The Ghost Guide to Social Tango 2nd Edition: General Comments

Original: 28th February 2010

Revised: 3rd February 2011

Galen - "And to whom am I supposed to explain my behavior this time?"
TechnoMage - "To everyone involved."
Galen - "Everyone? Must be a very large room...."

Begin at the beginning

Before you even think about dancing, are you warmed up?

Are you in the right-head space, or are you still thinking about the idiot who cut you up in traffic on your way there, or the film you're going to see tomorrow?

Take some time to get your ducks in a row. "Come into the present" as the Buddhists might put it. You're going to need to be in the present to dance well anyway. Become more aware of your body.

What are you doing with your posture? Is your breathing shallow? Can you feel the floor?

Etiquette (Codigos)

"There's no substitute for good manners, except perhaps fast reflexes" ~ Vlad Taltos.


In tango you greet women you know with a kiss on each cheek. Same for goodbye. Men shake men by the hand, though you may be embraced and get a pat on the back with their other hand.

Milonga vs. Practica

A Practica is a practice session. In a Practica you can stop to ask your partner questions, do the same move repeatedly, work on moves and so forth. Likewise you don't need to use the cabeceo. In fact most of the rules are relaxed. Simply put a Practica is designed for you to practice.

A Milonga is a freestyle. You follow the rules. Only lead what you honestly know you can. You may find some women on being unable to follow a move will ask you what you were trying to lead.

MsH: I would never do this as I think it's bad manners. Anyway, why are you asking someone who probably didn't lead it very well, or at least made a poor choice of what to lead with you? You'll only embarrass him, and learn wrong information. Just act like nothing's wrong, and ask your teacher in class, "he went like this, and I didn't know what to do, what is that?"

If you can't explain in one short sentence, or by re-leading it, it's best to go to the side of the dance floor to explain, if you're going to. Pausing and talking through moves in the flow of the dance is not a good thing. Leaders may find it advisable to dance with someone who's not quite as good as you as it'll help you resist the temptation to lead moves you don't really know - quite simply they're unlikely to work. A more skilled follower may be able to do them, but she'll probably prefer you leading things you actually can lead.

MsH: My first teacher said, if you lead something once and it doesn't work, don't try it again immediately because that's too obvious and she'll get stressed and then it'll never work. Give it a while and then try it again. There's a good chance she'll get it. If not, you can wait a while and try once more. But if it still doesn't work, stop trying because it's not going to work, and you're just stressing her out.
I still think this is very good advice - it certainly worked on me, I'd nearly always think 'hmmm that didn't feel quite right' and then more or less get whatever it was the second time.

Unfortunately in reality many Practicas become sloppy milongas

Dancing couples

If you want to ask a lady who's come as a couple to dance, a simple solution is wait until she's at the bar and then ask if she dances exclusively with her partner. If not ask her for a dance "later on".

The joy of cabeceos

The simple fact that you're reading this means that if you haven't already, you probably need to start getting to grips with this area. Start with Woo Hoo and Woo Hoo Two.

Shifting Gears

There's a settling in stage at the beginning of the dance. Once you get past this stage, you're pretty much stuck with where you are technique-wise. Simply put because she's adjusted to the fact that you're not doing xyz, if you start doing xyz it'll upset things, even though technically you're now dancing better. Because of this you again want to get your ducks in a row ASAP. Start as you mean to go on.


You have all the time in the world - "You wait; you do nothing". Don't rush.

Let go of letting go. Just dance.

Your partner

Build up trust.


Stay Relaxed

If you do collide with someone and you're relaxed it probably won't disrupt things. You can pause, say "Sorry" and continue. I've seen people quite happy to just carry on content that "no harm, no foul" applied. If you're tense however, accidental knocks are a lot more jarring for all involved.

Line of dance

The dance progresses in an anti-clockwise direction around the floor.

If you watch teachers demonstrating after a class or putting on a show they will often ignore this. That's because there's no-one else on the floor!

Walking backwards against the line of dance is asking for trouble. Which raises the question why does the salida start with a step backwards? If you re-orient yourself so you're perpendicular to the line of dance, now you can do a back step without going against the line of dance.


In theory the floor is divided up into two or three lanes, with a clear section in the middle. In practice this doesn't happen so much...

Ideally, stay in your lane, keeping a gap between you and the person in front of you so that they can step backwards without hitting you. It's considered bad manners to change lanes (unless the couple in front of you is just standing there talking with no signs of either moving off the floor or starting to dance).


Be aware of your fellow dancers. Don't cut them up or crash into them. Take steps to avoid them crashing into you or your partner. Be aware that in close embrace you have a blind spot on your right, particularly if your partner has her eyes closed.

Know when to walk away

Sometimes a dance isn't working. You don't connect, the music is terrible, the floorcraft is non-existent to the point of being dangerous. It's kinder and safer to simply end the tanda at the end of the song (or right now if things are getting really dangerous).

The end

It's a nice thing to walk the lady back to her seat at the end of a tanda (or at least wherever she started from)


Occasional Milonga dances are a good way to prevent aches and muscle cramps especially in the back.


Beginners, some Intermediates and some Londoners don't know (or chose to ignore) all these rules.

- Christopher O'Shea, 3rd February 2011

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