An expat Californian building a new life via the tango in Buenos Aires since 2003, including information on learning the tango and where to dance it in Buenos Aires.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Those Mysterious Milonga Codes

Most tango dancers around the world have heard of the "codigos" (unwritten rules of the milongas in Buenos Aires) and know a little bit about the cabeceo, or the head-nod invitation to dance. Also, at many international tango festivals there is discussion about the line of dance, la ronda, and how leaders need to manage it, which is also covered by the codigos. These two aspects are the most well known of the milonga codes.

But do you know that there are more than forty codigos of how to behave, from when you enter the milonga until you leave? There is etiquette to cover every situation (before it becomes a "situation").

Many foreign tangueros don't know or care about "old-fashioned" rules from a time and culture gone by. But the Argentines have been dancing tango in Buenos Aires for 150 years and have figured out a few things about how to conduct themselves at a milonga. The tried and true codigos are for everyone's benefit.

Tourist dancers in Buenos Aires sometimes rebel and want to act as they are used to at milongas in their countries. But out of respect for tradition, the local tangueros, and the tango itself, it behooves one to learn and follow at least the most important of the codigos while dancing in the traditional milongas of Buenos Aires.

I'm not going to list them here, because you can find the "rules" elsewhere on the web. Suffice it to say they are all about common courtesy. Here are some sites that discuss the codigos: La Milonga (español), Tango Chose Me,
 Tips for Cabeceo Success, Crossroads, and once more a great article from Tango and Chaos--All the Meat on the Fire.


Reed said...

My first trip to a Milonga was my first week in town. They only explained one of the codes to me: "No, you're not allowed to dance." Once everyone took to the floor, it made sense. I would have been twisting ankles left and right - and not just my own. Someday I'll start with lessons and take the plunge for real.

Mari Johnson said...

Thank you Cherie for putting focus on this. When one looks at the reasoning behind the codigos, they really make sense, so I don't understand why there is such resistance to them in some places. When even some of the codigos are observed at a milonga, everyone relaxes more, there's less chaos on and off the floor, and things seem friendlier generally. *shrug* What's not to like about that?

tangocherie said...

Reed, no one is going to hand you a list of the 40 or so codigos when you enter a milonga. Those you must glean on your own by observing, talking to people, etc. But a good organizer won't let chaos on the floor caused by someone who doesn't know how to dance ruin the experience for the others. But there's time to learn the codigos after you learn to dance, which I hope you do! The codigos just make it all so civilized and easier to focus on the dancing itself.

I don't know either, Mari, except that North Americans tend to resist complying with all sorts of etiquette rules, don't they? We've let many niceties of social life go by the wayside, unfortunately, so it's not easy to impose a whole new set of rules of behavior on anyone. But it's their loss.