Home > Our Milongas & Milonga Etiquette > Tango Etiquette Part 2: Dance Floor Etiquette (Floorcraft)

Tango Etiquette Part 2: Dance Floor Etiquette (Floorcraft)

Before you read this article, make sure to read its companion article: Tango Etiquette Part 1: General Milonga Etiquette

The Codes (Codigos) of the Milonga

When we dance tango we are dancing with our partner, the music, and the other dancers on the floor.  Do not think of them as objects to be avoided, but rather as fellow participants that you are sharing the dance with. Also, even when all of the skills below are exercised, know that mistakes and accidents do happen. The ideas expressed below are guidelines. The reason for these guidelines is so that everyone can have fun while dancing without interfering with the enjoyment of others. These skills are also called "Floorcraft."

Four Areas of Floorcraft:

    1. Dance floor etiquette
    2. Navigational skills
    3. Partnering skills
    4. Vocabulary

1. Dance Floor Etiquette

  • Always try to enter the floor from an area that will not interrupt the flow of the other dancers already on the floor. It is preferable to enter from one of the four corners of the dance floor and not from the middle of a lane. Because of the limitations of certain venues this is not always possible, but should be the goal.
  • Leader's Cabeceo - Leaders, before entering the dance floor, try to catch the eye of the leader that you will be entering in front of. They should nod or make a gesture, inviting you onto the dance floor in front of them. Don't just push your way onto the dance floor. This is sometimes referred to as the "leader's cabeceo."

    Once you are on the dance floor, keep your head up and notice if people are trying to enter the floor. Make eye contact with them and then perhaps execute a turn to give them time to enter the floor and begin dancing.

    Women, please wait for the leader to lead you safely onto the dance floor. You may be excited to dance, but don't rush out onto the dance floor.

    Exception: If the closest leader is far enough down the floor that entering, in front of him, will not cause an issue, you can enter the floor without catching his eye.
  • Always move counter clockwise around the dance floor. Do not move against the line of dance, this includes not taking large back steps and not leading your follower to step against the line of dance. Instead all steps should be taken into the line of dance, towards the tables or towards the middle of the floor. I always say, the leader behind me should never be able to focus on my face. The only time he sees my face should be as I am turning. My face should never stop and move towards him, that would mean that I am moving against the line of dance.
  • No parking on the dance floor... use the space in front of you. Tango is a progressing dance and you do not want to hold up others from progressing forward. If space opens up in front of you, use it. This is particularly true when in the main stretch of the lanes. When in the corners, it is more acceptable to do turning figures, paradas, etc.
  • Stay in your lane. It is generally accepted that the better dancers dance in the outer land.  It is safer to dance in the outer lane because at most you will only have other couples on 3 sides of you instead of on all 4 sides.

    Sometimes a floor might be big enough for an inner lane to develop. If you find yourself in an inner  lane or in the middle of the floor then you should stay there, at least until the song ends and then you can move back to the outer lane. One of the biggest sins of Tango Etiquette is moving in and out of lanes during a song.
  • Do not pass other couples. Try to maintain the line of dance without passing other couples. You should develop a vocabulary which allows you to dance in place without advancing forward.

    Exceptions: An experienced couple might pass a less experienced couple that is holding up the line of dance, if the couple in front of them is not moving and allowing lots of space to accumulate in front of them.

  • On the dance floor, we dance. The Milonga is for social dancing and not for teaching.  Teaching is for classes and practicas. Tango dancers choose to take classes with certain teachers and that is their choice. Trying to teach on the dance floor sets up a power relationship of teacher and student which has not been solicited. On the social dance floor we are all equal and therefore should not attempt to exert power over another. If you wish to teach, book a studio and advertise your class, but not at other people's milongas.
  • Do not lift your elbows. Some dancers believe that they should dance defensively by lifting their elbows to create more room for themselves. This is the sign of a very insecure dancer and is very aggressive and dangerous behavior. High elbows can hurt other dancers, particularly followers.
  • Do not stop dancing if you make a mistake. Mistakes happen and a good leader should turn mistakes into opportunities to do something else.
  • Do not talk to your partner while dancing. Leading and following both require a lot of attention to each other and to the music. It can be very distracting to carry on a conversation at the same time.

Here is a video that discusses some of these issues:

2. Navigational Skills

  • Use the corners. Always dance all the way to the corner and then make your turn. Do not cut the corners, this shrinks the dance floor and moves you out of your lane. This is one of the most common mistakes that I see on the dance floor. The corners are your friend. This is the place where you will have the most room to do figures and complex turns.
  • Do not crowd the couple in front of you.  Always try to leave them with enough room for the leader to take one decent size back step and to execute a basic turn. On the highway, you don’t want someone riding your bumper, so don’t do it to other dancers.
  • Dance at an angle. This is one of the most useful techniques that I know of to dance successfully on crowded dance floors. Instead of facing the line of dance, rotate 45 degrees to the leader’s right so that the follower’s back is to the tables. Maintain this angle as you move down the floor and you will find that it is much easier to see the dancers in front of you and to anticipate any potential hazards. Of course, you must still turn and lead her to take steps that are not towards the tables but try to minimize the amount of time that she is stepping in other directions. The more time her back is to the tables the less potential risk there is of someone running into her or you running her into someone else.
  • Always pay attention to the leaders in front of and behind you, but pay extra close attention during the first song of a tanda, so that you can figure out what they are in a habit of doing. Do they take lots of back steps against the line of dance? Are they constantly crowding you? Are they leading dangerous boleos? I always dance very conservatively during the first song and then make adjustments during the second, depending on who is dancing in front of and behind me. It is such a joy to have well-behaved couples in front of and behind you, and very stressful to have the opposite.
  • Try to make eye contact with the leaders around you just to let them know you are there. Often people behave better if they feel that they have a connection with you. If you see that the leader in front of you is doing something which requires space, give him that space, don’t crowd him.
  • Use the space you just left. This is one of the most important skills to develop. Use moves that employ the space that you just left. Once you step forward, you should briefly have the space that you just vacated available to you.


