In tango, an Encuentro Milonguero typically refers to an event designed exclusively for dancers of Argentine tango who embrace the milonguero style of dance. Dancers agree to observe traditional customs at these events and attempt to recreate the social dance experience found in milongas frequented by the milongueros of Buenos Aires.
Milongas are social dance parties where tango music is played and where people meet, socialize and dance. The music at milongas nowadays usually is played by a DJ and consists of recorded songs from tango’s Golden Era when many orchestras performed nightly for dancers. The music typically is played in sets or tandas of three or four songs of similar energy and style, typically by the same orchestra, and from the same time period. Tandas are separated by musical breaks called cortinas—short segments of music or sound clearly recognizable as not tango and not for dancing. Cortinas function as a curtain or divider that separates tandas and gives dancers time to return to their seats. Cortinas also function as a bridge between tandas—a device that carries energy forward to the next tanda.
Códigos are codes of dance etiquette that evolved over time in the milongas of Buenos Aires. They developed as a natural consequence of participants needing to engage and communicate with each other in a respectful yet efficient way. Tango códigos promote graceful social behavior at a milonga. We expect Encuentro participants to understand and use the códigos to help us create for all the experience we envision for Pioneer Encuentro.
Mirada and Cabeceo
The cabeceo or mirada is the nonverbal way people invite each other to dance. Basically, this involves an understanding that eye contact, acknowledgement, and then subtle, non-verbal cues indicating acceptance (often a slight nod) or refusal (usually looking away) constitute an invitation to dance. When the nonverbal invitation to dance is acknowledged and accepted, it is the leader who then walks to the follower and accompanies her to the dance floor.
Followers typically seat themselves in the same place for the entire evening. This way they easily can be found by leaders wanting to dance with them. The leader uses cabeceo from a respectful distance. Followers choose with whom they wish to dance and gracefully look away when they are not wanting to dance. Directly asking someone to dance is considered inappropriate.
The music can impact dance partner choice. For this reason, the cabeceo occurs at the beginning of a tanda when the music for the tanda is known. It is polite to dance a full tanda with the same person. Regardless of when one accepts an invitation and begins to dance, the partnership concludes at the end of the tanda when the leader accompanies his partner back to her seat.
Respectful navigation is important for harmonious social dancing. Though each couple is free to improvise, they do so while moving uniformly counter-clockwise in line-of-dance “lanes” around the perimeter of the dance floor. In crowded venues several concentric lanes may form.
Partners dance with those around them, cooperatively sharing space and energy. Leaders acknowledge each other and shape their dance to fit the space available and energy of nearby dancers. This creates consistency and yields predictability that makes dancing safe and enjoyable for everyone.
Tips for skillful navigation:
When entering a dance floor where people already are dancing, the leader should use the cabeceo or make eye contact with an approaching leader and not enter the floor until an approaching leader acknowledges that it is okay to enter the dance floor in front of him. The follower should wait for the leader to decide when it is safe to enter the floor. Once on the floor, the leader should embrace his partner and immediately begin to dance to minimally impact those dancing around him.
Specific tips for leaders: keep up. Don’t crowd the couple in front; don’t block or hold up those behind. If there is empty space ahead into which you could move, take it. Adjust the space you use to the density of dancers on the floor. Move uniformly in harmony with those dancing near you.
And, do not pass, change lanes, weave in or out of lanes or otherwise dance in a chaotic or unpredictable way. Do not backup against the line of dance. Adhering to these rules for skillful navigation will be appreciated by your partner and other dancers with whom you share the floor.
Talking at the start of a song is acceptable. Observe when those ahead and near you stop talking and begin to dance; do likewise. While dancing focus on the music and on partner connection. Eliminate distraction; focus on what you are doing, what you are hearing, what you are feeling. (In other words, STFU and dance.)
Stop when the music stops. Do not dance during a cortina. Thank your partner and return to your seat. Clear the dance floor when the tanda concludes. (Leaders first accompany the follower back to her seat then immediately return to their seat so as not to block or interfere with any dancer’s cabeceo for the next tanda.)
When you agree to dance with someone you agree to dance the entire tanda. Do not change partners in the middle of a tanda. However, if you are a follower and things are going very badly or you feel threatened or are being injured, you can simply say “thank you” (preferably at the end of a song) and leave. Leaders rarely feel the need to abandon a partner before a tanda concludes. Were this to occur, however, the leader too could simply say “thank you” and then accompany the follower off the dance floor or back to her seat.
Skilled dancers listen to their partner and seamlessly modulate their dance to match their partner’s skill. They do not repeatedly invite or execute moves that their partner does not understand or that do not seem to work well for their partner.
Teaching on the dance floor at a milonga is very poor etiquette. And the corollary: never ask for advice, correction, or instruction on the dance floor of a milonga. Milongas are not the place for instruction.
No one likes being kicked, run into, hit, stepped on or injured. Milongas need to be places where people can dance safely and comfortably. Milongas with high social dancer density are no place for high boleos, hard-hitting ganchos, planeos, deep sacadas and other elements with leg extension that could risk injury to others. There are many eyes and people talk. Movements like these likely will be noticed and can bar you from future Encuentros or worse.
If a collision occurs, make eye contact. Depending on severity, immediately stop or at the end of the song acknowledge and apologize for the collision.
Respect the dancefloor. If you are not dancing, stay off the dancefloor. Show respect to those who are dancing by not walking across the floor or in any way blocking or obstructing the movement or progress of dancers.
Maintain good personal hygiene. Before going to a milonga, bathe, shave, floss and brush your teeth. Put on fresh clothes. Do not over use perfume or aftershave; some people are allergic to perfumes. Never put perfume on your clothes. Use breath fresheners. If you perspire heavily, use a towel often, take breaks to cool down, or bring a change of clothing to the milonga.
Consider how your clothes might feel to your partner. Avoid scratchy, rough fabrics, accessories with sharp edges, loops or hooks that might catch on your partner’s clothing, or anything that might irritate your partner or obstruct the embrace.
Always be respectful. Give people space. Minimize expectation; appreciate what arises, then let it go. Play with the energy that ebbs and flows in a milonga. Maintain a sense of humor. Do not take rejection personally. (There are many reasons a person might not dance with you at any given time.) Don’t feel like you need to dance all the time; socialize. Meet new persons. Have fun!