Archive for the ‘Codigos’ Category

Ten commandments of the milongueros

April 19, 2019

These are the unwritten rules that every milonguero respects.

1.  Thou shalt always dress well.  A milonguero bathes and shaves before the milonga. A pressed suit, clean shirt and tie are his uniform. Trimmed hair, shined shoes, and scent of cologne complete his attire for the milonga.

2.  Thou shalt dance ones own style.  A milonguero is a self-taught dancer with his own style, who can dance elegantly with any woman and make her happy.  A milonguero has learned by observing others, but he never copied them.

3.  Thou shalt dance well or not at all.  If there is no woman with whom he can dance his best, a milonguero is content to listen to the music and observe the dancing.

4.  Thou shalt dance for yourself and your partner.  A milonguero dances what he feels and transmits that feeling to his partner.  He doesn’t dance to perform or for applause.

5.  Thou shalt treat women with respect.  A milonguero never approaches a woman at her table or greets women while entering the milonga.

6.  Thou shalt invite a woman to dance from the table. A milonguero uses either a tilt of the head or movement of the lips to invite a woman to dance.  The invitation is subtle and not obvious to others in the salon.  Once a woman refuses his invitation, he will not invite her again.

7.  Thou shalt not dance with another man’s partner.  A milonguero takes time to watch the floor for several tandas so that he knows if a woman he wants to invite has a commitment with another man.  This is not always obvious since they sit separately, but dance only with one another.  A milonguero learned patience.

8.  Thou shalt dance in the floor space available.  A milonguero dances compactly without interfering with others dancing.  If he touches other dancers, he quickly acknowledges it by raising his hand.

9.  Thou shalt not dance consecutive tandas. A milonguero dances only when the music inspires him.  He can wait hours to hear his favorite orchestra or a certain tanda that inspires him to dance.  A milonguero prefers quality over quantity of dances.

10. Thou shalt not be seen leaving the milonga with a woman.  A milonguero arranges to meet a woman on the street.  He always leaves the milonga alone, just as he enters it.


“The codes are like the commandments which were born with the tango.”  — Ricardo Vidort

Encounter with a machista

January 4, 2019

It’s a man’s world, but times are changing.  Women around the world are demanding change in the things as they are in a male-dominated society.  We have power and have to own it.

I had an interesting situation today while walking to the bank.  Buenos Aires is a walking city.  It’s normal for men to move aside for women, young to change their path for seniors.  There is courtesy on the street.

I was walking next to the buildings on a wide sidewalk when I was suddenly confronted by a man from the other direction.  He decided that I should move for him because he wanted to enter an apartment building a few feet away.  In all of my twenty years in Buenos Aires, this was the first time I met someone who didn’t behave as a gentleman.

We were standing there for a few minutes.  I smiled and asked if he knows how to dance.  It felt like I was meeting someone on the dance floor.  No, I don’t dance, he said.  I was speaking in a normal tone of voice while smiling at him.  I said, gentlemen move for ladies.  You’re aggressive, he said, and I’m no gentleman.

If I had to deal with this situation regularly, I might have left the country years ago.  The milongueros viejos I’ve known over the years are gentlemen.

When I entered and left the bank, gentlemen held the door for me.  That’s the way it is.  Courtesy hasn’t gone out of style.

Which is your technique — gazing or staring?

November 26, 2017

Over the years, several milongueros viejos have told me how important subtlety was when inviting a woman to dance if she refused him by looking in another direction.  After one refusal from a woman, a milonguero viejo didn’t look again in her direction.  That way they avoided public embarrassment after a refusal when the mirada/cabeceo came into use in the early 1940s.  Men moved from standing in the center of the floor to sitting at tables*.  It wasn’t obvious to anyone who invited who until two people united to dance.

I like watching the men who nonchalantly make the slightest movement (from where they’re seated) to invite a woman on the other side of the room or a table nearby.  That takes practice and perfect timing.

There is a big difference between gazing and staring at a stranger across the dance floor.  Often just a glance is all it takes.

gaze: look steadily and intently, especially in admiration, surprise, or thought.

stare: look fixedly or vacantly at someone or something with one’s eyes wide open.

glance: take a brief or hurried look.

The stare technique may only result in the other person looking away as if not to notice you.  The gaze technique is clear yet subtle.  Glances with a smile are nice surprises.

Which technique do you use successfully?

*Alito was the first to use tables in the salon in Centro Region Leonesa.  That way the men didn’t have to leave the dance to have a drink.

Nonstop dancing

August 2, 2017

They were sitting right behind me in Obelisco Tango.  I heard the woman speaking in English with another friend at the table.  When she got up to dance with the taxi dancer, I went to talk with the friend.  She said that Anita is from NYC and was there for two hours of dancing.

Later I introduced myself to Anita, and we got to know one another in a matter of an hour.  She mentioned several times that “I’m paying him to dance with me,” and she didn’t want to sit out a tanda.  She was in Buenos Aires for a conference until Saturday, and she decided to make a point of dancing tango, too.

There are so many milongas in NYC, though I know things are different there.  She was curious about why all the men were on one side of the floor and the women on the opposite side.  She asked if there were any couples at the milonga.  She didn’t know much Spanish, and her taxi dancer didn’t speak much English.  She was happy anyway.

“In New York, we do lots of fancy steps in tango.  Why is everyone just walking to the music?”  Well, I explained, in Buenos Aires it’s what you feel in the music that matters, not the steps.

Why don’t you give close embrace a try with your dance partner?  You may even like it.  After all, you’re in Buenos Aires and have an Argentine partner.  He was willing to try, and so was she.  I took out my camera to record a short video of them.  The smile on her face as she returned to the table was confirmation that she liked it. That was her last tanda.

I tried convincing her to stay at the milonga after her taxi dancer’s time had expired, but he escorted her to the hotel in a taxi.  We were so engaged in conversation that she forgot to pay the drink bill.  The waitress spoke with me about it, and I paid it.

I gave Anita my card so I could send her the photo and the video of her night at Obelisco when she writes.  She’s back in NYC now.  I hope I’ll still be dancing tango when I reach her age.

An interception from left field

July 25, 2017

I wasn’t wearing my glasses yesterday in El Maipu de Lucy y Dany, yet I didn’t have a problem seeing that Carmelo was looking directly at me for the next tanda.  I accepted with a smile.  He was right next to the bar at the first table, no more than twelve feet from me.  I was at my usual table in the second row. I got up to join him and saw another woman arrived to dance with him.  I returned to my table.

A man saw what happened and invited me for the tanda.  I accepted.  As we entered the floor, Carmelo apologized to me for the interception, although it wasn’t clear to me.  I let him know it wasn’t a problem.

Later Carmelo invited me for a tanda.  There was no doubt in my mind that he invited me, since there were no other women near me.  He explained that he invited me to dance earlier, not the other woman.  She entered the milonga after smoking a cigarette outside and took advantage of the moment for a very convenient interception while walking by.  She made no apology for it.  I refer to them as piranhas.  Her table was on the opposite end of the room.  We laughed about it.

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.