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Argentine Tango FAQ

What is Argentine Tango?

Argentine Tango is a partnered social dance, with the couple dancing embraced. Unlike "ballroom" style dances, which tend to be more structured, social tango is improvised, with every step being a spontaneous discovery in the moment, as the partners focus on their connections to each other and to the music.

Do I need a partner ?

No! Many folks come alone. Some bring a partner. Some come with a friend or a group of friends. Argentine tango is a social dance; expect to dance with a variety of partners. You'll find plenty of people to dance with during classes, practicas, or milongas.

During classes we typically rotate partners. This is the recommended way to learn tango. By switching, leaders will be exposed to a variety of  followers making them more flexible (and more skilled) in their lead; and followers will be exposed to different leading styles.

We understand that some people might be more comfortable with not rotating initially. If you come with a partner and wish not to rotate, please let your instructor know before class. You might want to consider private instruction from one of our local instructors or from one of our visiting tango professionals.

What should I wear?

For a class or practica, dress casually and comfortably in light and loose fitting clothing that allows your body to breathe and move.

For both men and women, wear something on your feet that allows you to slide your foot along the floor and to allows you to easily pivot! That might be dance shoes, comfortable shoes with leather soles, indoor sneakers, or even just socks or stockinged feet. Absolutely, no steel-toe shoes, please.

Ladies, indulging in sexy tango heels is  one of the super fun perks to dancing tango! However, you don't need to own a pair of tango heels initially. Until you are a bit more experienced, it is best to learn in flat shoes with flexible leather soles.

What can I expect from a first class?

Most classes are drop-in. Because all of our classes are focused on technique rather than a choreographed routine, anyone can join our All Levels classes at any time.  

What can I expect from taking Argentine Tango lessons?

Argentine Tango is NOT Ballroom Tango. Ballroom tango, "Dancing with the Stars" tango, or any tango with a rose in the dancer's mouth --  is typically memorized steps and choreographed show tango.

Argentine tango is about being in the moment.  It is an improvised dance where you learn technique, body mechanics, and the ability to improvise.  It is not about memorizing steps or set routines.  Connection with your partner and the music is key. 

What is the difference between a Guided Practica and Practica?

A guided practica is a time for dancers to practice what they’ve learned, usually with instructors available to help. We will play tango, milonga, and vals music typically with or without cortinas.  You can practice with a partner for one song, two songs, three songs, etc.  The idea is to practice and actively learn.

For our practicas, we typically will use tandas and cortinas, but it's totally fine to quietly talk with your partner while working on something specific. Just remember, don't stop the flow or hold up the line of dance! If you are working on something where you find you're not moving much, please consider working in the middle of the dance floor.  The outer line of dance is for moving while you explore and learn.

What is a Tanda?

A tanda is a set of three or four songs by the same orchestra or performer, in the same style of music (tango, milonga, or Argentine vals). Tandas are separated by a Cortina.

What is a Cortina?

Cortina means curtain in Spanish. It is a small musical interlude that signals the end of a tanda and time to switch partners.  Cortinas usually sound very different from the music of the tanda so that you can tell them apart. The cortina is often not a full song length but rather only 30 - 40 seconds in length. This is the time to scout for your next dance partner. However, the cabeceo is typically initiated within the first 15 to 30 seconds of hearing the next tanda.

What is a Milonga?

Milonga has two different meanings in regards to Argentine Tango.
1 ) a social dance party - A milonga is an event or a party where you dance tango -- with food, drink, and a whole lot of fun! At a milonga, you don't teach or instruct on the dance floor.  A milonga is a celebration of dancing what you know -- and not worrying about what you don't know.  
2 ) a style of music - Milonga is a style of music, which is written in 2/4 time, and sounds faster than it is. Meaning that there are 2 beats per measure. Whereas by stark contrast tango is danced in 4/4 time, and Argentine vals is 3/4 time, but sometimes played in 6/8 time, so it sounds very ‘peppy’.

What is a Cabeceo?

