How do dancers manage the intimacy of tango? (the codigos)

Close embrace tango involves touching another person with half or more of your body. This is very intimate. It is also -perhaps surprisingly- very safe. In 6 years of dancing all over the world nearly every night, I’ve only inexperienced an inappropriate gesture with one dancer.

The codigos of tango are a set of “codes” that make some 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 when we mix up the gender roles. Eventually a new set of codes will develop that incorporate the complexities and ambiguities that changing gender roles introduces.

Here’s our complete guide to Etiquette Guide to the Codigos and Beyond.

But the heart is another matter. Here’s an essay I wrote as a beginner about the emotional experience of tango.

In short, some guidelines:

  • 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 gave 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 when the cortina (curtain) falls on the current tanda (set of 4 songs), the curtain falls on whatever is going on with you and your partner. Say “thank you”, and walk away. As you walk away, the feelings end. You are not welcome to “hang out” with the person just because you had a good dance.
  • We do not give last names and we do not ask personal questions in tango. It is a space of anonymity. People in relationships may use tango to manage their excess desire or their frustrations. People not in a relationship may prefer dancing as a form of contact, and not want any more. This space and experience is precious and sacred. Take care of it!  This also means that tango is an escape from class status issues. Everyone interacts as equals.
  • In order to feel safe with the intimacy of tango, it needs to be a social space in which people feel protected from being “hit on”. 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 very 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 queer group. Make it clear what you are up to!)
  • If you are asking someone to dance who has a partner, introduce yourself to 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 making a contract with the partner that you will respect their relationship during the dance.

If you want more detail about tango and emotions check these posts:

Black Magic White Tango 2 June 2017 - I believe that there is a black tango and a white tango, like black magic and white magic. If we recognize that tango is a powerful thing, then we realize we can use it for selfish purposes or generous ones. We can realize people who are using it in different ways. Tango is not this or that. Tango is power, and a practice for relating to other people. You wield it.
Better than Sex 8 January 2017 - When Argentine Tango is good –when the partners are able to maintain a sublime level of connection, moving as one– it is absolutely rapturous. It feels like [Hollywood] Movie Sex looks: smooth, passionate, consuming. This experience is so intense that it can trigger romantic emotions, the sensation of being in love – even though we […]
How to be a Good Man, as you become an Advanced Tanguero 3 January 2017 - Congratulations! After years of hard work, you are now mastering this dance! You can make girls feel really good and happy.  Girls are starting to look for you, snuggle you, hang around you. This feels great! You’re a nice guy; you are not planning to use your newfound advantage to become a womanizer, but you […]
Code of Ethics for Tango Communities 13 November 2014 - A code of ethics has three parts, the preamble which gives it context, the fundamental moral principles, and standards of conduct.
Emotions on the dance floor 20 November 2013 - Muscle control is just the entry ticket to the party. We still have choices to make about how to interact, what parts of ourselves to share, and how deeply we seek to connect.
Romain Baillon tango photography Medical report: Tango alleviates symptoms of depression 27 January 2012 - In the last few years, health and medicine journalists have seized on the idea that dancing is good for you, not only physically, but emotionally. The Sydney Morning Herald published a short report on recent Australian research regarding tango and depression. Researchers compared tango with cross training and meditation, practices already thought to be good […]
Couples and tango partners 2 June 2010 - Somehow, in tango we are especially vulnerable to criticism. Perhaps it is because dancing tango means working at about 125% of not only our physical capacities, but our intellectual, emotional, and even spiritual ones as well. In what other moment of our life is so much of ourselves on the line?
Romain Baillon tango photo How do dancers manage the intimacy of tango? (the codigos) 10 February 2008 - The codigos of tango are a set of “codes” that make some structure around the intimacy of tango.

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