Social dance events are called “milongas”. It’s like a party or dance night. Usually it is at the same place every week (some are once a month). Every city has a website announcing the milongas. Usually there is a fee at the door (around $10) for 4 or 5 hours of dancing. Some people dress up, others dress very casually. The milonga is a space in which you are welcome to express yourself flamboyantly with your clothing and dress * sexy *.
We recommend that beginners attend a milonga along with a group of friends to make sure that you have people to dance with.
(Note that ‘milonga’ also has a second meaning, which is the fastest of the three types of tango music.)
Practicas are an informal milonga. There is a DJ to play music and people show up to practice with whoever is there. In some cities, people dress much more casually for a practica, the lights are usually on, and it is cheaper ($5). Some people come with a partner and do not change partners. Many people come alone, in order to practice with various people. Some people change partners after the tanda, others may dance together for a long time. It is more flexible than a milonga.
Unlike at a milonga, it’s ok to stop during the song and ask questions and practice a move over and over. People are free to try new things, work on specific moves, or ask friends to show them things.
It is very inappropriate to start critiquing or correcting your dance partner’s technique at a Milonga. At a Practica it is OK to give feedback, but you should probably ask if your partner wants it before giving it. Some people enjoy taking tips from other dancers, others prefer to stick with the advice and progression of lessons of their main teacher.
Some practicas are treated by some dancers as Milongas. Although some people are dressed informally and are practicing and talking about moves, they may dress up, use the cabeceo, and just dance. That’s fine, but they must not get annoyed when dancers are stopped in the dance floor working on a move.
Although some milongas serve wine and some dancers do drink, you are disqualified from dancing if you have drunk enough to be affected at all. This dance is too difficult to try without your full skills. If you feel like drinking tonight, just enjoy watching and talking.
Tango music is played in tandas
At milongas, the DJ will play music in sets (called tandas) of 3 or 4 songs by the same orchestra from the same period. The number of songs in the tanda varies by the kind of music. Milonga (the fast one) and vals are is sometimes played in sets of 3 songs per tanda. Tango songs are played in tandas of 4 songs. Generally you will hear 2 tandas of tangos, then 1 tanda of valses, 2 tandas of tangos, and 1 tanda of milongas, in repeating cycles. A variation on this, which you may hear early in the evening, is 1 tango tanda, 1 vals tanda, 1 tango tanda, 1 milonga tanda, 1 tango tanda, a few alternative or neotango songs, and all over again. You can turn this predictability to your advantage by planning ahead so you can find your favorite milonga partner when you know there’s a milonga set coming soon.
Not all DJs stick to this rotation.
Dancing to a live ochestra is very special because leaders do not know how familiar songs will be played. This enlivens their dancing. Live orchestras may not play tandas, and may play only one milonga. This makes changing partners a bit chaotic, so be good humoured about it.
When a live orchestra plays for dancers, it is customary that the dancers show respect and appreciation to the musicians by listening and NOT dancing for the duration of the first song.