We try to use the cabeceo  at a milonga when asking someone to dance  A cabaceo is where a dancer makes eye contact and gives a slight nod of the head to suggest dancing to another person. If the other person wants to dance, hold the eye contact, smile, and slightly nod back too. The cabaceo may seem a little awkward and daunting at first -- but it is meant to save everyone from embarrassment.  If the other person does not return your cabaceo, it might be because they are resting, socializing, or not loving the particular song/tanda/orchestra -- or perhaps they have already promised the tanda to someone else.  It's acceptable to try your cabaceo again later. Please respect the other person's decision to dance - or not.

It is accepatble and encouraged for both Leaders and Followers to initiate the cabaceo.

It is also OK to cabaceo at a practica (it's a great place to practice this art form!).  However, we do not adhere to strict cabaceo rules at our practicas.  We strive for an informal, friendly, and relaxed environment for asking others to dance at our practicas.

For a very polite and modern definition of cabaceo, please visit this London Tango website.

What is proper practica etiquette?

Make a good impression with your fellow tangueros (tango dancers) in classes and practicas by being friendly, helpful, and never critical of their dancing abilities. Leave that to the instructors.

Whether you have been dancing tango 3 weeks, 3 months, 3 years, 5 years, or more -- you will never stop learning.  Please take care when working with various partners on HOW you give  feedback.

For example, don't say:

  • You did that wrong.

  • That's not how you're supposed to lead that.

  • That's not how you're supposed to follow that.

Consider saying this instead:

  • Can we try that move again? I think we almost had it!

Homer's approach to learning (paraphrased):  Homer says that a leader might lead or propose one thing, but their partner does another -- and a leader should think "Cool.  I meant to lead something else, but this happened instead.  Let's go with it".  

Tango is not about blame.  It's about learning from trial and error.  Learning by cause and effect.

Ending a Dance

To say "thank you" to your dance partner is a coded way of saying, "I want to stop dancing now." If you want to express your appreciation for the dance, but you want to keep dancing with this partner, use words or an expression other than "thank you.".

The cortina (the non-danceable interlude between sets/tandas) is the customary time to change partners. However, it's entirely OK to dance more than one tanda with the same partner, and it's equally OK to stop dancing before the tanda or even before the song is over, if you are sufficiently uncomfortable for any reason. Maybe they're throwing you around, maybe they smell bad, or maybe you're just getting a blister on your foot. Whatever the reason, just stop, explain whatever you want, thank them, and leave the dance floor.

That said, there is truth to the saying that "Everyone sees everything on the dance floor," and ending a dance early, especially in the middle of a song, is potentially embarrassing. So if you don't INTEND to embarrass them, it is sensitive to make up some excuse, like your feet hurt, perhaps feigning fiddling with your shoes to lend credence, and let them escort you off the dance floor amicably.

What is proper milonga Etiquette?

Dress your tango best!  Come alone, or with a partner, or with a group! Dance with lots of people.  If the milonga is held at a home or a rented venue, we typically bring beverages or treats to share.

At a milonga, we do not teach or instruct on the dance floor.  Please show up at our milongas ready for fun... and to dance what you know!  Don't worry about what you don't know!

While you'll find that there is talking on the dance floor between songs during a tanda, dance partners typically do not carry on an in-depth conversation while dancing.  The communication is happening in the dance, so there is little need for talking while dancing.

What is Line of Dance?

Line of dance means that dancers are moving in a counter clockwise rotation in a singular line around the outer most edge of the dance floor.  At big festivals, you will find large dance floors that can accommodate two or more lines of dance.

What makes for GOOD Floor Craft?

Follow the line of dance! Do not take a step backwards in the line of dance!

Don't talk while dancing. If you’re talking, you’re not dancing! And it's distracting and disturbing to others on the floor. Focus on your connection to your partner. 

In tango, bumping into another couple is bound to happen -- especially on crowded dance floors.  It is best for all parties to quickly apologize and continue to dance.  It is not worthwhile to figure out who is at fault. 

For more on Tango floorcraft, please visit:

Dance flow in Tango - design credit: Dirk Apitz

Murat and Michelle Erdemsel at YolaTango: Improve floor craft on tango dance-floors

Homer & Christina's video on Cabaceo, Social Etiquette, & Floor Craft 

For more on Tango etiquette, please visit: 

Tango Therapist Blogspot

SOURCE: Tango Boise https://www.tangoboise.com/beginners-faq