Archive for the ‘Codigos’ Category

Which technique do you prefer? bend over or leg lift

February 28, 2017


In 1996, I joined a tour group from Los Angeles for my first visit to the Buenos Aires milongas. The tour organizers knew the milonga codes and customs, including changing shoes in the restroom, not at the table.  Most women go wearing shoes for dancing.  I remember attending the milonga at Club Almagro on Medrano and going directly to the restroom to change into my dance shoes.  It’s one thing changing shoes for dance classes at your local studio, but the custom is different in the milongas of Buenos Aires.  You won’t see the milongueros changing their shoes . . . ever.  Even soccer players get dressed in a locker room, not on the field.

Oh, how things have changed in the milongas.

I don’t understand why so many women today change shoes at the table.  Where do they wash their hands before the first tanda?  Do they think no one is watching them?  Is it such a long walk to the restroom to change one’s shoes and attend to other personal matters? It’s such a big time saver to do these things at the table in full view of everyone.

There are two techniques of shoe changing at the table.  The photo above shows the “bend over” technique.  First, she removes her street shoes and leaves them under the table or packs them away in a bag.  How elegant is it to see bare feet? The milonga isn’t on the beach.  She may even take a moment to shake foot powder into her dance shoes or on her feet.  Buckling the straps takes a few minutes with the knees together.  Why waste time going to the restroom when the “bend over” is accomplished in full view of everyone?  Men get to size up your butt.



The second is the “leg lift” technique which has two variations: one is a knee lift to the chest; the other is placing a foot on the leg. The latter allows the woman seated next to you to get a whiff of your smelly feet if she is unlucky enough sitting out the tanda.



If you’re on the edge of the dance floor or near an aisle, you offer a private show for the men.  I couldn’t believe the scene yesterday in Obelisco Tango.  It was so outrageous that I stood up and stared at the woman changing her shoes with her skirt completely open as if there was no one else in the room.  Two men seated in front of me didn’t miss the show, and she got a tanda very soon with one of them.  I pointed out the scene to the other women at the table who both replied they always change shoes at the table.  A few minutes later, one of them asked me for directions to the ladies room and was wearing her dance shoes.



The two women next to me are culprits. The woman with her back to the camera asked me for directions to the ladies’ room and has no problem with changing shoes at the table.

Tango is macho?

January 25, 2017

Recent conversations prompted my search on this topic. The following is a translation of an article by a blogger in Europe.


In the milonga you listen to comments from people close to you that sometimes make you happy, others make you sad, others leave you puzzled, some annoy you, and others just do not understand them, let alone in a society like the one we live in today.

It was early and the milongueros were arriving little by little, greeting others, occupying tables, changing shoes, and preparing for the night. Then a young girl, whom I’ve known for a long time, arrived. After greeting one another, we decided to catch up, but as usual, we ended up talking about tango, the milonguero codes, hugs, what we like and didn’t like about them.

She told me that she likes a firm close embrace and that she does not care for those in which she can barely move, since it is the man who marks and the woman who follows, and that, after all, tango is a macho dance. I also like the close and firm embrace, but I also like that you can breathe in it and be flexible, and what I definitely do not like is for the man to ignore me and do not bother to “listen” to me when I dance.

I was surprised by her explanation that tango is a macho dance. In my opinion, no dance is and, even less, tango. He is the milonguero – and for nothing they all are , who is sexist, whether they dance tango or not. What is certain is that if he is macho, it is convenient to say that tango is also, so as to excuse his behavior with the milongueras and in the milonga.

Some also say that the cabeceo is sexist. Again I think that is a tremendous nonsense. Maybe the one that nods is, but the eye contact itself is not. In the eye contact, it is the woman who looks at the milonguero with whom she wants to dance. Then it is they who perceive her glance, if they share the desire to dance with her, extend their invitation in the form of head movement; and finally it is she who confirms it or not. The nodding exchange is a totally bilateral non-verbal agreement.

