The (Alternative) Rules of Tango

  1. Tango dancers are great respecters of salsa, so compliment your partner by saying 'I can tell you dance great mambo'. Enjoy the gratitude and respect that will flow in your direction as a result.

  2. Pugliesi - an ugly Argentinian dog - now a colloquial term used describe tango music that is challenging to dance to - 'Ah, this is pugliesi' people say. Use the term whenever you hear a track you dislike.

  3. Tango has its roots in peasant dancing. Demonstrate your awareness of this by spitting on the dancefloor between tandas.

  4. Dancing a full tanda is a special reward given by a leader who considers that the follower has understood his most intricate and difficult tango patterns. To abandon the follower mid-tanda is a respectful way to encourage her to develop her skills so that more intricate patterns will not be messed up in future.

  5. The heel of the follower's shoe is designed with a sharp outer edge which is used to negotiate a crowded dancefloor.

  6. 'Nuevo' or 'Neo' tango is held in such high regard by 'salon' tango dancers that they rarely attempt it... master this form and perform it at salon tango milongas and bask in the adoration of your fellow, less confident, dancers.

  7. The cabaceo is a playful device whereby the woman, having caught the eye of the man, encourages him with a nod to ask her to dance. The trick is to secretly cabaceo two men at the same time so that you appear to be ready to dance with the first whilst switftly shifting your attention to the second a moment before the first arrives to dance with you. Men love and respect this playfulness and will return the cabaceo many times to experience your refined humour and wit.

  8. Observe the 'line of dance' from your centre-of-the-room vantage point. Look for small gaps between couples dancing in the line. Now dance your partner randomly in and out of those gaps. This is called the 'secada'.

  9. Dancing in the centre of the dancefloor is generally regarded as a sign of confidence and ability, whilst dancing around the edge of the room marks you out as a beginner.

  10. The Ocho - so-named because you are required to repeat the movement eight times. The followers' forward ocho should be accompanied by numerous back steps by the leader - this is a particularly impressive move when danced at a salon tango milonga.

  11. The Boleo - a move executed at the beginning of the dance which is used to clear a space behind the follower.

  12. Tango DJs have a largely dull time of it. Brighten their day by requesting your favourite Gotan track.

  13. Endear yourself to your Argentinian teacher by saying 'It is so good of you to teach this class despite the trouncing we gave you over the Falklands'. They'll love that.

  14. To smile during the dance is frowned upon. However, to lick your partners ear during the walk is regarded as a mark of cultural literacy.

  15. There are few dances that look as good as tango when danced by men in shorts or kilts.

  16. Followers, when dancing with someone new to tango first whisper in his ear 'show me up on this dancefloor and I'll have your testicles fed to my pet pirahna' then lean back, laugh gayly and smile sweetly whilst he takes up the embrace.

  17. Leaders, white dance shoes mark you out as both a committed and experienced tango dancer, and one who can afford a higher quality shoe.

  18. Followers - can't decide if it's worth dancing with someone? Don't forget it's ok to charge per dance. Men expect this and will respect you less if you dance for nothing.

  19. When you dance in Beunos Aries for the first time remember to bring pencils and sweets for the local people at the milongas. It's a very poor country and these little treats mean a lot to them.

  20. A milonga is a learning environment. If you can identify ways to help your dance partner improve then take every opportunity to draw their attention to their shortfalls. Don't worry about holding up the line of dance in this way, other tango dancers will respect you for your contribution towards raising the standard of dance in your locale.

  21. When watching a tango demonstration where the dancers appear to be doing a lot of walking the convention is to call out 'dance boleos!' or 'more ganchos!'. The more vigourous your request the more responsive the performers will be.

  22. A 'cortina' is a particularly beautiful piece of music played between tandas of usually dull tango music. It is the convention to show your appreciation of the cortina by dancing to it and booing loudly if the DJ cuts it short.

  23. There are no short-cuts to learning tango - you have to work through the first three months just like everyone else - only the will you have earned the right to call yourself 'advanced'.

  24. Don't get confused between the terms 'ballroom' and 'argentine' tango - there's no difference between the two forms. None at all.

  25. If you dance salsa then you will already know how to move your hips in tango. For everyone else it's a steep learning curve. It's acceptable to advise other dancers on hip movement to help them get that authentic 'latin motion' into their tango.

  26. Never miss an opportunity to use the word 'connection' whenever you talk about tango. This also applies to the word 'passion'. You will never be considered a tango bore as long as you frequently apply this rule.

  27. The term for making any Argentinian trip and fall over as a result of a clever placement of your foot is 'The Belgrano'. Usage: 'I belgrano'd him'; to be 'belgrano'd'

  28. When whistling to the music whilst dancing try to be slightly off-beat - your fellow dancers will have lots of fun trying to keep in step with your whacky humour!

  29. Talk to your partner whilst dancing. This shows respect and great skill. Others will enjoy listening in to your conversation and will admire your ability to do so well two things at the same time.

  30. If you can get your follower to nudge another follower during a dance then it is permissible to immediately swap partners with the other leader. This is particularly handy if your current partner is not following very well or if the other man's partner is particularly attractive.

  31. To fully enter into the magic of the dance keep your eyes closed throughout the track. Followers can try this as well.

  32. Dance every dance as if it were your last. In other words, after each tanda, ask your partner if he or she would like to leave early and join you in your hotel room.

  33. If the DJ plays old scratchy copies of ancient tango music don't be annoyed. Always remember that DJs are poor. So after the tanda offer him a few coins with a comment to the affect that you'd like to help him update his collection of music. Most DJs will be delighted by such a gesture.

  34. References to the 1930's as the 'golden age of tango' are clearly misguided as it is well-known that Gotan Project didn't release their first album until 2001.

  35. Few people are more deserving of the title 'godfather of tango' than Bruce Forsythe. He is particularly appreciated in Continental Europe - refer to him often.

  36. We all too rarely attempt to translate classic tango lyrics - so here's an example you can quote from one of Carlos Di Sarli's more famous songs 'Una oda al abrazo abierto' - 'With the wind in your hair and a smile on your face, it's time to dance tango in open embrace'. There's a message we could all learn from.

  37. Not many people realise that early tango was danced by Argentinian farm workers with prostitutes in bordellos. Which explains why the tracks are so short.

  38. Wise words to repeat at your next tango musicality class: 'Whilst it is true that Francisco Canaro wrote some quite good tango tunes it has to be said that he could have learned a lot about dance music from Elton John and Bernie Taupin'

  39. Leaders, it's time for a milonga! So take note that your follower has taken the trouble to paint her toenails thus generously providing you with a helpful target for foot placement - keep an eye on her feet throughout the tanda and see how often you're able to scrape away bits of nail paint with the sole of your shoe. Followers - your job is to stay clear of his feet thus avoiding the requirement for an early repaint. A tanda of milonga tracks danced in this traditional way is always great fun.

  40. Respect the belief that 'golden age tango' is the only tango that should be played at a milonga. This is a delightfully subtle way of ensuring that uppity young musicians and composers will be taught their place in the world of dance - enter into the spirit of this progressive belief by stealing the bandoneon belonging to any musician who claims to be 'composing a tango'. The community will thank you.

  41. When tango dancers die they go to Devon.

Author: Ian Cox - email:

Copyright: Tango Central 2011 -
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