Argentine Tango School

 in Buenos Aires, includes transportation and personal assistance.

On learning to dance Argentine Tango

 in Buenos Aires, includes transportation and personal assistance.

By Álvaro Dominguez.

Several years ago, drawn by my love for and interest in Tango music, I began pursuing learning how to dance Tango.

Little did I know about the experiences this new practice would bring me or the paths it would take me through.

Like most incipient Tango dancers of the twenty first century, I thought dancing was a sequence of steps requiring a great level of mastery.

Consequently, I sought popular instructors that gave the impression of doing graceful moves across the floor on their dance studios.

These wonderful instructors showed me do a bunch of steps; the ocho, the cross, the rock-step, the boleo, the molinete… all off course with Tango music in the background.

Although I had the steps under my belt I did not feel I was dancing…something was missing and I had no clue of what that was.

Pursuing the feel of dancing I began going to all the Milongas I found within a 20 miles radius.

In doing so I soon noticed that none of the popular teachers were at the Milongas.

At the time I did not think much of it, I was a novice after all, but time it made me wonder.

Over a year after I began my Tango adventure a friend invited me to join her to a class.

I had heard of the teacher but I had not met him.

The class was small and the exercises were different. No steps. The emphasis was exclusively on musicality and connection.

Following the lead of our instructor we moved, weighing the beat of the music and keeping engaged with our dance partner.

Such approach was radical compared to previous Tango instruction I had received, and I confess that initially, the relevance and importance of being fully engaged when playing the game of dancing Tango passed way over my head…but eventually I came around as I began to realize and accept that the right attitude is essential for truly dancing Tango.

A person’s attitude towards Tango is reflected in many aspects of his or her behaviors:  our posture, how assertively and in synchrony with the music we move (or not), how we emphasizing the beat with our steps (or not), and even how we choose to dress when going out to the Milonga depict and reflect our attitude towards Tango and our dance partners.

Tango is an experience, it’s an experience of engagement with the music and with our dance partner; and once I began to realize this I began to experience Tango for what it is, when you dance Tango you experience connection.

It’s been funny to realize that I’ve learned as much Tango by talking with seasoned Milongueros about the dance, the music, and the curious or funny anecdotes of singers, players, or orchestra directors as I’ve learned from dance instructors.

During these conversations I learned and began to accept that, first and foremost, Tango dancing is an act of self-expression; I learnt that Tango lives and develops at the Milonga; and I learnt that for many, dancing Tango is sacred.

The Embrace

Repeatedly I’ve heard that the embrace is the most important aspect of Tango dancing.

Being in close physical proximity to another person brings to surface many emotions; that may explain why many dancers don’t pay attention to their embrace, as if tightly holding a body you chose to embrace was a chore and not a pleasure.

Tango is connection, connection with ourselves (we must be fully present to dance), connection with our partner, and connection with the music; the embrace is where followers rest and how leaders provide assurance and guidance, and the music is the excuse for dancers to keep embraced; intermittently for about three minutes at a time; moving through the dance floor, or barely not.

A good embrace holds many paradoxes; it is firm and flexible, it gives structure and freedom of movement; a good embrace allows two to become one, only if each part is accountable for its own.  When dancing closely embraced I juggle many emotions; I want to allow and fully enjoy the sensations that arise embracing my dance partner, and at the same time I want to provide her with comfort and assurance while she is in my arms.

The Tango embrace represents the juice of human relations, we offer ourselves to our dance partner and to the dance floor, and whether we like it or not, part of our emotional being comes out naked.

Thus, if we believe this and the embrace brings to surface so many emotions; how do we choose who to dance with?

Seasoned milongueros and milongueras agree that when they are not engaged dancing or socializing at the Milonga they pay attention to the dancers on the floor: who is moving gracefully?  Who is musical? Who is having a good time? Is their dance partner having a good time?

All this information is processed consciously and unconsciously, and the result is our decision of who we want to dance with…or not.

