard to put on by accident.
Keep Your Voice Down
By the same token, some people to go milongas just for the music, particularly when it’s live. If the crowd is too loud, it’s hard enough for the audience to hear the music, not to mention the dancers! So please be quiet and save face, since no one wants to be the one shouting some inane comment across the table to your friends as the band — and everyone else — watches, waiting for you to shut up.
Don’t Mess With The Dance Floor
Don’t walk through the dance floor; walk around it. Likewise, if you’re sitting along the edges, try to keep your bags, feet, and chairs out of the way, as nobody wants to trip or be tripped.
If You Do Dance, Dance Tango
This should go without saying, but in a milonga, there is no YMCA-business or grinding, no matter how many glasses of wine you’ve had. In some milongas, even newer styles of tango – e.g. excessive, wide-sweeping turns – are looked down upon as the old guard clashes with the young. So yeah, no, your peppermint twist is definitely not going to cut it.
Dance In A Counter-Clockwise Direction
This is the only way. Likewise, if you’re a beginner, try to stay in the middle of the dance floor as people generally dance slower here and it will be easier to navigate.
It’s Fine To Say No
You can turn down an offer to dance, but, as with prom etc., it’s hard to say no to Daniel only to turn around and say yes to David. So say no, if you want, but be careful about accepting another partner right after, as this could be seen as a slap in the face.
Listen For The Tandas
Generally, dancers will wait for a song they know well before beginning to dance. This is made easier by tandas, or sets of songs, which are almost always grouped by style. In a tanda, three or four songs are played in a row before a snippet of a pop or rock song cuts in to break it up. You’ll notice that dancers rarely sit down before the end of the tanda, as couples are expected to dance together for the entirety of the tanda unless they have radically different levels of ability.
Be Sure To Step Away
In between songs, couples stop dancing and take a step away, often chatting before the next song comes on. If you remain touching between songs, beware: you may be sending the signal to your partner — and others — that you’re taken, though whether that means for the next few hours or the whole night will remain unclear.
You’re all set for a milonga now — no more excuses! Go for the music, go for the dancing, go for the people watching, whatever you want, so long as you go. No stay in Buenos Aires would be complete without it.