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Milonga - Codes, Music and Floorcraft

Music in the Milonga


The music in the milonga is structured in what are called "tandas"   A tanda is a set of three or four songs by the same orchestra or composer and usually from the same musical period.  The tandas will be played in the traditional order, Tangos (3), Tangos (3), Vals (3), Tangos (3), Tangos (3) Milongas (3). (or TTVTTM....and then the sequence repeated.)

The tandas are separated by "cortinas".  Cortina literally means "the curtain".   Thus after each tanda, a non-tango song will be played of 50 seconds.  During the time of the cortina, the dance floor is cleared and you may sit and possibly find a new dance partner for the upcoming tanda, by using a cabeceo, a using of your eyes and a head nod to ask for a dance.   An after thought, is is considered bad taste to dance during the cortinas. 

It is traditional to dance all three songs of the tanda with your partner, unless it is not working out for you or your partner.   A polite thank you is used to excuse oneself from the floor if you wish to stop dancing.     See the 10 principals of tango floorcraft etiquette below for more on dancing.    

The music played at Milongas around the world is from The Old Guard and The Golden Age.     Some of the Old Guard orchestras/ composers were Roberto Firpo, Orquesta Tipica Victor, Carabelli and Francisco Canaro.     Canaro is also considered part of the Early Golden Age composers along with De Caro, Donato and Fresedo.     The Golden Age composers were D'Arienzo, Biagi, Rodriquez, Troilo, Calo, Tannturi, Fredico, Laurenz, D'Agostino and Di Sarli. These great musical pieces were written between 1920 and the 1950s.   You may go anywhere in the world, and a good milonga, will be playing tandas from these orchestras during this magical creative time period for music.    

10 Principals of Tango Floorcraft

10 Principals of Impeccable Tango Floorcraft

posted with the permission of Daniel Boardman, CCIM   Albuquerque, NM

Maintain a lane 
When danced socially, tango is danced in strict circular lanes with couples advancing around the room in a counter clockwise direction (called line-of-dance).   There may be one or more concentric lanes moving simultaneously.   Once in a lane, avoid changing lanes during the dance.  

Look before backing up
Never step backwards against the line of dance blindly.   Likewise, avoid other movements that cause you or your partner to suddenly occupy space behind you in line-of-dance because the dancer behind you may have already begun advancing into that space.  

Avoid passing
Tango is not a race. If the dancer in front of you is advancing more slowly than you would like, alter your dance so that it is more circular and less linear.  Learn to dance well and happily without much forward advancement.

No Parking
Standing and chatting with your partner between songs is fine, but keep an awareness of when the couples around you start dancing again and move accordingly.  If the other dancers have begun to dance and you wish to continue your conversation, simply step off the floor so you don't obstruct them.

Never ZigZag
Cutting in and out of line-of-dance is very poor form and disturbing to the dancers you are cutting in front of.  If you choose to dance in the center of the room, remain there throughout the song.   If you dance in a given lane, finish the dance in that same lane.

Don't monopolize the space
There are many styles of tango.    Some require a relatively large amount of floor space; some require a minimal amount of floor space.  All styles are fine under the right conditions.  If a floor is crowded, dance small, not taking up any more space than any of your fellow dancers.  If the floor is not crowded, and you are so inclined, dance large.

Avoid dangerous moves
Certain moves, such as high in-line boleos, can be dangerous on a crowded floor.  Save them for less crowded conditions.

Don't talk, dance !
Talking while dancing is bad form, reveals the dancer's lack of presence in the moment, and is distracting the other dancers.  Save the conversation for when the music stops.  Teaching or correcting your partner is particularly inappropriate at a milonga.  Save it for the practica. 

Dance with the room
Endeavor to dance with an awareness of all the dancers around you.  Do not allow gaps in the line-of-dance in front of you to form as this will cause a pileup of dancers behind you.  When the music begins, start dancing when the majority of other dancers do.  

Ask before merging
Before stepping onto a crowded dance floor, if you are a leader, make eye contact with the leader whom you wish to enter the floor in front of.  The leader should understand your requests and indicate his assent with a nod or wink, and you may then enter the line-of-dance.

Clear the dance floor when the cortina begins
When the cortina begins to play, everyone should clear the dance floor.   It is considered bad taste to stay on the dance floor and dance to the cortina.   During the cortina you may sit and possibly find a new dance partner for the upcoming tanda, by using a cabeceo.