The Milonga and its Codes

The Milonga is a social event where people gather to dance Tango.

The Milonga provides more than the physical structure, such as the quality of the dance floor, the way tables and chairs are arranged around the dance floor, or the music played by the DJ.  Like Tango, the Milonga is about attitude, and a good Milonga fosters an attitude that promotes safe dancing rendezvous.

This attitude is determined by big and minuscule details; from how you are greeted by the host to the venue’s seating arrangements; from the lighting of the space to the way the patrons dance, their social skills, and the way they cared for themselves for the occasion.

On top of all that, another essential aspect of a Milonga is the adherence to the codes of the Milonga.

The codes of the Milonga are simple – music is organized in Tandas of three or four songs by the same orchestra, tandas are separated by cortinas (a non sequitur song), and dancers dance in the line of dance, counter clock wise.

Another important code is ‘cabeceo’.  Cabeceo, or head nod, is the way you indicate another person you are interested in dancing with them.  Unfortunately, this etiquette protocol is often overlooked locally; in fact, many local dancers (San Francisco Bay Area) resist this cultural aspect of the Milonga, and refuse to accept that cabeceo is essential because it promotes better dancing.

How does cabeceo promote better dancing? You may ask; the answer is simple.


Establishing eye contact with a potential dance partner and nodding your head indicates you are asking that person to dance.

If the person being nodded wants to decline the invitation, he or she discretely stops or avoids establishing eye contact; instead if the person wants to accept the invitation, he or she maintains eye contact and gives head nod in-turn to confirm.

Once the willingness to dance has been established, the leader walks towards the follower, looking for her sight and maintaining eye contact when possible.

The follower remains on her seat, once the leader has approached and has nodded again she gets up and proceeds to accept the dance.

Let’s say you are a seasoned Tango dancer at a Milonga.

A new Tanda starts with one of your favorite songs, “Te aconsejo que me olvides” played by Troilo and sang by Fiorentino.

You know this song by heart, and you start feeling the melody slowly creeping inside your body and you start looking for the right dance partner.

Who is the right dance partner?

Is it the first available follower at sight? Is it the first leader that nods you?

Well, maybe.

Sometimes those are our best options and we take them; however, more seasoned dancers usually don’t.

The Milonga is a social event, not a practice, and in general we want to dance with partners of our own dancing level, a partner that we are confident will understand how we move and respond accordingly.

When there is a big gap between dance partners’ abilities, it is likely that one is enjoying it more than the other, and this gap means that degree of self-expression is distorted.

Although we learn much by dancing with a more experienced dancer, the Milonga is not a practice.

Going back to you, seasoned dancer, at the Milonga where “Te aconsejo que me olvides” just opened the Tanda; you look around and see followers and leaders scaning the room for potential dance partners.

So, who do you want to dance this Tanda with…maybe someone with whom you’ve already enjoyed dancing Troilo with, maybe a leader with a melting embrace, maybe a soft and sensitive follower that is like a cloud flowing with the slightest breeze.

The beauty of cabeceo is that it clearly sets the difference between a practica and a Milonga; it allows dancers to respectfully decline an invitation, or to accept without uttering a word.

At Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires we are committed to bring to you a complete Argentine Tango experience. Learn to dance Tango with us.

Dancing at milongas.

Seven tips for women who want to dance more in the milonga.

Written by Marcelo Castelo and published in ArgenTango magazine #2.

Translated by Olga Matveeva

Dancing at milongas | Argentine TangoThroughout the years, milonga organizers have heard continuous complaints from women: “Tonight I danced very little”, “There are no men”, or “I am not asked to dance”.

The reality is, in general, in many milongas the quantity of women is larger than men.

Adding that the men also take breaks between tandas to get a drink or perhaps smoke a cigarette lowers the women’s possibility of getting a dance. However, women also wonder: what do they contribute from their part to the fact that they dance less or more?

To help all those women, here are some suggestions that, albeit obvious, are worth repeating and would perhaps increase their possibility of dancing in the milonga.