I firmly believe that tango is a channel of communication between two people who embrace each other. What makes this communication bilateral is mutual respect and listening on both sides to the other person, in which there is a proposal and an acceptance or not of the movement. It is a free tango, nothing macho if the person proposing the movement isn’t, one who respects and has equal consideration for the other person. However, what makes this communication one-sided is a milonguero who imposes his will, who does not count on her except to follow him and do what he commands. This last case is the clear example of a macho milonguero, who surely in the privacy of his house is exactly the same: authoritarian, with an immense ego and a very accented pride.

And what does machismo have to do with tango? The same as fashion, cinema, relationships between people, labor relations,  family, and many other aspects of life itself.  Tango is just one more element in time and space, in which women have been treated and considered in a certain way throughout history.



The rules in Cachirulo

December 8, 2016


I noticed that the codes of Cachirulo on the wall in Obelisco Tango.  There are no excuses for not following them.

Change is inevitable

November 18, 2016

Once upon a time…

There were no tourists in the milongas, only portenos.  All the men wore suits and ties.  Women wore dresses. There was respect for the codes, and men did the inviting.  You were given a front row table for your excellent dance skills.  Men and women wore street shoes for tango.

Today, foreigners are present in most of the milongas, but that wasn’t the case twenty years ago.  Men aren’t the only ones wearing pants or doing the inviting.  Anything goes these days in the milongas — shorts, sneakers, jeans.  Casual dress is more common for men and women.  Women change clothing and shoes, pack a bag, comb their hair, touch up their makeup at the table as if no one is watching.  All the women wear  shoes made for tango.  First-time visitors get a front row table on the dance floor and then dance tandas with milongueros without knowing how to dance well or anything about the milonga codes.

A friend and I were discussing change and the evolution of tango.  We agree that change is inevitable in life.  A dance originates from the music.  We listen to the same music from the 1930s and 40s.  Personal styles don’t change.  Tango is a feeling danced by two.  The embrace is basic.  The dance is different, and so is the embrace.  Today we have “thinking tango” and “feeling tango.”  It’s not difficult to tell them apart.

I danced recently with a man from Europe.  He moved well with the music, but he lacked the firm embrace I’m used to with portenos.  Although he has visited Buenos Aires many times to dance in the milongas and has taken classes with portenos, his embrace was typical for foreigners.  He dances tango, but hasn’t integrated the feeling of tango with an embrace.  He prefers to use the embrace from his country even when dancing in Buenos Aires.  I believe the main reason tango is changing is lack of cultural understanding and commercialism.

An example of tango’s evolution gone awry appeared on the cover of a tango magazine.  Two shirtless men with bare legs in high heels was the most shocking cover photo I had ever seen.  This style is sold as tango in Buenos Aires and around the world.  If men want to dance with men, and women with women, that’s fine; but they show respect for tango as a social dance with codes.


What was she thinking?

March 4, 2016

Sometimes it seems like the ladies’ room at a milonga is off-limits to most of the women.  I agree that the facilities are not the best nor is the space adequate, but it’s the only place for us to prepare in privacy before we begin dancing.

I swear that there are women who don’t know the inside of the ladies’ room.  They prefer to use the front row table on the dance floor as their dressing room.  On many occasions I’ve wanted to ask women if they think no one sees them taking off clothing, changing shoes, putting on makeup, and combing hair at the table, all of which we can do comfortably in the ladies’ room.  Perhaps they feel they save time at the table.  Their preparation ritual is on display.  Nothing goes unnoticed in a milonga.  The only way to wash hands at the table is with gel alcohol; most women don’t bother to carry a bottle.

The women who get ready in the ladies’ room comment about the women who get ready at the table.  There are a few women who change their shoes at the table and then go to the ladies’ room.  I wonder why the ladies’ room isn’t their first stop.

A woman changing her shoes at the table has to bend over or lift the leg to buckle the shoes.  In the process, her skirt is up and her bare feet exposed — a table-cloth doesn’t give privacy at the table.  They don’t consider others nearby who may get a whiff of smelly shoes.  It’s worse after a night of dancing.

It’s bad enough when we get assaulted in the ladies’ room by spray deodorant or perfume that isn’t ours.  But this also happens in the milonga.

