The “Condigos”/Codes of Argentine Tango

 Written by Santa Fe tango instructor, Liz Haight, and taken from interviews of the older milongueros and milongueras. 
The "codigos" (codes) or tango dance etiquette, have been developed over many years to create an optimum dance experience in the milongas. These are rules that are adhered to maximize choice, freedom, and pleasure dancing while avoiding embarrassing, awkward, and unsafe situations in the dance hall and on the dance floor.

The Structure of the Milonga

Music in a Milonga (tango dance party) is set up with "tandas" and "cortinas". Tandas are composed in sets of 3 or 4 songs played by one orchestra. Generally, tango tandas have 4 songs while Vals and Milonga tandas have 3 songs. It is polite to dance a full tanda with one person. However, if you begin dancing partially through a tanda you still end at the cortina. Cortinas are the non-tango bits of songs that are played between tandas. The cortina signals the end of the tanda and is the time to return partners to their seats and clear the dance floor.

The Cabeceo

The cabeceo is perhaps one of the most important codes of all. It is the way that people invite and agree to dance together. It is a system of mutual respect and delicacy. Leaders invite the followers from a relative distance by catching her eye and nodding. If she would like to accept the invitation she will nod back. If the follower does not want to be invited to dance, she must subtly look the other way (or not look his way in the first place). This system ensures that followers are not dancing out of obligation and leaders do not have to have their advances rejected or feelings hurt.

Everyone is dancing with whom they choose and thus enjoying fully their night. In the traditional milongas in Argentina, inviting a follower verbally at her table is considered an encroachment and often rejected out of hand. The cabeceo is a subtle art based on mutual respect and desire. Thus, advancing toward a follower and nodding aggressively at her defies the whole reason and mutual consideration that is at the heart of the cabeceo. Make sure from a distance that you are requesting not demanding and that there is truly a mutual desire on her part. Once the agreement has been sealed, he will come to meet her at the edge of the floor closest to her table and the couple will dance the tanda together. At the end of the tanda, the leader will accompany her back to her chair or to the edge of the floor where they met. Leaving her in the middle of the floor is considered bad form.

The cabeceo happens at the beginning of the tanda not during a cortina. This way, everyone is aware of what kind of music they are committing to. Talking and not paying attention at the beginning of a tanda will often result in missing the tanda entirely. Also in general, followers stay in their seats throughout the night so that they are easily located. In traditional milongas, men and women wanting to dance with different partners throughout the evening are seated in separate areas adjacent or across from each other, thus facilitating the cabaceo. Couples who want to dance only with each other sit at their own table together where usually they are not open to the cabaceo from other dancers in the hall. 

Cabeceo Tips

1) Bring your glasses and make sure your prescription is up to date (or at least good enough that you can see across the room)! 

2) If you are talking and not looking to cabeceo at the beginning of a tanda, you will most likely miss dancing that tanda. Followers who are talking and not attending to the potential invitations may miss their cabeceo! You can talk and look.

3) Cabeceo at the beginning of a tanda (or during), but not during the cortina. This way you know what music you will be dancing.

4) Once eye contact is made by leader and follower, then the leader asks with an upward questioning nod and she nods to confirm. Locking eyes is not enough to seal the agreement.

5) The leader then goes to her table maintaining eye contact across the floor.

This way if the women are unsure about who received the cabeceo, they can figure it out as the leader approaches.

6) Followers, do not get up from your table until you are absolutely positive that he is coming for you. Confusions can happen, so wait to be sure.

7) Leaders, if two followers get up for you as you cross the floor, you apologize to the one you did not cabeceo. It is a courtesy to ask her to dance the next tanda, if you want to (but you are not obligated to).

Rules of Floor Craft

1) The dance proceeds, counter clockwise around the outer parameters of dance floor in “the line of the dance”. Typically there is an outside lane and often a second and third inside lane.

2) Navigating in a peaceful, cooperative manner ensures that everyone is feeling safe and able to focus on their partners and their dance rather than having to spend their time protecting their partners from potential harm. The following protocol is very similar to driving on a highway:

a) Leaders, if you are entering the floor when people are dancing it is considerate to make eye contact with the leader that you desire to cut in front. He will make eye contact with you and nod his permission for you to enter onto the floor. This way he will know you are there and provide a place for you to dance. Followers, leaders are considered responsible for your safety, so allow your partner to lead you onto the dance floor when he deems it safe to do so not vice versa.

b) The dance floor is a communal space. Leaders -- stay aware of the couples around you. Take note of the speed that the couples are moving collectively and dance within the established speed of the floor, filling gaps ahead of you, while not tailgating the couple in front of you.

