Hygiene. Argentine Tango is a partner dance done mostly in a close embrace. So here are a few quick tips for a better experience for all:
- Shower/bathe before a dance.
- Use deodorant (even if you are morally opposed to it).
- Use any kind of breath mints.
- Avoid heavy doses of perfume or cologne (they are very potent in close proximity).
- If you are a smoker, try not to smoke before going dancing.
- If you tend to sweat a lot, bring a towel and some extra shirts to change to.
In general, keep it clean!
Asking people to dance. In tango, in its most traditional form, a man will ask a woman to dance through subtle eye contact – if the woman does not want to dance, she will simply look away. In the here and now, however, people tend to be more direct. Most people these days agree that it’s ok for anyone (woman, man, lead, or follow) to ask for a dance, though don’t be surprised if you occasionally run into people who feel that men and leaders should do the asking and women and followers should wait to be asked. If you ask someone to dance and they decline, do not ask for an explanation or immediately turn and ask a nearby follower to dance.
Accepting and declining dances. It’s ok to decline a dance; though, since it can be a blow to the asker’s ego, it’s nice to accept dances as much as possible, especially from newcomers and beginners. Having declined a dance, it’s good etiquette to not dance that same song with someone else.
Tandas and cortinas. Music at a milonga is often arranged in tandas (sets of 3 or 4 songs) with a cortina (a short piece of non-danceable music) played in between each tanda. If you accept a dance from someone, you are expected to dance with that person for the rest of the tanda. If you do not finish the tanda, it is interpreted as a very dramatic gesture that you did not like dancing with that person. When the cortina plays, it is good practice to clear the floor, even if you intend to dance the next tanda with the same person. Saying “thank you” is the signal that you are finished dancing with your current partner. It is very common to switch partners every tanda, so do not be offended if your partner says “thank you” after only one set. After you’re finished, it’s a nice gesture to thank your partner and walk him/her off the floor.
Flow of the Floor. A social dance floor moves counter-clockwise, and attention to this movement is just as important as attention to your partner. Try not to stop in one place for a long time. If there’s space open in front of you, try to fill it. If your vocabulary or skill level does not mesh with the flow of the floor, try to dance in the middle of the circle. However, unless you have made a conscious choice to dance in the center space, try to stay generally behind the couple in front of you. It is not appropriate to zigzag around haphazardly, disrupting other couples.
Special responsibility for leaders. Leads – it is your responsibility to protect your partner. Keep your attention on your partner while you dance, and watch the dance floor to avoid collisions with other couples. In theory, a follow should be able to dance with his/her eyes closed and not have to worry about being run into anything. However, followers, this is not a license to knowingly plow into people. If you are aware of an obstacle that your leader is not, use your own body weight to indicate that there’s a problem.
Tailor your vocabulary to the situation. Part of the beauty of Tango is its diversity of vocabulary and style, as well as its improvised nature. Use this flexibility to create a dance that will fit in the space that you have. A crowded social floor is probably not the best place to lead large boleos or gaunchos unless you’re absolutely sure you can pull them off without injuring anyone or making your follow nervous.
Know your skill level. It’s ok to be a beginner — we were all there once, and we all still have much to learn. No need to be shy about asking people to dance. However, in a social setting, it’s best to stick to what you know. Simple movement done well is far more enjoyable and impressive than complex movement done poorly. Likewise, be sensitive to the skill level of your partner.
Separate practice time and social dance time. A milonga is a social event. It is a time to relax and enjoy your dancing and your fellow dancers. It is not really the right time to ask for or give advice or work on “new moves.” You should set aside other time for practicing, either on your own, with a friend, or with the tango community at one of our regular practicas.
Common courtesy. Principles of common courtesy do not go out the window just because you’re dancing. Be considerate of other couples on the floor. If you step on someone’s toes it’s much better to say “excuse me” than to pretend it didn’t happen.
Above all — have fun!