The (Alternative) Rules of Tango

  1. Tango dancers are great respecters of salsa, so be confident that you can always compliment your partner by saying, 'I can tell you're good at mambo'. Enjoy the gratitude and respect that will instantly flow in your direction.

  2. Pugliesi - an ugly Argentinian dog - now a colloquial term used to describe and tango music that is a challenge to dance to - 'Ah, this is so 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 demanding 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 ruined 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 any and all milongas - then bask in the respect (and adoration) of your fellow, less confident, dancers.

  7. The cabeceo is a playful device whereby the woman, having caught the eye of the man, encourages him with a nod to ask her to dance. But the real the trick is to secretly cabeceo 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 such playfulness and will cabeceo you in order to experience your refined humour and wit.

  8. Observe the 'line of dance' from your vantage point in the centre of the room. Look for small gaps between couples dancing in what is popularly referred to as 'the ronda of the beginners' ('la ronda de los principiantes'). It is the mark of the accomplished leader to dance his partner randomly and rapidly in and out of those gaps. This is called the 'secada'.

  9. Leaders, we cannot stress this enough - dancing in the centre of the dancefloor is regarded as a sign of confidence and ability, whilst dancing around the edge of the room marks you out as a beginner and will eventually result in your being ignored by the better class of followers.

  10. The Ocho - so-named because you are always required to repeat the movement in blockes of eight. Start small, with a single block, but try, if you can, to lead a double (16) or a triple (24). Within your first six months, a 'quadro' may be quite demainding, but it's certainly the one to aim for! Also note that the followers' forward ocho must be accompanied by matching back steps by the leader. Practice these in la ronda de los principiantes as they will always go down well with your fellow dancers (and all the disregarded dancers who are pretending to be 'sitting out' of the tanda whilst watching you perform).

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

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

  13. Endear yourself to any Argentinian teacher by saying to them, 'It's so good of you to teach this class after the trouncing we gave you over the Falklands'. They love being reminded of that special bond they have with the English.

  14. To smile during the dance is frowned upon. However, to lick your partners ear at any time during the tanda 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 feed your testicles to my pet pirahna.' Then lean back, laugh gayly, and smile sweetly whilst he takes up the embrace.

  17. Leaders, two-tone dance shoes are de rigueur at the milonga, and will mark you out as both a committed and experienced tango dancer, and one who can afford a higher-quality shoe than the typcal riff-raff with wmom you have to share the dancefloor.

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

  19. When you dance in Beunos Aries for the first time take pencils and sweets to give to the local people at milongas. It's a poor country and these little treats mean a lot to them. If you can't be bothered with giving treats, try, instead, offering them advice on ways to improve their tango - after all, they probably can't afford to travel to England where they would, otherwise, be able to learn a great deal.

  20. Enjoy the milonga, but, at the same time, don't forget that it's primarily 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 the raising of standards 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 show is boleos!' or 'give us more ganchos!'. The more vigourous your request the more responsive (and happy) the performers will be.

  22. A 'cortina' is a particularly beautiful piece of music played between tandas of otherwise 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 then will you have earned the right to call yourself 'advanced'.

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

  25. If you dance salsa then you will already know how to move your hips. For everyone else who dances tango it's a steep learning curve. It is perfectly acceptable to advise other dancers on hip movement in order 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 youapply this rule as frequently as possible.

  27. The term for making visiting (and naturlised) Argentinians trip and fall as a result of the clever placement of your foot is, 'The Belgrano'. Usage: 'I belgrano'd him'; to be 'belgrano'd'

  28. When whistling to the music while you dance, 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 part of a tanda 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 this 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. Don't be annoyed if the DJ plays scratchy old tracks of out-of-date tango music. Always remember that DJs are poor (or they wouldn't be giving up their dance time in order to earn a pittance from the organiser of the milonga, would they?). So, when such an attroriciously bad tanda has, mercifully, come to its end, offer the DJ a few coins along with a comment to the affect that it is your intention to help him or her to improve their collection of tango music. Any DJ will honoured to accept your generosity and will consider themselves forever in your debt.

  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 - when you are over there, Brexit permitting, refer to him as often as possible.

  36. We all too rarely attempt to translate classic tango lyrics - so here's an example you can always quote - this is 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'. Now, there's a message we could all learn from.

  37. Not many people realise that, in the old days, 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 more about dance music had he been alive in the time of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.'

  39. There's a good reason why milonga tandas are also called (if only by the tango elite) as 'the dancing dodgems'. So, as soon as you hear that familiar beat, get on your feet and join the rest in trying to bump each other off the dancefloor. The last couple remaining at the end of the tanda will be highly acclaimed by everyone present (until, that is, the next milonga tanda comes along, then, the fun begins all over again).

  40. If you see a bandoneon left unattended, show respect for it by pouring a glass of red wine over it. This will not only enhance the sound it makes, but will also improve your standing, both at the milonga, and with the bandoneon player when he find out who made such a generous gesture.

  41. Each dancer, within the embrace, has his or her hand on the back of the other. Ever wondered why? It's because this allows you to tap on their shoulderblade in time with the music in order to keep them on the beat. Everyone will appreciate this, because, having ready this far, you have proven that no-one hears the music as well as you.


    Author: Ian Cox - email:

    Copyright: Tango Central 2011 -

    Please request permission before publication (a little Facebook sharing is ok though!)