I couldn’t believe it.  I thought I saw her spraying her underarms once while seated front and center in Lo de Celia.  Then she did it again last week.  What can you say to a woman who is so desperate to dance every tanda that she won’t even retire to the ladies’ room to spray her underarms in private?  The scent reached me a few tables away in seconds.

What was she thinking?   That no one noticed it?  That the women seated on either side of her didn’t inhale the spray?

When it’s time to leave, there is another session of packing up and changing shoes at the table.  Phew!

I’ll never forget Jorge’s response when a woman seated close to his table changed her shoes.  He looked at me and pinched his nose.

Cachirulo and the codigos

October 8, 2015

Tango Angeles in Los Angeles, California, did a live radio interview in July with Hector Pellozo and Norma Zugasti, organizers of the milonga Cachirulo in Buenos Aires.  They are known for enforcing traditional codes in their milongas.  Hector gives out penalty cards like a referee: green for the first offense, yellow for the second, and a red for the third. If you get a red card, you cannot return to their milonga.

Do blonds have more fun?

February 7, 2015


In the days of the confiterias bailables, the young milongueros had reserved tables in each one.  No one sat at someone else’s table.  For them, it was like having the same seat at the dinner table with family.  If they didn’t show up for dinner, the seat remained empty.

I observed this seating hierarchy at Club Almagro during my first visit in 1996, where the milongueros viejos earned the right to their tables at the edge of the dance floor.  And so did milongueras.  I sat against the wall where I could see and learn the codes of the milonga.

There are milongas that are very popular with foreigners.  Now that foreigners come all year, there are milongas with a regular rotation of new faces for the local dancers.

Those who are regulars today at milongas have reserved tables.  They don’t have to call for a reservation.  The policy at Lo de Celia is to call when one is not going to attend or arrive by 7:00.

Emilia has a reserved seat in the first row center on the left side in Lo de Celia on Wednesday, the only day she dances.  She arrived one Wednesday as usual before 7:00pm, only to find that her reserved seat had been given to a foreigner who came for the first time.  Emilia had a smile and acted calmly about the situation, but she was very upset.  She is short, dark and older than the foreigner,  a tall blond.  Her partners had to look for her at another table to dance.  Jimena decides where people sit in Lo de Celia.  She doesn’t know the codes of the milongas and the importance of seating.  The beautiful people get preferential seating in other milongas.  The following Wednesday, Emilia sent a text message that she was coming, to ensure that her seat would be reserved for her.

The tall blond didn’t dance many tandas.  She was only passing time at Lo de Celia before going down the street to Salon Leonesa.  When she wasn’t dancing, she checking her cellphone.  I noticed that one man invited her for four tandas in two hours, another for two tandas. I gave her until 8:30pm, but she stayed a little past 9:00 before going to another milonga where I imagine she dances every tanda.  She doesn’t know that the men are selective at Lo de Celia.  They prefer dancing with their regular partners each week than the newcomers who disappear.

Cabeceo confusion

January 2, 2015

This is a controversial topic of social tango.  I begin with my comment published on another blog.

The cabeceo is not foolproof, but when practiced regularly, it is the only way to dance in Buenos Aires. The cabeceo is an agreement to enjoy ten minutes in the embrace of another.

It is the man who initiates the invitation with a movement of the head while he waits for the woman’s acceptance with a head movement as well. If she isn’t interested in dancing with him, she merely turns her head and looks in another direction. No one is the wiser, and the man doesn’t suffer public embarrassment as he does when inviting a woman at her table.

Once the invitation is accepted/confirmed by the woman, she waits at her table until the man reaches a spot on the floor for her to join him. He will be making eye contact with her at this point. That is her confirmation that he invited her and not the woman seated next to or behind her. A woman should not go to the floor until the man is there. The man doesn’t escort her to the floor, but merely waits for her.

After dancing the tanda, the man escorts the woman to the edge of the floor where she can conveniently return to her table; he doesn’t go to her table…ever.

Argentine women know that it is the man who invites them to dance, but they let the men know by glancing at them from across the room. If a woman never looks at a man, he can never invite her. That’s the way it has been in the milongas for decades. Those who respect the codes continue using the cabeceo. 

