Close embrace tango involves touching another person with half or more of your body. This is very intimate. The codigos of tango are a set of “codes” that make some protective structure around this intimacy. The codes vary a little bit from milonga to milonga, city to city. We have not found a comprehensive list of the codigos in English. Although the codes are highly gendered, much of their intent is also relevant to queer people. Eventually a new set of codes will develop that incorporate the complexities and ambiguities that queer tango introduces.
How do we deal with the intimacy of tango?
* Maintain the tango embrace. Any feelings you have during the dance are expressed outwardly only through the quality of your dance. You do not express your enjoyment of the dance by sliding your hand to your partner’s ass, neck, breast, etc. This is a violation of the trust they give you when they dance with you. It also could make a problem for them with their partner if they have one, and that is very disrespectful. It is common in tango to make contact with your head or cheek, but make sure if you do this that it is consensual. If you feel the other person pull away, respect their wishes not to connect in this way. It is not necessary for the dance. Also understand that many dancers are very accustomed to this contact. If you dance with someone who persists in doing it, do not be offended. It is not an inappropriate gesture.
* Whatever you feel during a dance, know that it ends when you finish your dance. When the tanda ends, say thank you, and walk away. As you walk away, the feelings must end. You are not welcome to “hang out” with the person just because you had a good dance. You are not welcome to have a “special” relationship with them, as this could cause problems for them with their partner, if they have one, or it could make awkwardness that will disrupt your ability to enjoy future dances. Remember, protecting your own and others’ access to the dance is the top priority!
* We do not give last names and we do not ask personal questions in tango. It is a space of anonymity. This also means that tango is an escape from class status issues. Everyone interacts as equals. (In some communities, because people don’t know better they will ask “what do you do?” Feel free to say “I don’t want to talk about that” or change the subject to a tango-related issue like “why did you start dancing?”)
* In order to feel safe with the intimacy of tango, it needs to be a social space in which people feel protected from romantic advances. For this reason, it is not appropriate to ask someone for their phone number, or ask them on a date. Of course this does occur, but it needs to be discreet. Perhaps get to know them for a while first, before asking. (At the same time we need to build community, so we can go out dancing together as a group — particularly queer dancers. Make it clear what you are up to!)
* If you are asking someone to dance who has a partner, greet the partner first and ask, either verbally or with a gesture, for their permission to ask their partner to dance. This does not mean you are treating someone as if they are the property of another person. It means that you are letting the partner know that you will respect their relationship during the dance. If you have made the cabeceo with someone who is sitting with their partner, they should stay in their seat and you should approach them and greet/shake hands with the partner before heading off to dance. You do not need to exchange names, the handshake is the important part.
Generally, sweatiness and other discomforts that are simply a result of being close to another person are accepted in tango, and we do not break a tanda for these kinds of discomforts, nor do we comment upon them to the person or others.
Please be clean and wear clean clothes. If you wear perfume or cologne, keep in mind that your dance partners may not want to end up wearing it too. Also recall that people will have their faces near your neck so they are going to get a heavy dose anyway. Be sparing. Bring breath mints or gum, particularly if you haven’t had time to brush your teeth immediately before the class or dance. You are going to be breathing into other people’s faces.
Tango is a bit private. Feel free to tell photographers that you don’t want your photo taken or that they may not post or use it without your permission. If you want to photograph dancers, ask the organizers to let you make an announcement at the appropriate time so that people will know how you intend to use the photos, how they can contact you, etc. Build trust with dancers by being selective with the photos you post (make sure everybody looks great!). Finally, respect dancers’ privacy and the intimacy and delicacy of tango.
Take classes !
It is rude and inconsiderate to expect the more experienced dancers to teach you what you need to know one-on-one on their own precious dancing time. There is no excuse for not taking a class.
The practica is a place to practice what you learn in a class. If you show a continued commitment to work and improve and try to make the dance as interesting an experience for your partner as for yourself, everybody will always be happy to practice with you.
If you don’t know the steps perfectly, you are not qualified to teach them from scratch. Please refer the beginners to a class or recommend that they speak with a more experienced dancer.
Help your community
Recruitment and being nice to new people
Please be nice and welcoming to new people.
If a new face stops in to watch the dancing, and you are not dancing please don’t ignore them longer than a minute or two. You could greet them, tell them who we are and what we do, give them fliers or information about classes and in general be very welcoming.
Dancing with beginners and offering advice
Please take a beginner for a spin. Be encouraging and build their confidence. Remember you were a beginner once too. If the experienced dancers spent time on you and as a result you are still around and not a beginner anymore, that means it’s Payback Time. Just dancing with the beginners is a good thing.
Additionally you may feel the urge to explain things and offer helpful friendly advice. Please don’t just flatly state they are doing Everything All Wrong. Instead, ask “May I offer a suggestion for a more effective way to do this/ a suggestion to improve this rock step/ etc”. Don’t argue. Whatever you do, don’t do anything that’ll make the beginner feel more inadequate than is already the case.
Finally, it is well-known that dancing well with a total beginner is a skill that distinguishes an advanced dancer from an intermediate one. You have seen advanced leaders lead beginners through steps they never knew they could do. Advanced followers move so lightly and easily that beginners can make them follow steps they’ve just learned and that won’t yet work on other dancers. This means two things: (1) if a beginner messes up, it is not exclusively their fault and you would do well to be patient, and (2) if beginners mess up a lot when you dance with them, you are not practicing on beginners enough!