3. Partnering Skills

  • Protect the follower. The primary responsibility of the leader is to protect the follower and not to put them into situations where they could be injured. Followers are usually more vulnerable to injury than leaders because they are on the outside of most turns, are usually wearing open toe shoes, may have their eyes closed, and are walking backwards into space that they cannot see.

    If you see someone about to collide with your follow, one good strategy is to make a quick turn so that the collision happens against you instead of her.
  • Dance to your partner’s ability. Leader’s should not try to lead figures which are clearly beyond their follower’s abilities. Good leaders will adjust their dance to their followers. A wonderful dance can be had by just walking, weight changing, simple arrepentidas, ochos, etc.
  • Follower’s Responsibilities:

    • Keep your eyes open. If the floor is crowded or your leader is not experienced, then keep your eyes open and help the leader avoid collisions. You can always ground yourself and apply pressure on his back to prevent him from stepping, in order to prevent collisions.
    • Keep your feet on the floor. Do not let your feet fly out from under you and possibly trip other dancers.
    • Followers do not execute high boleos unless you have a high degree of trust in your leader and the dance floor is not very crowded, or your feet are pointed towards the tables. Just because your leader gives the energy for a high boleo, it does not mean you have to execute it and endanger yourself or others. You can always execute a boleo with your feet staying on the floor if your judgment tells you that it is unsafe to do a high boleo at that point. Followers, just like leaders, should dance with their partners and with the people around them. In other words, they also have “to feel” the dance floor.

4. Vocabulary

  • Develop a dance floor friendly vocabulary. Some moves work better for a crowded dance floor. Ask your teachers to teach you some moves that will work well for crowded dance floors. You are not performing for an audience on a social dance floor, adapt your dance for the room that you have.
  • Avoid moves that take you against the line of dance.

  • Have a varied vocabulary. I often hear that all you need is two moves and to do them well. Well.. ok, but it will help to have a varied vocabulary so that when you need to get out of a situation you will have a move in your pocket to help with that.
  • Look for teachers that teach technique and improvisation rather than long, complicated figures. Look for teachers that will teach you improvisation techniques, figures that do not move against the line of dance, and figures that resolve back in the line of dance. Look for teachers with comfortable embraces and who dance well in the milongas, not only on a stage.

Conflict resolution: People will get in your way and will brush up against you and will even collide into you sometimes. Please be polite and forgiving especially if they are  newer dancers, who could be easily scared away from the dance. If you do have a serious issue with someone, talk to them in private and politely explain your complaint with them, rather than making faces or being aggressive on the dance floor.

If you gently graze someone then there is no need to apologize, but if you bump or collide with someone then apologize, after the song is over.

Please share these ideas with your fellow dancers. Do not lecture them, but if someone comments to you that they have trouble dancing in tight spaces then share these ideas with them or point them to our website to read this article.

Questions and Answers:

Q: I do all kinds of crazy things on even crowded dance floors and move in and out of lanes and never bump into anyone. Do I still need to follow these rules?
A: Just because you don’t run into people does not mean that you are not interfering with their dance. You are probably interferring with the other dancers on the floor, eventhough you are not running into them. You are requiring them to change their dances in order to avoid you, and that is not considerate.

Q: I lead/followed a high boleo and it hit someone during the dance. What should I do?
A: Check that they are ok and apologize.

Q: I am a new dancer and I keep making mistakes when dancing and I fear that people might stop dancing with me. Should I warn them before I dance with them? Should I apologize each time I make a mistake?
A: We were all beginners at one time. As long as you are nice, polite and have decent posture then people will enjoy dancing with you. Most people in a tango community are aware of who the beginner dancers are so you should not have to announce that you are a beginner, but it is fine if you do. I think you should only apologize if you contact your partner in a way that would cause discomfort or pain. Generally there are no mistakes in tango, only opportunities for something else to happen. If you make a misstep, an experienced leader or follower will simply adjust and make something out of it.

Q: I have been dancing for many years. I don’t take classes and people seem to avoid dancing with me. What should I do?
A: Find a good teacher in your area and ask their opinion. Be nice and learn good solid posture, technique and an interesting vocabulary and people will want to dance with you.

Q: This one guy keeps looking at me and giving me dirty looks whenever I dance near him?
A: First, take a look at yourself. Are you taking back steps or leading your follow to take steps against the line of dance? Are you crowding up very close behind him and/or are you moving in and out of his lane? If you are not doing any of the above things, and are concerned, then ask him.

Q: I am not there to dance with the other people. I just want to do my thing.
A: Well.. frankly, tango might not be the right dance for you. Or you might want to think about finding a dance partner and work with them to do some performance dancing, but if you want to come to milongas then you need to be willing to dance with the other couples and not make a nuisance of yourself.

Q: Some dancers cause me physical pain when I dance with them. Is it ok to refuse their invitations to dance?
A: Yes... you should never feel discomfort. In fact, if you are in physical pain, this is one of the few reasons that I can think of to stop dancing during a tanda. If they ask you why, then you might consider being honest, but polite, with them.

Q: Someone offered me a breath mint, but I did not want it.. should I have accepted?
A: Yes. They probably offered for a very good reason... never refuse a breath mint. ;-)