1) Learn to look

It is known that in the traditional milonga, the invitation is made by the man employing cabeceo.

So it is essential for the woman to learn to observe and notice these looks and gestures.

Sometimes we see women at the beginning of the tanda getting distracted, not paying attention to the man’s signals, so the latter changes his mind and invites someone else.

In other cases, for shyness or intimidation, women refuse to look directly at men and end up sitting. Hence, stay alert under the men’s glances, especially at the beginning of each tanda.

2) Put on your best face

A milonga is a place where people want to relax and forget their everyday problems.

For that reason, men will keep away from a woman with a sour facial expression.

Your most attractive feature is your smile.

Be in a happy mood; others will perceive it. A good moment to show your cheerful disposition would be a salsa break. In my personal opinion, this is the most critical advice.

3) Care where you sit in the room

Often women ask to be seated in places far from being the best to get more dances.

Being in the first row, closest to the dance floor is not always the best.

When no men are on the sides or in front within a reasonable distance, women will have to wait until someone walks closer to their table.

Once you get a seat, study the best angle to direct the glances at prospective partners.

4) Do not always expect the best

That one illustrates very well the paradox of the dancer: the better one learns to dance, the fewer possibilities occur to apply it for the lack of suitable partners.

It is inevitable one wishes to dance with somebody better than him/her, but if it were always the case, nobody would ever dance with anyone!

Try to go to the milonga with no expectations beyond having some good time, and do not get super selective with the occasional partners.

Also, dancing is not everything; let’s not reject the opportunity to meet interesting people just because they do not fulfill our expectations as dancers.

5) Improve your dance level; take lessons

A recurrent saying among milongueros is that everyone believes to be a better dancer than he or she is.

It does not matter what you think about your dance level; it matters what your partners think.

When one dances better, she gets invited more. Therefore, take lessons!

6) To be and to appear

Any woman who frequents the milongas cannot help but notice: when a well-dressed man enters, wearing an elegant dark suit, and impeccable shoes, he always attracts women’s attention.

The same goes for women. Hence, if you go to a milonga where people don’t know you, the better your look, the chances are that someone will invite you to dance.

Dressing with elegance, carrying yourself with poise, behaving like a milonguera will secure you a number of invitations to the dance floor.

Of course, all that has to come with a decent level of dance.

7) Become a regular

If you jump a lot from one milonga to another, know that you always have to pay “the floor due” before people start recognizing you.

Men tend to invite partners they know, otherwise they wait for someone else to ask a woman, so they can observe her dance level.

Upon entering the milonga, greet the men you had danced with in other places.

Becoming a regular in a place is the most convenient way of securing dance invitations (providing you pay attention to all the above-mentioned advice).

Learn to dance Argentine Tango…

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“Códigos”, “Cabeceo”, “cortinas”, “tandas”, and line of dance

“Códigos”, “cabeceo”, “cortinas”, “tandas”, and line of dance

Argentine Tango with Marcelo Solis

“Cortinas” & “tandas”

“Cortinas” are small pieces of non-tango songs that separate different sets of tangos, milongas or valses (“tandas”).

Each “tanda” contains four tango songs, four or three valses, or three milongas, in general played by the same orchestra and recorded in the same time period. In this way, you know that after the “cortina” a new set, played by a different orchestra, is coming, usually a different rhythm and style than the set played right before, and by listening to the first song you know what to expect for that tanda.

The “cortinas” are also a call to the dancers to go back to seat and clear the dance floor. The etiquette requires to dance with the same partner until the end of the “tanda”. So, when the “cortina” starts to play you can say “Thank you” and accompany your partner back to her table -if you are a leader- or let your partner accompany you back to your place -if you are a follower.

The “cortina” makes clear that the “tanda” is over. You will have to wait for the next “tanda” to begin before to ask any other partner to dance.

Milonga in Buenos Aires photo

“Cabeceo”: eye contact

Asking someone to dance

Facing the fact that to be rejected is always painful, the Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) developed the “cabeceo” (making eye contact) as the proper way to ask someone to dance. They look at the person they want to dance with.

