Tango Etiquette: maximize your tango dance experience
To experienced dancers, you probably already know the following guidelines. They are, however, worth reviewing since it’s up to you to set a good example for dancers with less experience. To new dancers, it’s important to get these guidelines ingrained in your systems (fast!) to help avoid embarrassing, awkward, or unsafe situations.
Eye contact: Use it!
· Eye contact is a good way to ask for dances. In milongas in Argentina, the action of asking someone to dance with eye contact and a nod is called the “cabaceo”. If someone avoids meeting your eyes, it's best to ask someone else. It is perfectly acceptable for both leads and follows to initiate eye contact in order to express interest in a dance (though it is usually the lead who “invites” the follow to dance). If a woman wants to dance, she must participate by paying attention and scanning the room – it makes it almost impossible for a lead to make eye contact with a woman who is talking or distracted. It is also acceptable to “walk-up” and ask someone to dance, but be sensitive to that person’s body language/eye contact in case they don’t want to dance.
· Skilled leaders communicate with each other through eye contact to avoid collisions on the dance floor.
Floor craft: Practice it!
· You are dancing with everyone on the floor, not only your partner. Each person should be consciously aware of who is around them, and is responsible for keeping the floor safe.
· Dancers already on the dance floor have the right-of-way. When entering the floor, do so cautiously. Leads can ask (with eye contact) to enter the flow in front of another couple.
· The dance floor is meant to have lanes. Depending on floor size, there may be an outer, middle, inner, and center. If you must merge, do so consciously and courteously.
· Limit passing. Cut-ins and zig-zags across lanes are not safe. Try turns and rhythmic play first.
· Don't hold up traffic. The floor is constantly moving forward. Don’t be a rock in the stream.
· Be very careful when back-stepping. It is against the line of dance, so be aware of how much space you have around you to step. Another option is to rotate and move your back-step with the flow, counter-clockwise, making sure you know the space is empty behind you. You can also step at a diagonal (lead facing outside).
· For larger movements, long pauses, and lots of in-place figures, use the center.
· Choose moves appropriate to conditions. Leaders: High, wide boleos and ganchos can cause serious injury on a crowded floor. Follows: Keep your feet low if there are dancers near you. Practice good techniques by stepping back with your heel down.
· When two couples bump into each other on the floor, it is polite to acknowledge it by apologizing (either verbally or with a smile), regardless of who is at fault. Traditionally, in Argentina, the error is always laid on the leader’s shoulders – the followers generally do not get involved.
Social dynamics: Respect it!
· Respect your partner — and everyone else on the floor — at all times.
· Personal hygiene is important. Tango is a very intimate dance. Powerful scents (both good and bad) can be overwhelming.
· Saying “Thank you,” is a coded word for “I want to stop dancing.” Use other phrases of gratitude when you want to continue dancing with that partner.
· Although the cortina is a customary partner-changing opportunity, it is acceptable to leave the floor after one song, or even in the middle of a song, if you are sufficiently uncomfortable with your partner's dancing or other behavior. Remember, however, that this is an exception to the rule. On the other hand, if you are enjoying the partnership, it is fine to ask for a second tanda with the same partner. In Argentina, however, it is customary to step off the floor until the next tanda begins. This gives a clear view to those dancers who are sitting and attempting to make eye contact for that tanda.
· It is common — though not required — to dance in a close embrace in tango. Dancing close is not an invitation for inappropriate behavior: be sensitive to your partner’s comfort-level with regard to personal space.
· If you must decline a dance offer, do so sincerely. It’s rude to decline one offer and then accept another within the same tanda.
· It is considered rude to drown out the music with loud conversation, on or around the dance floor. If you need to discuss something while dancing, do so quietly. This is particularly important relative to live music.
· No teaching on the dance floor. Feed-back is appropriate on the practica floor and in lessons, as long as it is requested and given respectfully.
· It is customary for a lead to escort his follow back to her seat when they have finished dancing.