Codigos (tango codes)

28th July 2011

"Be nice" ~ Dalton, Road House


I never use the word "codes" or "codigos" when I'm taking a "social dance techniques" class. Those words are, to me, restrictive and unfriendly, and generally put people off, they give the impression that Tango is an unfriendly scene.

So I generally use the terms "hints and tips", that sort of thing.

But I do hear about other students getting lists of codes from their teachers, or hearing about some mythical codes (for example: "Never ask anyone better than you to dance" - what?).

So I thought it's worthwhile to try to add some clarity to this issue. Or, possibly, confuse people even more :)

A couple of principles

Two things are key; please bear these in mind.

Everything is local

The first thing to emphasize is that there is no definitive list of Tango codigos.

Which is why a list of codes at Maipu 444 (a milonga in Buenos Aires) differs from a list of codes in a milonga in Leicester in the UK.

All the lists you see, all the descriptions, are all the opinion of (typically) one person, based on their own subjective and local experiences and values. These people may be well-informed, or may not. They may be widely-travelled, or may not. They may be distilling guidelines based on many years of experience in many venues, or may be mechanically repreating something they read somewhere based on one single location in one single city.

So, it's wrong to point to any single list and say "That's the One True Way". There is no One True Way. The codes, like the dance itself, vary.

Some things are universal

That said, like the dance itself, there's a heck of a lot of common ground - if there weren't, someone from Argentina would never be able to dance with someone from Leicester. The "dance in the line of dance" rule, for example, seems to be universal.

So, the trick is, to find a set of codes which will work for you, at the place you want to dance. Most of us are not dancing in Buenos Aires, after all.

A list of lists

I had a quick online search for some descriptions or lists of codes; here's some of the results, with brief comments.

List Comment
Codigos at Maipu 444
(a milonga in Buenos Aires)
Simple, direct, clear. A short list is always more likely to be universal than a long one. (here's a A fuller explanation for Maipu 444 codes).
Here's another list (the Codigos section) I'm not so keen on this version, it seems a little too detailed to be common behaviour throughout.
A detailed description of some codes

A very detailed explanation, but reads more like a description than a prescription, which is nice.
A "real Tango" definition of codigos Very, very prescriptive. Also, this says almost nothing about the dancing, it's about the etiquette.
Rules in a UK milonga Nice and simple, I think this should work at pretty much and UK milonga.


I'm not going to create my own list of codes.

Fundamentally, these are all simply rules for being nice to each other.

So all I'd say is "be nice".

~ David Bailey, 28th July 2011

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