This applies either for men a women.

If a person wants to dance with someone, one will let the other know by looking at that person and nodding the head when the other person looks back, making it a clear invitation to dance.

If that person wants to dance, she or he will answer back with an assenting sign with the head. After these subtle signs, the leader will go to the follower’s table (or where she is) and offering his hand, take her to the dance floor.

If the other person does not want to dance (man or woman), when the “eye contact” occurs, he/she will simple not respond.

This is a very simplified way to describe it. Reality is more subtle and complex. In any case, it is a good start if you are new to Tango.

Tango is a SOCIAL dance. The milonga is a place not only to dance, but also to meet new people, chat with friends, etc. It is seeing as a very inconsiderate attitude that someone comes to where you are to invite you to dance. It will be almost like saying: “I just want to dance with you and I don’t really care about you”.

While Tango is a dance that requires a situation of intimacy between the partners, asking to dance from a distance shows respect for the other person and her or his right to choose if that person wants to share the intimacy that Tango requieres with you.

There are many benefits of these “códigos”. One is that it takes in consideration the feelings of both partners, so when the dance finally happens, they both know they are where they want, which is an important requirement to have a good dance. They are not dancing because they have to.

Dancing Argentine Tango at milongas photo.

Line of dance

The line of dance existed from before Argentine Tango.

The line of dance was already in the European dances in fashion of that time (1800’s). The counter clockwise direction was already used in waltz, the most popular dance before the appearance of Tango, and was used in other dances as well.

The Argentine Tango dancers just adopted it.

In Argentine Tango the line of dance is an expression of the dance itself, understanding it as a way of walking.

Also, it is the result of an agreement that shows the respect among the dancers on the dance floor. Seeing it from a practical point of view and making analogy: it is like traffic on the freeway, without the speed, but everyone is going in the same direction in your lane of traffic.

At Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires we are committed to provide you with a complete Argentine Tango experience.

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Dancing at milongas.

On learning Argentine Tango. Starting out in milongas.

Dancing at Olga Matveeva on Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In my opinion, starting Argentine Tango should not be different from entering any social community for the first time.

Before traveling abroad, we try to find out about some specific local rules and customs that, if not observed, paid attention to, could put us in trouble. When we begin at a new job, we do not start by saying that things had been done wrong (even if it seems so at times), and by teaching everyone new ways.

When we start socializing with any unfamiliar party, we listen, look around, pay attention, learn.

All teachers I have taken lessons from spoke about the rules, at least to certain extent. It might not be happening everywhere in every class people go to. I believe that instructor must speak about such matters as line of dance, navigation, social etiquette, in their classes. If your tango instructor never mentions that during lessons, then, perhaps, he or she is not qualified to teach tango, or does not intend to prepare the students to be social tango dancers. If your goal is to attend milongas, you better find another class.

Behaving as an adequate member of the tango community right from the start is more important for your success than knowing fancy steps.

Unfortunately, some people who take up lessons, attend milongas, are not interested in a social aspect of tango. For them tango means putting on a vintage dress with sparkles or a fedora hat, and become a passionate, exotic night creature that in real life they are not. Of course there is nothing wrong in dressing up and having fun per se. The problems begin when they bump into (pun intended) those for whom milonga is not a Halloween party, but a place where they open up, look for genuine connections, a social ritual where the codes of behavior are not arbitrary. The rules of etiquette are in place for good reasons.

They ensure that all the participants enjoy themselves in a safe environment, minimizing negative feelings and frustrations that may arise from social interactions in close quarters.

Understanding a culture, becoming part of it might be a fascinating journey, but it takes time and effort.

Tango is a culture, and as such, should be approached with sensibility and respect.

At Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires we are committed to provide you with a complete Argentine Tango experience. Learn more about Argentine Tango.

