Tango Dance Etiquette & Helpful Hints
By Ken and Natasha Delmar


1. Types of tango music: there are three (3) different rhythms of tango that are played at milongas (tango parties). Ultimately you want to become comfortable dancing to all of them: 1) tango, 2) tango vals and 3) milonga. When dancing these three tempos it is mainly the quality of movement, size, and feeling of your steps that change according to the music. Most of the steps in all three rhythms of tango are interchangeable while certain steps are more appropriate and others less so for the different styles of music.

2. For the followers: the most important thing for you is to enjoy yourself (and we mean thoroughly enjoy yourself). Often time followers just close their eyes while dancing and drift, merging and becoming one with the music. In order to fully appreciate the letting go that can come with dancing tango, it is important to keep in mind a few simple but essential keys to dancing technique.

a. The first thing is to have a good connection with your leader by directing your chest towards his. In tango it is nice to dance in the closed position with both dancers chests touching at the point of the sternum, but this is not mandatory; you may choose to dance in the open position where there is some space between you and your leader. Whatever position you decide to dance in- open or closed- keep in mind that the point of connection should always be the sternum. A good way to keep the sternum forward is to think of opening your heart and thrusting your chest forward to the leader with your shoulders back. Make sure that during the dance you are receptive to your leader and can go from the closed position to the open position and vice versa according to what the leader chooses to do.

(Sidenote) If you are at a milonga and decide you do not want to dance in the closed position, try connecting with your leader in this way: place your left hand directly on the top (not side of the leader’s right biceps and hold the left side of your frame here. With your left hand on the top of his biceps, you give an unspoken but clear message to the leader that you would prefer to dance in this open position. Even if the leader doesn’t get the message immediately, he soon will, as it is very difficult for him to bring you in closer.

Besides its practical purposes, open position is also good for dancing molinetes (turns) and associated steps. Don’t be shy if you change your mind after half a song or on the second or third song and decide you would like to dance in the closed position. Most leaders won’t refuse your wanting to dance closer, but it’s good to be receptive just in case he/she wishes to keep dancing in the open position.

b. Secondly, advance forward with your chest even when walking backwards.

c. And thirdly, on each step collect your feet by brushing either your knees or shoes as one leg pass the other. Also, to really own the dance, to be able to teach it to friends and give constructive feedback to leaders – we recommend that you learn to lead as well. Dancers that know both how to lead and follow are generally the better dancers.

When asked to dance there are 2 and only acceptable responses:

  • ‘Yes, thank you.’ -  you must complete the dance
  • ‘No, thanks anyway but I’m sitting this one out.’ - you must sit it out.

3. For the leaders: remember that the follower’s pleasure is your purpose. Think of saying a kind of mantra to yourself while dancing (e.g. „I only want to make you happy“). In the end it doesn’t matter if you succeeded in doing your own fancy steps if your partner hasn’t been led well and is not having a good time. There are profound degrees of sweetness that can only be found with the utmost sensitivity and care.

a. If nothing else, do not run the follower into anyone. Instead, pause, rock, or invent steps if necessary, even if it spoils the great combination you were trying to do. The follower can only truly relax and enjoy the dance when they can trust you. Lead your follower, make them feel safe and comfortable in your arms, swing and sustain them like an angel. You want them to feel like a good capable dancer, grateful to you for leading them well. Indeed, this one thing alone will make dancing with you a pleasure.

b. Be sure to lead each individual step before you take it yourself, striving to step at the same instant the follower does, but erring on the side of being behind. This will help prevent kicking or stepping on the follower’s toes, but even more important, it makes her feel that you are dancing with her, and not just doing your own steps with her along for the ride. Sometimes this means dancing very slowly or pausing often, especially when dancing for the first few times with a beginner or a follower who is accustomed to keeping up with leaders who rush her.

c. Always be aware of the follower’s balance, positioning her comfortably over the foot she is stepping on. Few things are more unpleasant for the follower than being taken off balance. A good follower will help by taking steps that match your lead; with a beginner however; you must take a more active role in adjusting your own body position to keep the follower well balanced. Adjust your own steps to (It receive“ the followers weight, so that you can both be comfortably centered over your feet without struggling for balance.

d. Of course, this assumes you know which foot she is on. If you can’t tell what foot the follower is on, peek a little (take a peripheral peek, without upsetting your connection with your partner, if possible). There are some leaders that know what foot the follower is on and there are some that don’t. Often if a leader doesn’t know what leg the follower is on the follower will think to herself, „Oh boy, here’s a real Doozy!“ If your feet get tangled up and you seem unable to make it part of the dance, just stop, pause, and tango on.

e. Last but not least, be patient with yourself in becoming a good leader. In the dance of love, being a good leader is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You can do it! In time you will know both confidently and securely how to move and what best to do in a tango dance. The time and energy it takes to learn this dance is well worth the pleasure you will later receive.

4. Tango is a means by which love can spread throughout the world. You can treat the dance as such by dancing with both grace and humility. In your journey towards being a good tango dancer, resist becoming too critical or callused. The following examples can be used to illustrate this point more fully. In Zen Buddhism one is encouraged to have a „beginner’s mind“ that is open and receptive and to avoid or actively work against developing the „expert mind“ which is closed and narrow in its points of view, opinionated, and ultimately uninterested in other opinions or experiences. In ballet, also, one is taught from the start that the best dancers always remain humble, open-minded and are, in fact, the best students. This mentality can be applied to tango as well. When in conversation or in observing others try to avoid saying things like, „that’s not tango“. Tango is a dance, the experience of dancing, communicating, and the giving and receiving of signals and messages through movement, gestures, facial expressions, etc., etc., . . . In the end, who is the right judge? Who cares if you think you’re the greatest expert in the world? It is the experience and the feeling that matters- be simple and just experience the shear joy of the dance. So please be receptive, understanding, and supportive of your fellow tango dancers.


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