Argentine Tango Etiquette

by Ramu Pyreddy



What is a tanda?
A tanda is a collection of 3-5 songs, usually played by the same orchestra from a given era. In a typical milonga in Buenos Aires and many places around the world, music is played in tandas of tangos, valses and milongas. Traditionally, people will dance the entire tanda with the same partner. Not finishing the tanda with a partner is considered an insult in many places.

What is a cortina?
A cortina (translation: curtains, as in a curtain on a stage) is usually a short piece of non-tango music that is usually not danceable. The cortina indicates that the tanda has come to a close. It is also a cue for the gentleman to escort the lady to her table.

Why is it better to play music in tandas?
Argentine tango is about dancing a feeling, and each orchestra has its own feeling. Playing the music in sets by orchestra gives the dancers the opportunity to find and then dance the feeling of that particular orchestra. Also, it allows you to choose your partner to fit the music. Dancing to a sequence in a set lets you get to know and appreciate the subtlety of the lead/follow of your partner in your search for that special feeling.


Line of Dance
The tango, like most traveling dances, has a line of dance. It traverses the perimeter of the dance floor and moves counter-clockwise. When the leader is facing the line of dance, the leader's right is away from the center of the dance floor and the follower's right is to the center of the dance floor. You always dance in the line of dance progressing at the same pace as everybody else in your lane.

Lane of Dance
The lane of dance is formed by a number of couples moving along the line of dance in a big circle. There can be 2-3 such concentric circles (lanes) on the floor.

What is a ronda?
The literal translation of ronda is round. A nice ronda forms on the dance floor when all the dancers stick to their lane of dance and move in the line of dance.


When we learn to drive a car, the first things we are taught are the rules of the road. You learn to drive on the right side, to stay in your lane, to brake if somebody is ahead of you, etc., etc. You learn that your safety and safety of others on the road are critical.

You do NOT learn the best way to corner at 60mph. Neither do you learn how to race from 0-60mph in 5 seconds nor how to cut somebody off in the next lane.

You share the road with everyone else - no matter how good a driver you are or how expensive and "cool" your car is! The same goes for dancing on a social floor. No matter how good a dancer you are and how many fancy and "expensive" steps you know, you share the floor with everyone else.

But for some reason, not much importance is given to this aspect of tango either in lessons or in the workshops by master teachers. So I put together an analogy between driving on the freeways and dancing in a milonga. Most of it might seem like common sense, but unless you practice them, you can very easily pick up and retain the bad habits.

Never backup - It's suicidal! Never take a backstep. It might not be fatal, but it could certainly hurt somebody. If it is absolutely necessary, make sure you have nobody behind you (YES, it is your responsibility).
Never rear-end somebody. Even if it is bumper-to-bumper traffic, you simply wait for your turn to move. Same goes here. If you do, it is your fault. Apologize. Improvise - use turns (giros, molinettes), or a simple rockstep, or paradas (stops).
There is only one way you can go. Follow the line of dance. If you find yourself going against the line of dance - stop and correct the problem.
Stay in your lane. Stay in your lane of dance. Cutting across lanes can hurt your partner or another couple.
Be mindful of traffic around you. Be mindful of couples around you. Don't look down at your and/or your partner's feet. Even if you are executing a very complicated step, you are responsible for the safety of your partner and other couples.
Don't park on the freeway. Drivers have the right of way. If you want to socialize or chat, please get off the floor. If you want to invite/meet/talk to somebody across the floor, then go around the floor and don't cut across. It is rude to the dancers on the floor.
Yield when you are merging into the freeway. Dancers already on the floor have the right of way. They have already established a ronda. By forcing into the ronda, you will be causing a "traffic-jam" behind you. Wait for an appropriate time to join the ronda. The ideal time to join the ronda is at the beginning of the tanda. If you must join later, the beginning of a new song within a tanda is also a good time.
Accidents happen. If you get involved in one too many, you should go back to driving school! Collisions happen - they are inevitable. Apologize, make sure everyone is OK. If you collide more than a couple of times in an evening, you should pay attention to your navigation skills and change your vocabulary.

Here is a link to a very nice article on floorcraft by Robin Thomas, a tango dancer and a very popular DJ from New York.


This is a big NO!

Please refrain from teaching on the dance floor unless you are asked to. And if you are asked for feedback from your partner, please step aside from the dance floor. Stopping abruptly on the floor breaks the flow of the line of dance.

If a step is not successfully led/followed, then you can try to lead it two or three more times, and abandon it if it is still not successful. Ask each other then to work it out at the Practica. Practicas are the right place for working out a step.