History of Argentine Tango at Escuela de tango de Buenos Aires - Marcelo Solis

Argentine Tango’s history – Introduction

El Cachafaz and Carmencita Calderon - Tango dancer's leyendsArgentine Tango is a dance that originated in the poor neighborhoods of the largest cities in Argentina and Uruguay at the end of the XIX century.

It represents the cultural mix of immigrants and the established population. For example, in the 1800s, Buenos Aires and Montevideo had a population of 25 % to more than 50 % of Africans each. They were servants of the most influential families in these cities. They were more integrated into the life of these families and society in general than the Africans of other societies like North America.

“Tangos” was called the black people celebrations and places of meeting since the beginning of the XIX century. It is in these places where the dance known today as Tango began the development of its choreography and music.

Other African terms directly related to Tango are “milonga” and “candombe”. “Milonga” is a Quimbanda expression that means “words” and referred originally to a kind of duel between two countryside singers called “payadores” who playing guitar, will improvise verses of eight syllables with a structure-type question/answer. At the same time, “candombe” is a Bantú word that referred initially to the rhythms and dances made by the Africans in their tango meetings and to these meetings.

When they were given freedom (1853), they created several associations -kinds of unions- to help themselves, and placed them mainly in the area of the neighborhood of Montserrat. During the carnival, they used to go out on the streets with brightly colored costumes and big-feathered hats, dancing many hours to the monotonous rhythm of “candombe”—   the music they played at these events. Different associations competed for supremacy, which developed into bloody street incidents.

The repetition of the violence forced the police to close many of those associations in 1877. It was the end of black people’s carnival. The consequence was the creation of several dance centers where they developed a kind of couple dance called “tango” using the same choreographic elements they used before in their candombes. But that Tango was not an embraced couple dance. They danced it separately.

Other influence in the origins of Tango comes from a typical character of the Argentine Pampas: the “gaucho”.

GauchoThe “gaucho” is the product of the mix between the first Spanish who arrived in the lands later called Argentina and the natives. They were very skillful in the techniques needed to survive in the countryside. They liked to live far away from populated cities and towns, had no regular jobs, occasionally got hired by the owners of the “estancias” (farms), and knew the secrets of knife fencing and horse riding.

They had a strong morality of independence and, if needed, faced the arbitrary police. These “gauchos” had an essential participation in the battles for emancipation against the Spanish Kingdom. They symbolized the ideals of autonomy, courage, and justice without arbitrariness.

After the Constitution of 1853, the ideas of modernity and progress start to shape the new country. The “gaucho” did not fit this project and began suffering persecution. The lands where the gaucho used to wander were confiscated and given to others. Having no other option, they moved into the city’s poor suburbs and got jobs as butchers, herders, horse-breakers, or cart drivers. Even though the gaucho goes under a metamorphosis, leaving the horse, shortening his knife to hide it better because it was not allowed in the city, changing his clothes, and getting the new name of “compadre,”; he still keeps the same ideals of justice, independence, and courage.

His new neighbors admired him and often approached him, looking for protection or advice. The young men of these poor suburbs began to imitate the attitudes of the compadres and soon got themselves the name “compadritos.”

Although the gaucho, transformed in compadre, brought the “milonga” to the slums, he did not dance. His inheritors, the compadritos, did dance.

They took the choreographies of other dances from other places and danced in the port of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, such as polka, mazurka, waltz, and habanera, and danced with them to the music of the milongas. Furthermore, they incorporated elements from the black people’s dances, from their “tangos”, most of the time with racist sarcasm.

This originated a way of dancing called “cortes y quebradas” and a musical genre called either “tango” or “milonga”.