c) It's nice, if possible, to keep two steps behind the person in front of you, leaving room for a leader to back up a step. On a crowded dance floor, stopping for long periods of time to do numerous dance patterns is frowned upon since it backs up the line of dance and generally frustrates leaders behind you.

d) We only pass a couple under extreme circumstances not as a general rule. If a dance couple in front of you stops, be patient and take the time to dance in place until they move. If they are there for a very long time then you can choose to dance around them if you have the space.

e) Refrain from cutting across lanes, weaving from lane to lane, or cutting through the center of the floor.

f) Generally, leaders never back up against the line of dance unless they have to. However, if necessary one step back is OK provided the space is available.

g) Take care to not step into a neighboring lane or too close to the person dancing next to you. Everyone needs their space respected so that they can dance in comfort without feeling encroached upon.

h) In traditional milongas, showboating in the middle of the floor (or anywhere else) is not a particularly respected activity. In a social context, it is generally believed that tango is danced for yourself and your partner only - not for an audience. Social tangueros dance for each other and what they are creating. They do not diminish their dance by using it in the service of their egos.

On the dance floor

1) Talking in the introduction of a song is accepted. Talking while dancing is not. Dancers are expected to honor the dance by attending to the dance and the music, not to a conversation. The tanda is held as a contained space that two people share together until it is over.

2) Dancing begins when the couple connects with the music and each other. Dancers rarely begin dancing as soon as they hear the music.

3) Leaders propose the embrace as the signal that he is ready to begin the dance. Followers wait for this signal.

4) Generally when you agree to dance with someone you are agreeing to dance the length of the tanda. That said, if you wish to stop dancing with your partner, do so by thanking them at the end of the song. "Thank you" in tango means "thank you, no more". Likewise, no-one changes partners in the middle of a tanda.

5) Good leaders always dance at the level of the follower they are dancing with. It is considered bad manners to dance above her to impress her, show off to others, or fluff one's ego.

6) Teaching on the dance floor is strictly forbidden. It disrupts the flow of the dance floor and is considered a great disrespect to your partner. Not only does it establish power relations, but it generally ends up offending and hurting people's feelings. A harsh or insensitive, but well-intended comment can ruin one's evening. At the very least, it leaves your partner feeling uncomfortable and undervalued. The ultimate goal of the milonga is to create a pleasurable experience for all attending, especially your partners. It is respectful to provide a place for people to be able to dance their best without input. If you feel a need to instruct, save it for a practica, and make sure your input is solicited.

7) Never solicit advice, corrections, or teaching on the dance floor from anyone. Again, milongas are not the place for instruction.

8) No one likes being kicked, run into, hit, or stepped on, so avoid figures or movements that can negatively impact people around you. Milongas are supposed to be safe places, so people can dance freely and comfortably. Please dance in such a way that you ensure that for everyone. Keep the stage tango moves for the stage.

9) If a collision occurs, be polite and friendly, make eye contact and acknowledge the collision even if it was not your fault. If it was clearly your fault, apologize at the end of the song.

Off the floor

1) When getting up to dance, dancers should be aware not to obstruct the dance floor or the path of others with their chairs.

2) Be aware not to obstruct someone's line of vision. This is a frustration for those not dancing and trying to cabeceo.

3) If you are not dancing, show respect to those who are by not walking through the crowded dance floor or standing on the floor talking. Likewise, loud conversations and partying can be a distraction for the dancers. Priority is given to the dancers dancing.

4) Argentine Tango is an intimate and elegant dance. For a pleasant experience, good hygiene is essential. Bathe before dancing and use deodorant. Use breath fresheners frequently. Do not over do the use of perfume or aftershave - some people are sensitive to them. If you perspire, use a towel or handkerchief often. If you perspire heavily, use a towel, take a break and cool down, bring an extra shirt, and change into it at halftime. If you wear glasses, consider contact lenses or removing your glasses while dancing unless you can't see where you're going.



Further defining Argentine Tango Musical Form and Interpretation

Few have attempted to clearly define the Musical Form of Argentine Tango.  So, after many sleepless nights mulling over this subject, I have begun this article:

If you are a beginner to “Argentine Tango Music Appreciation”, then the obvious must be stated in what defines an Argentine Tango as "Tango". Music is emotion placed in the form of sound.  For those without a musical background desiring a deeper understanding, this article may begin to “rock your world”!