* * * * *

 Cabeceo – In Buenos Aires, it is only the men who ask for a dance.  Most big cities follow the Buenos Aires custom.  The accepted way to invite a person to dance is to catch someone’s eye, smile and nod, perhaps raising your eyebrows in an inquiring expression or directing a nod towards the dance floor. The response, if the invitation is accepted, is to smile and nod back, whereupon both people walk to the dance floor and dance.  The purpose of the cabeceo, is to make the invitation to dance less stressful and the possibility to decline more discreet. Essentially you can avoid receiving or having to say a harsh verbal “No”. It spares everybody’s feelings.  It is also acceptable for a gentleman to “walk-up” and ask someone to dance, but be sensitive to that person’s body language/eye contact in case they don’t want to dance.  If you don’t succeed in catching a person’s eye and eliciting a smile, please don’t resort to  positioning yourself squarely in front of a person so they can’t avoid looking at you. It is considered very rude. In short, Ladies, Don’t Ask.

* * * * *

Invitation to dance: It is customary for only the men to invite ladies to dance, not the other way round. The invitation and acceptance/rejection to dance are only made through eye contact – known as cabeceo. At the conclusion of the dance, the men should accompany the ladies to their tables.

Comment: Cabaceo is a good approach to invite, but not widely practiced in Singapore, or many parts around the world outside of Buenos Aires, largely due to familiarity of the community. It is perfectly fine in Singapore for ladies to invite men to dance.

 * * * * *

The cabeceo is perhaps one of the most important codes of all. It is the way that people invite and agree to dance together. It is a system of mutual respect and delicacy. Gentlemen invite the ladies from a relative distance by catching her eye and nodding. If she would like to accept the invitation she will nod back. If the woman does not want to be invited to dance, she must subtly look the other way or not look his way in the first place. This system ensures that women are not dancing out of obligation and men are not having to have their advances rejected or feelings hurt. In the traditional milongas in Argentina, inviting a follower verbally at her table is considered an encroachment and often rejected out of hand. Advancing toward a lady and nodding aggressively at her defies the whole reason and mutual consideration that is at the heart of the cabeceo. Make sure from a distance that you are requesting, not demanding and that there is truly a mutual desire on her part. Likewise, ladies, you can make your desire known by looking at the gentlemen you may like to dance with, but staring intensely or incessantly can feel invasive and defeats your purpose – again make sure you are checking in and requesting, not demanding. Once the agreement has been sealed, he will come to meet her at the edge of the floor closest to her table and the couple will dance the tanda together. At the end of the tanda, the leader will accompany her back to her chair or to the edge of the floor where they met. Leaving her in the middle of the floor is considered bad form.

* * * * *

And from in Dubai, UAE:

The most appropriate way to ask a lady to dance is the use of cabeceo. This is an art and is to be mastered.  It involves catching the attention of the lady you want to dance with by the way you are looking at her.  If the lady wants to dance with you, she will acknowledge you by the way she looks at you.  You will then nod towards the dance floor and she will indicate her consent by subtly nodding back.  When that happens you walk towards her, extend your hand and guide her to the dance floor.  There, you will enter the line of dance without disrupting its flow and begin dancing.   If the lady does not want to dance with you, she will simply look away when you try to catch her attention.

And then I came across this:

3. “Since either the leader or the follower can initiate it, cabeceo actually allows women to invite men, without having to break the social taboos.”
This is the best argument so far in favor of cabeceo. I’ve always found it to be deeply unfair that men get all the initiative when it comes to deciding who dances with whom. Cabeceo makes the process of invitations symmetric — either the woman or the man can initiate the contact. In fact, I’ll speculate that this is the major (unstated) reason why many ladies prefer cabeceo. But then — wouldn’t it be much, MUCH simpler to altogether abandon the antiquated patriarchal taboo that bans women from inviting? Wouldn’t _that_ be a step up! It’s 2012 you know, not 1912!

* * * * *

And the most surprising text appears on the site for the Denver Tango Marathon which claims to hold milongas like Buenos Aires:

The “Cabeceo” or, How to Get a Dance.