When these dances arrived at the port of Buenos Aires in the second half of the XIX century, the embrace technique was known as “dancing to the European fashion”. The compadritos adopted this technique and incorporated it into their movements from the African tangos. Until this moment, all the embraced dances were of continuous motion, which means that one time the couple starts to move, they will not stop until the song’s end. On the other hand, the African tangos and the other not embraced dances used “figures”, which means that one or both partners will suddenly stop and take a position called a figure. To combine these two different ways of dancing – the embrace and the figures – the compadritos had to go further into the embrace technique and create the “close embrace” technique. Before Tango, there was space in-between the partners in all the embraced dances. With Tango, there are no in-between space partners anymore. Tango incorporated the close embrace technique that allows the “figures” in the embraced dance: one partner will stop while the other keeps moving, or both will suddenly stop for a while and restart the movement a few beats later. The close embrace was enough for Tango to be disapproved of by the “respectable” society. In addition, the compadritos liked to play with the scandal and with a mocking and unconcerned attitude making provocative movements in the dance for the amusement of some and the shock of others.

The 1853’s Constitution opens Argentina to the immigration. Millions of immigrants, mainly Italians and Spanish, arrived to the country and changed it radically.

Immigrants arriving to the port of Buenos AiresTango was influenced by immigration too. Its rhythm slowed, and its melodies acquired a nostalgic flavor, contrasting with its original joking attitude. Its choreography also changed, leaving its provocative character and tidying up its figures. A novel instrument was incorporated into the tango music, the bandoneon, created in Germany, which fits perfectly with the new shape of the Tango. Soon, the bandoneon became the musical instrument of tango music. All this will prepare Tango for its acceptance in European ballrooms.

The 1913 was the year of its highest popularity in Paris.

This made its return to Argentina, its natural country, through the “main door”. Rejected before by the high society as a product of the slums, everyone praised it thanks to its international fame. Everybody wanted to learn to dance Tango at this time. Only the 1914 World War stopped the popularity of this dance in Europe, but just for a while. A few years later, in 1917, a countryside singer included the first Tango with a lyric in his repertoire, creating the way of singing tangos.

This man was Carlos Gardel, and even he died in 1935, he still reigns as the model of the tango singer thanks to his 1500 records.

Carlos Gardel | Argentine music at Escuela de Tango de Buenos AiresThe WWI, the post-war crisis, and the reassuring presence of Carlos Gardel eclipsed Tango as a dance for a while. This was the period of the popularity of the “tango-canción”(tango song), which is good for listening but not necessarily for dancing.

In 1935 Juan D’Arienzo incorporated the piano player Rodolfo Biagi in his orchestra and with a fast and playful rhythm which reminded the origins of Tango, started to attract thousands of dancers back to the ballrooms.

Juan D'Arienzo portrateThis orchestra’s acceptance was so significant that other orchestras imitated its characteristic rhythm.

At this point, Tango was a mature artistic expression. Music, dance, and poetry reached their pinnacle and developed during the 1940s in what was known in Argentina as the Golden Age of Tango. During these years, Tango defined the shape we know today.

Three decades of dictators made Tango blur in Argentinean life, especially Tango as a dance, but it was not enough to disappear. Although 1984 was when democracy came back in Argentina, it was also when Tango revived. The worldwide acceptance of Astor Piazzolla music, who knew how to integrate Tango into other musical expressions such as classical music, jazz, and rock, incorporating electronic instruments; the triumph in Russia of Julio Bocca, an internationally known Argentine ballet dancer who danced to Piazzolla music; and the fantastic success in Broadway of the show “Tango Argentino” which presented the most excellent tango dancers at that time; all of these, plus the freedom of expression that democracy brought to Argentineans, made possible what we can see today: a strong presence of Tango not only in Argentina, its natural country but also in the whole world.

Why did Tango triumph all over the world?

It is not easy to find one absolute answer. Still, maybe it has to do with the necessity of expression, and Tango is a dance where all the range of human feelings can be expressed: happiness, homesickness, passion, wittiness, and much more…

More about the History of Argentine Tango…

Learn more about Argentine Tango at Escuela de Tango de Buenos Aires.


“Crónica general del Tango”, José Gobello. Editorial Fraterna, Buenos Aires,   1980. “La historia del Tango”, tomo 2 “Primera época”, Roberto Selles y León   Benarós. Editorial Corregidor, Buenos Aires, 1977.

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