The Flavor of Tango:
I like to think of music in forms of flavor, like in food or sometimes in color, like in the colors of the rainbow. The more tangible senses you can place on something, the more you can identify with it. So, the main flavoring ingredient is the musical instrument called the "bandoneon". The bandoneon is to Argentine Tango as the electric guitar is to Rock and Roll.  Or, like in my culture in South Louisiana “Cajun” cuisine, the bandoneon is the  “roux” to the recipe in tango. If you were to close your eyes and imagine listening to any Argentine Tango, undoubtedly you would hear the bandoneon. So, by landslide, this instrument is the strongest “flavoring” ingredient in its recipe.  Of course, there is always exceptions to every rule - in very early tangos, it was the flute & classical guitar, etc. Other flavors come in the form of chord progressions or modalities, to be discussed later. I like to think of modalities in colors that you can feel.

Rhythm, beat and time:
Combine all three of these terms and one can get themselves into stormy waters when discussing them with people. But, I'll do my best "over time" to clear the cloudy water. I’ve heard interviews from tangueras and tangueros defining the sound of Argentine tango by its rhythm.  This can be confusing and outright unclear. To even suggest the term “rhythm”, there must be a recognizable repeating pattern.  In reference to rhythm, as an example, other Latin dance forms have developed “steps” to be placed to these “rhythmic patterns”.  So rhythm must be recognizable, and in Argentine Tango, often it is not with the exception of the “milonga rhythm pattern” and "vals".  Many tangos do not have a regular rhythm form other than the beat.  In an analogy, the beat can be the rhythm too, but they are not equally the same. So, don’t get confused - more on the beat later on. Having mentioned the “milonga form”, question to ponder:  Is there a universal signature step placed to a milonga like other latin dance forms? Answer: No.  Common steps have been placed to typical milongas, but “the definable step” has not been “labeled”, yet,  like in rumba, salsa, bachata, etc. Both rhythm & the beat happen in "time" or a tempo. Think of time as fast, slow, steady or not steady - like free form cadenzas or holds, pauses etc. Beat & time are usually measured in "beats per minute", like the second hand on a clock beating time.

The Beat of the Heart:
To help clarify the beat, think of a traditional march like John Philip Sousa. You march to the beat. That is what drives the music, and so it is with the tango. But remember, we dance, not march to the “beat of the heart”!  Tango has been compared numerous times with the beating of the heart, and I love this comparison. If you close your eyes, open your heart, and listen sensitively, you’ll be able to feel it too!  Metaphorically speaking, the truth can be found in this statement. With the “beat”, we must consider strong beats and weak beats and also speed, or “tempo” - the number of beats per minute. Music is written in measures or units. These measures when combined form phrases and have a subject or recognizable theme like writing words, sentences, and paragraphs in our language.

Defining the Beat in Time:  Tangos are generally though of in "4" or 4 beats per measure or unit/group of "4". (1,2,3,4. 1,2,3,4. 1,2,3,4.) Milongas are usually thought of in "2" or 2 beats per measure.  I have heard Argentine dancers say, “Setting the mark” or marking the beat.  What this means is that they recognize these units or measures feeling the strong and weak beats. In reference to “Rock and Roll”, we hear the strong beats on beat 2 & 4, and you can feel it in the snare drum and/or bass drum like the beating of the heart. In Argentine tango, the strong beat is generally on beat one. However, the strong beat can be wherever the composter wants it placed, especially in “Tango Nuevo”, or modern tangos. There is a form of tango where the “mark” is easily definable on beat 1, the “Vals”, or Argentine waltz. The strong beat is always placed on beat 1 of every measure. The feel of a waltz is always 3 beats per unit or measure: 123, 123, 123, 123. And we usually dance, or step on beat one, the strong beat. If we listen closely to a tango, we will hear the phrases consisting of usually 4 to 8 measures. Often, on "musical thought" or phrase can be counted in 8 beats, whether it is in "2" "4" or "3" units to the measure. Hence, the development of the "basic 8 count salida"  in our first tango lessons (1. back-step, 2. side-step, 3. right forward step, 4. left forward step, 5. cross, 6. forward, 7. side-step, and 8. close/feet together.) These phrases form into a larger whole to make-up the melody, and it usually repeats itself.  Learning to listen and recognize these various parts on the music opened new horizons to our dance movements.