A particularly charming aspect of tango is that the women get to ask the men to dance by looking for their favorite partner, and “giving him the nod”. Across a crowded room, this feels electrifying! He has accepted my glance! She has chosen ME to dance with! Now, the man can saunter confidently across the floor, knowing that as he approaches, the woman will rise from her seat, and let me take her hand for a dance.

The feminist approach probably appeals to those who want to win popularity contests, show off their repertoire of embellishments, and new shoes on the dance floor, but I imagine there are men hiding in corners to avoid them.

I scan the room when the tanda begins if I’m interested in dancing.  If a man is looking in my direction, and I want to dance, I hold my gaze, wait a split second for his invitation (either with a tilt of his head and/or lip movement: bailas?) and then I respond.  He has chosen me for the tanda.  And that’s the way I like it.

Once is enough

November 4, 2014

An invitation to dance with a head movement by the man to a woman isn’t common in tango communities around the world as in Buenos Aires since the 1940s.  It’s the tourist season in the milongas, and those who don’t practice the cabeceo regularly at home are using it here.

Milongueros have years of practice inviting women to dance with a subtle movement of the head.  They choose a partner depending on the orquesta and nod when the woman looks in their direction.  Once is enough.  If a woman looks away (indicating she’s not interested), there is no aggression or obligation.

A newcomer from Europe tried to invite a friend (also a newcomer to Buenos Aires) at my table with the cabeceo.  She did not want to accept his invitation, so she looked away.  She came to Buenos Aires to dance with Argentines, not foreigners.  He didn’t understand her negative response and kept trying to invite her.  An invitation by cabeceo has two possibilities — yes and no.  No means no.  The newcomer thought she didn’t see him, so he approached our table.  She already told me that she didn’t want to dance with him, but acquiesced.  He said he wanted to dance a tanda with me, knowing she would share that information with me.

The milongueros dance with women of the same height.  It’s rare to see a very tall milonguero dancing with a very short woman.  This newcomer from Europe is more than six feet tall, and I am petite.  I had no interest in dancing with him.

He was relentless with the cabeceo.  I couldn’t walk across the floor and speak with him.  The only way I could get my message across to him was with body language.  I extended my arm, pointed my index finger, and moved it emphatically in his direction.  He got the message.

Foreign women have more practice with the cabeceo in Buenos Aires than foreign men.  The women wait for an invitation.  Once is enough.

How to leave the dance floor

July 3, 2014

I’ve written about this before in a previous post, and here are some examples of how to leave the dance floor (thanks to Jamie Lin and Thyne Kong from Hong Kong, who posed for this series of photos in my apartment).


There are men who like to make a quick get-away by returning to their table without guiding the woman to the edge of the dance floor where she entered it.  If he’s not returning to his table, he may stop to greet a woman who he wants to line up for the next tanda.  There is no courtesy in this behavior.  The tanda is over, and he’s done his job, or so he thinks.  Gentlemen complete this simple gesture during the cortina music.


This looks awkward, and it is.  When the man doesn’t release the woman from his embrace by lowering his arm, this is the result.  It forces her to either raise her left arm over his or leave it hanging behind as in the photo above.


If it was a first tanda, a man is trying to let the woman know he’d like to get to know her better and dance again.  Action speaks louder than words.


It’s like walking down the street with a friend in Buenos Aires.  This is appropriate and very common between regular dance partners and couples.


Handholding is a part of daily life in Buenos Aires where it’s normal to see parents holding their children’s hands while walking them to and from school.  When it comes to a man and a woman, this action speaks clearly — we are a couple.  A dance partner held my hand while we walked off the floor yesterday.  He was sending a nonverbal message — let’s get together.  If a woman isn’t comfortable walking off the floor this way, all she has to do is release her hand from his.


Although more common among couples, this double embrace is used by regular dance partners who have something to talk about while walking off the floor.  It also gives others something to talk about.


Oh well, what can I say?  It’s inappropriate for the milonga, but it happens when no one is watching.


This is how the milongueros viejos guide their partners to the edge of the floor at the end of a tanda.  They may give a gentle squeeze to her arm before releasing the hand.


And another is forearm contact around her waist.  The woman feels accompanied this way.  It completes the tanda.