By Bill Froud

The Tango Etiquette describes behavioral standards to be observed in the culture of Argentine tango milongas. Some rules may be relaxed in some milongas and specific situations (i.e. among close friends, etc.) Nonetheless, it is important for milongueras and milongueros to be aware of these standards. New tango dancers may not be aware of these rules. Therefore, experienced dancers should set a good example by being patient, polite, and sensitive with less experienced dancers. Always remember that once you were a beginner as well.

The first dance and the last dance

Milongueras and milongueros will frequently see particular significance in their first and their last dance of the milonga. They may seek to dance their first tanda with a familiar and smooth partner, and thereby start off the evening on the right foot. As for the last dance, we find tradition among porteños to dance the last tanda with their partner or a potential lover. One may chose to relax this rule especially if in agreement with their partner. For singles its open game. If the partner is known to have a usual partner, it is courteous to ask whether they wish to dance with their usual partner for the last dance.

The invitation to dance (The Cabeceo)

The cabeceo makes the invitation to dance less stressful as it allows the invited person to decline discretely.

Non-verbal cues are frequently used. So, as you are getting ready to ask someone to dance, try to catch their eye, smile and nod. You might raise your eyebrows in an inquiring expression or directing a nod towards the dance floor. Observe their body language. For instance, if you make eye-contact and the other person quickly turns away, pretends not to see you, or busies themselves in some way; it means they do not want to dance. On the other hand, if your potential partner returns your eye-contact with a smile and/or a nod, you are encouraged to invite them verbally (i.e. "would you like to dance?").

When inviting a person who is in the presence of their partner, it is courteous to ask their partner for permission. Be friendly but not flirtatious and avoid dance moves that are sexually suggestive. Avoid monopolizing anyone’s partner with multiple tandas.

How to gracefully receive a rejection

When we invite someone and they give us a courteous "no" (i.e. "not right now", "my feet need to rest", etc.), we do not sit down beside them to wait until they are ready to dance. We let them be for a while. How long is "a while?" Regardless of the form in which a "no" was formulated, it means no for at least 2 tandas. After 2-5 tandas you may consider inviting that person again. We may find that the person, who rejected us earlier, may track us down for a dance later.

How to politely give a rejection

In the great majority of cases, avoiding eye contact will prevent someone from inviting you. If that person approaches regardless, and invites you verbally it is fine to say "no".
When verbally rejecting someone's invitation, although we might want to dance with them later, we can provide an excuse such as "Sorry, but I need a break", or "I already promised this dance to someone", or "thanks but I need to rest my feet". If our excuse involves resting, we should wait at least for the next song or preferably for the next tanda before dancing with someone else. Always remember to be nice when rejecting someone. Try not to hurt their feelings.

Tanda communication

It is customary to dance the entire tanda with the same partner unless there is a particular reason to stop (ie. the man is rude or very disappointing as a dance partner, your ride is waiting, your feet are aching, etc.). When two people are done dancing, one of the dancers will say “thank you”, and the other person will respond the same way, and they leave the floor. and leave. So, the phrase "thank you" actually means "I am done dancing and ready to leave the dance floor". This is preferably at the end of a tanda, unless they want to dance another set. When two people are finished dancing, it is customary for the leader to escort the follower off the floor.

Line of dance (Ronda)

Couples move counter-clockwise on the dance floor. This is the line of dance. Faster lanes are on the outside of the dance floor, and slower lanes run closer to the center. Refrain from randomly intersecting these lanes, especially on a crowded floor. The dance floor is reserved for couples who are currently dancing, and all others should clear the floor.

Collisions

When collisions happen, everyone involved should be generous and courteous in acknowledging the collision. It doesn't matter whose fault it is and we will not make a big deal of the collision. To avoid collisions, both partners should help in maintaining awareness of others on the dance floor. Keeping your eyes open (as opposed to "tango trance") certainly helps awareness. Always avoid aggressive moves on a crowded floor (i.e. high boleos, hard ganchos, big figures, etc.) Be ready to slow down or even stop a step or figure as necessary. Leaders, be very cautious when you decide to step backwards (i.e. look first). Followers let the leader know, verbally or non-verbally (i.e. hand squeeze, holding closer, slowing down, etc.), if there's an impending collision.

Feedback

While on the dance floor, please avoid providing chatting, feedback, corrections or pausing to show your partner a new step. This may be perceived as inappropriate by your partner and/or others around you. Corrective feedback is best kept for practicas and classes. Otherwise, it is acceptable to provide discreet and sensitive feedback if it is asked for, or if permission is obtained to "make an observation".

No cutting in

It's simple; we do not ask whether we can "cut in" between two dancers in the middle of a song or tanda. Change of partners is done during cortinas (Curtain between Tandas). We don't interrupt dancers to say hello or goodbye either, though a non-intrusive nod and smile may be acceptable.

Personal hygiene

Skill, talent, and courtesy aside, it will be hard to dance with a person more than once if they find you smelly. Solutions are:
  1. Clean clothing;
  2. Use deodorant, breath mints;
  3. Use a handkerchief to wipe your sweat, or take breaks as needed to reduce your perspiration;
  4. Avoid eating onions or garlic prior to dancing or you can guarantee not to get repeat dances
  5. VERY IMPORTANT -- wash your hands after using the washroom.
  6. Have consideration for others when using fragrances.
  7. Skip the milonga when you have a cold or flu.
Hopefully, we have all learned these things as kids. If we haven't, now is the time to acquire these habits.

Romance

The tango embrace is a privilege, not an opportunity. Unwanted romantic advances are not appreciated and can be seen as very invasive if they happen during the tango embrace.

Respect

Many of the rules listed above will be intuitively observed if we are respectful. That is, respect for your partner and other persons at the milonga, respect for the cultural heritage of tango, respect for the music and band, respect for peoples dance styles and their skill levels.