Confusion about Tango and etiquette in the milonga?


It occurred to me the other day when I was talking to one of our students, that there is quite a lot of confusion about various terms in the Tango.

This is not helped by the fact that many of the words used are Spanish. There is also the problem of words like ‘milonga’ having a dual meaning. The other confusion seems to arise in the milongas and etiquette, so, I thought I would write a short explanation which might help to clear up some of the confusion!

First of all, Argentine Tango has ‘styles’ and it also has ‘rhythms’. It’s a common misconception that Tango is just Tango. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked by people from other dance styles – “how can you just dance Tango all night? It must be really boring!” So, here we go!

Within Tango, you have the ‘rhythms’ of: Tango, Vals, Milonga and Foxtrot.

You then have the ‘styles’ of Milonguero, Tango Salon and Nuevo which are the main styles danced today. There are others such as Canyengue, (from the 1910s), Orillero, (from where Leo comes from in Avellaneda, Buenos Aires) and also Villa Urquiza but let’s not complicate matters further, this is another topic!

The rhythms of Tango, Vals and Milonga can be found within the styles. So, you can have a Milonguero Vals and a Tango Salon Vals, or you could have a Milonguero Tango and a Tango Salon Tango, etc.

The ‘style’ originates from the era that it was popular in. So the Milonguero style was popular in the 30s to 40s and was mainly danced by the working class people in crowded dance halls. The Tango Salon style evolved when Tango became more popular with the wealthier, upper class people who had their own Salons. The Nuevo style is a more recent addition which takes the ideas of the past and expands them focusing on the dynamic.

One of the other main confusions is using the word ‘milonga’. A milonga is a word used to describe a meeting place where people go to dance Tango, think of it like a ‘social club’. The milonga is also a rhythm of Tango. For more detailed info about this and all the rhythms and styles take a look at our web site here:

New-adjustedEtiquette and rules of the milonga

There are a few very simple rules in the milonga to ensure that everyone has a pleasant evening.

Leo comes from a Tango family in Buenos Aires and his father was also a milonga organiser, (see left), so, we run milongas in the UK in the traditional way. This means that the only rules we have are:

1. Dancers go anti-clockwise around the floor.

2. It is perfectly acceptable for dancers to overtake other dancers to maintain the flow around the floor as long as it is on the left side of the man.

3. Be respectful to all other people on and around the dancefloor. It is not acceptable to use high boleos/castigadas on the social dance floor. Nobody likes being kicked, so please don’t do it.

4. Use the ‘cabeceo’ as much as possible as it is a more friendly and less intrusive way to ask someone to dance.

5. Be hygienic and clean, it’s only polite to smell nice!


A ‘tanda’, is a combination of tracks that the DJ puts together for people to dance to. This can be 3 or 4. The tracks should be of a similar nature, but not necessarily from the same composer, or the music will quickly become boring. The skill of a good Tango DJ is to compile tracks that allow  people to dance a certain genre and to keep them entertained throughout the tanda. At our milongas we play music in tandas of ‘threes’ which we find is better for everyone as it enables people to swop partners more frequently.

You do not have to dance the entire tanda. If you are not enjoying the tanda with the partner you are dancing with, for example, maybe the embrace is uncomfortable, then politely thank them and move on. I remember years ago, dancing with a man whose embrace was really uncomfortable – he had my hand in some sort of vice grip that activated a pressure point and made my arm go numb! All I could do during the break between each track was to rub my arm to try and get some feeling back into it! I didn’t feel confident enough to tell him it was hurting so I carried on throughout the entire tanda of four tracks! What made matters worse was that I was so stupid, I accepted another tanda from him later that evening because I didn’t want to be impolite! Never again!


A ‘curtain’ is played by the DJ to separate the ‘tandas’. This is the time when couples usually return to their seats before the next tanda begins, so that you can dance with someone new. Sometimes, the DJ  will play another type of non tango music during this point so that people can enjoy dancing another rhythm. Leo usually plays Salsa, Cumbia, Rock n Roll, Ceroc, etc.

The milonga itself

Remember that Tango dances are supposed to be fun! I hear from so many people (unfortunately most of them women), of bad experiences they’ve had at milongas, to the point where some of them  have contemplated giving up Tango.

One of the main complaints of course is that they are not asked to dance. Please see my previous article about this, but as I explained before if the cabeceo is used correctly, then it is totally acceptable for both genders to invite the other to dance.

The other problem is the music. If a DJ does not understand the music properly or insists on playing the same genre of music all night, then it will quickly become very tedious. Remember, the whole original idea of milongas was to go out and have a party. Somewhere along the way, this idea got hijacked, with the result that many milongas now have a limited playlist. I remember going to a venue that had a fantastic DJ which made you want to dance all night. The following night I went back to the same venue hoping to enjoy a similar experience but this time with a different DJ. The music was so boring, we left half way through the evening.

So, those are a few of the main confusions that we are constantly asked about. I hope this article has helped! You’ll find a lot more info on our web site at Tango Fandango

See you soon!

About Tracey Tyack-King

I'm a professional Teacher and Dancer of the improvised art form of the social Argentine Tango. Together with my partner, Leonardo Acosta, (Leo Fandango), we teach regular weekly classes under the name of Tango Fandango, mainly in the South of the UK. We also teach our own Teachers using our defined teaching methodology under the name of 'The London Argentine Tango School'. We believe passionately in the social art form of improvised Tango and dance as we teach - all our performances are improvised.
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8 Responses to Confusion about Tango and etiquette in the milonga?

  1. John giles says:

    Excellent article Tracy. We search all the time for Milongas which make us happy to be there. Your explanation of how that is done makes it sound so simple but is not often followed. As an established couple we like to dance mainly with each other but enjoy joining in with a Milonga where 3 dance Tandas and friendly people mean we can share dances with many people without “losing” each other to extended repetitive Tandas. Regards john and jean


    • Thanks John and Jean, Leo and I really appreciate your comments – Leo especially puts a great deal of thought and time into his selection of music for each evening to make sure everyone has an enjoyable evening. We much prefer having just 3 songs to a tanda and think it makes the evening flow much better for everyone. See you on the dance floor!


  2. Rex Boyd says:

    Great article thanks 🙂


  3. Cliff says:

    Speaking of the various styles of tango, would you and Leo be up for performing the two styles that we normally don’t see which you mention in the blog?


    • Hi Cliff, we all dance styles of Tango but some of the areas in Buenos Aires call their style of Tango where it is predominantly danced by their area name. So, we have the Tango Salon style which is very popular in the neighbourhood of Villa Urquiza and some people therefore say that they are dancing the ‘Villa Urquiza’ style. It’s like Leo, he comes from the area of Avellaneda in Buenos Aires. In the past, the people who lived on the south side of the river in this district, lived in the Orilla neighbourhood. They all danced the Milonguero style in the same way, so this became known as the Orillero style. With regards to today, Leo’s style of dancing Milonguero does look different because of the regional differences. If you look at someone from St Telmo dancing Milonguero, it will look slightly different. It’s like having accents in a language albeit in visual terms through dancing.


  4. Thanks Vincenzo – glad you liked it!


  5. Vincenzo "AmorTango" says:

    I really enjoyed your Tango explanations article, Tracey! Well done, many compliments!


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