The rhythm section: 
In Argentine tango, every author that I have read states that there is no rhythm section in Argentine tango.  And they are partially correct, which in my opinion makes them wrong. There is not a typical rhythm section according to normal definition. Now, I’m writing about classic rhythm sections, and not discussing the electronic age with synthesizers.  This alone is a defining characteristic.  In early Argentine Tango, the classical guitar was the rhythm section.  The Golden Age rhythm section is composed of the bandoneon, acoustic bass, and piano as the norm.  You can have variations of any of these instruments to play Argentine Tango. These three instruments compose a “melodic rhythm section”. In “Rock and Roll”, the primary rhythm section is defined by the non-melodic rhythm instrumentation like the drum set (snare drum, tom-toms, and bass drum) with cymbals and other “toys” like the “cow bell” and “wood block”, etc. Rock bands also have their melodic rhythm sections too! - key boards, electric bass, and rhythm guitar.  So, to say that Argentine tango does not have a rhythm section is not musically correct.  There is a melodic rhythm section in Argentine tango - nothing new here to us musicians!

The melodic and harmonic components:
Sad music, generally speaking! To most, the “Color” of sad is blue, and “musically” sad is in a “minor key or mode”. The color of sad can be written melodically (horizontally) as well as in the chord structure or harmony (vertical texture).  My 1st impression of some of the tangos that I am studying and transposing may be written in major keys and then colored with minor chords, a contradiction in statement. Wow! Ponder that under the tree of contemplation. If minor is “blue” as in the blues, then major must be red!  Major keys or chords sound more positive or happy. Think about Snoopy on the “Peanuts” cartoon, when Linus plays the piano with Snoopy listening. Snoopy acts or displays all of these emotions to the music. This alone can and should affect how you move in a dance when interpreting the music. So in tango you have this fusion or melting of emotional color patterns adding to it’s unique and complex character. This is fascinating to me!  The melody may also have words, which highly color the emotional character of the music too.  The words or poetry of the music add another dimensional level to understanding and interpreting the movements to the music in dance – hence the need to study the language of tango, Spanish. Tango poetry written to music is generally sad too. Next, selection of instruments also color the music and add layers of complexity to the music. When listening to your favorite tangos, can you identify which instruments characterize the sound of that particular orchestra? (More on that subject to come.) Like I’ve stated before, a work in progress, Argentine tango is a journey needing more than one lifetime to accomplish – at least for me!

Copyright: March 8, 2017

Note:  More to come on "texture" and style. Check for updates. I also hope to publish this in Italian one day with the help of friends!

The Basic Codes Modeled After “Cachirulo” in Buenos Aires:

Welcome to one of the best milongas in Italy, the “Sunderland” of our country. Tanguero friends, please pay attention to our “Ten Commandments”.

1. Here we dance milonguero style tango, and we learn to respect the codes of the milonga.
2. We dance with a warm, respectful and close embrace.
3. We follow the line of dance, in a counter-clockwise direction. Keep the line of dance flowing. The outside lane has precedence, and the inside lane should keep a meter distance from this lane. Beginners should dance in the center of the dance floor.
4. When entering the line of dance, enter from the corners of the dance floor if possible. Do push a couple out of the way to enter. Leaders, make eye contact with the couple that you are entering in front of to get approval if possible with a “Mirada”.
5. We do not pass other dancers as a general rule, and only, if someone is blocking the lane causing a long line of dancers waiting, then only pass from the left and never from the right against the line of tables. In a crowed milonga, expect to dance in your “square meter” of space and respect the space of the other dancers – do not pass.
6. Change lanes only when absolutely necessary and to the left or center. Do not cut lanes disrespecting other dancers.
7. We try not to step backwards into the line of dance, always walking forward, as it should be.
8. We do not lift our feet too much from the floor; this way we avoid hitting other dancers.
9. We invite women to dance through the classic “Cabeceo del caballero”.
10. Furthermore, and “very important”, RESPECT is the first card we play in the game of the milonga.

We thank you very much & enjoy our milonga!


Codes of the Milonga in English & Italian from various recognized People & organizations (Condensed & Long Versions)

Aspects Of A Good Instructor, Tango & Otherwise:

The most important aspect of a good teacher is to inspire and motivate their students to learn and grow. One of the key skills is the ability to listen, not just talk or dictate. Referring to that aspect, knowledge is a nutrient to the body, mind and soul.  A genuine master instructor is, in fact, a type of minister with the ability to change lives in a positive direction.  Today, synonymously, the two words “Argentine Tango” encompass and signify the love & connection of two souls intertwined in dance,  “Love in the Length of a Tanda”, hence the often spoken terms of “one” or oneness. Shouldn’t this be one of the main goals to achieve in our tango classes?  A master teaches by example.
Being knowledgeable is only one aspect of competency.  If a knowledgeable instructor uses this power to elevate himself/herself insulting their students publicly in front of the other students, this creates a toxic learning environment. Name-calling, intimidation, ridicule and humiliation are poor teaching techniques. Furthermore, they are destructive and not constructive in any manner.  Criticism should always be constructive in nature, targeted towards helping a student.  Above all, a good instructor needs to absolutely maintain self control and control of their class.  A good instructor should keep their class focused and on tract with their learning objectives. Humility is one of the greatest aspects of a good teacher.  A student should not be scared of making mistakes. Communication is an essential skill. A master instructor is a master in communication, verbally, in demonstration, listening (again) to the needs of the moment with a class or individual student, etc. A good teacher should always consider and take to heart that if a student fails, the teacher fails too.

Alcune Caratteristiche Di Un Buon Istruttore:

L'aspetto più importante di un buon insegnante è quello di ispirare e motivare i propri studenti ad apprendere e crescere. Una delle abilità chiave è la capacità di ascoltare, non solo parlare o dettare. Con riferimento a questo aspetto, la conoscenza è una sostanza nutritiva per il corpo, la mente e l'anima. Un vero maestro è infatti un tipo di ministro con la capacità di cambiare la vita in una direzione positiva. Le due parole "Tango argentino" comprendono e significano l'amore e la connessione di due anime intrecciate nella danza "Amore nella lunghezza di una tanda", da qui il termine di "uno" o di “unicità”. Non dovrebbe essere questo uno degli obiettivi principali da raggiungere nelle lezioni di tango? Un maestro deve fungere da esempio.

Essere consapevoli è solo un aspetto della competenza. Se un istruttore esperto utilizza questo potere per elevare se stesso insultando i propri studenti pubblicamente davanti agli altri studenti, ciò crea un ambiente di apprendimento tossico. L’insulto, l'intimidazione, la derisione e l'umiliazione sono tecniche scarse di insegnamento. Inoltre, sono in qualche modo distruttive e non costruttive. La critica dovrebbe sempre essere costruttiva in natura, mirata ad aiutare uno studente. Soprattutto, un buon istruttore deve assolutamente mantenere l'autocontrollo e il controllo delle proprie lezioni. Un buon maestro dovrebbe tenere la propria lezione focalizzata sui propri obiettivi. L'umiltà è uno dei grandi aspetti di un buon maestro. Uno studente non dovrebbe temere di commettere errori. Un buon maestro dovrebbe sempre considerare come fallimento personale se uno studente fallisce.

La comunicazione è un'abilità essenziale. Un grande istruttore è un maestro nella comunicazione, verbalmente, in dimostrazione, in ascolto (ancora) alle esigenze del momento con una classe o un singolo studente, ecc.

Research Articles & Milonga Codice, etc.

My younger days as a musician with the United States Navy Music Program

I Codici Della Milonga - ARGENTANGO, Avellino (Italian)

Benvenuti in una delle migliori milonghe in Italia. Amici Tangueri, siete pregati di prestare attenzione ai seguenti “Dieci Comandamenti”:
1. Qui balliamo il tango stile milonguero e impariamo a rispettare i codici della milonga.

2. Balliamo con un abbraccio caldo, rispettoso e stretto.

3. Seguiamo la direzione del ballo, in senso antiorario, mantenendo scorrevole il flusso della direzione di ballo. La coppia che occupa lo spazio piu’ esterno ha la precedenza. Quelli che occupano lo spazio interno dovrebbero mantenere un metro di distanza dai ballerini dello spazio esterno. I principianti dovrebbero ballare al centro della pista da ballo.

4. Se possibile, si entra nella pista da ballo dagli angoli della pista. Per entrare in pista, non urtare le altre coppie. Gli uomini devono ottenere l'approvazione ad entrare con un contatto visivo con la coppia di fronte (se possibile, con una “Mirada”).

5. Come regola generale, non si sorpassano le altre coppie, e solo se qualcuno sta bloccando la pista causando una lunga fila di ballerini in attesa, allora si supera da sinistra e non da destra, rispetto alla fila dei tavoli. In una milonga affollata, cercate di ballare nello spazio di un “metro quadro” e rispettate lo spazio degli altri ballerini, non sorpassate.

6. Cambiare corsia solo se strettamente necessario e verso la sinistra o verso il centro. Non passare avanti senza rispetto per gli altri ballerini.

7. Cerchiamo di evitare il passo indietro durante il ballo, muovendosi sempre in avanti sulla stessa linea, come dovrebbe essere.

8. Non sollevare troppo i piedi dal pavimento; in questo modo si evita di colpire altri ballerini.

9. Invitiamo le donne a ballare attraverso il classico “Cabeceo del caballero”.

10. Inoltre, e “molto importante”, il RISPETTO è la prima carta che giochiamo nel gioco della milonga.

Grazie mille e godete la milonga​