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:

Distance: What have you learned about tango by not dancing? 10 May 2020 - In this Distance from milongas, I dance alone with the ocean. What are you doing and how are you feeling about tango, with the perspective of some Distance? I created a workbook to help us think about this.
Alarm 12 November 2019 - Some readers have responded to recent posts with alarm. They perceive a darkness. That’s because I decided to take a serious look at tango. While I was calibrating my dusty social science equipment, people kept dropping by to to me about their pain. I am the one who is alarmed. I found a lot of […]
Pain games 16 September 2019 - Is it my ochos? Is it my smile? My friends are skinnier and younger and more charming than me. Is it my dancing or my personality?
The Merry-go-round 2 July 2019 - I watch the milonga. What are we waiting for? An angel to fall from the ceiling into my lap. Because none of these mortals here please me, nor I them. Some ancient thing, some vestige, someone else’s dream – anything that will embrace me, lift me from this chair, and make the merry-go-round spin once […]
The strength of a Tanguera 10 February 2019 - This is a cycle we are all accustomed to. We tango dancers pride ourselves on managing our jealousy with strength, with retribution, with ritual games, with "codes" of etiquette. We believe this strength and savvy calculus buys us something valuable and precious.
Buscamos – The Search 23 December 2018 - She imputes joy to my movement which is in fact the urgent beating of wings to fly aimlessly in a storm that never ends.
If tango were a videogame… 18 July 2017 - If tango were a video game...Level 1: Roses ... You are invited to the Grand Ball, full of unknown delights. You are having such fun and you are grateful! Level 2: Crack ... You rush from dance to dance in ecstasy, gathering all kinds of treasure. You are addicted, selfish, insatiable.
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.
Fairy dust 22 May 2017 - Femininity is always a fantasy. There is no lasting escape from our strength and men's frailty. (There are other ways to understand it, but these moments are also rare.) The respite and pleasure you receive from tango is a precious gift, a facet, a moment of "altered perception", and an addictive drug. Like every drug, like every addiction, it is not reality, it is damaging, and you will come down. To get real with this retrograde gender activity you've got yourself hooked in to, you need to decide that you are not going to suffer. And there are other ways than leaving the milonga when there are too many women.To stop suffering the absence of fantasy-ecstasy-femininity requires that you accept all of who you are.
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 […]

Introduction

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Power is the courage, confidence, and competence to make things happen. I want to create in a way that’s incomparable and define my own compensation package. You too?

Syntax of Power is a raw, potent, and spare revelation of how I got to where I am and how I take on the struggle every day.

This book is not about tango, it’s about everything else.

It’s about stepping into the darkness of change, learning how to take care of yourself, and making things happen.

Dyv stands for Duro y Vio. We were inspired by a 2007 conference at Harvard University about tango as a transnational culture. Also we wanted to create something that would help people to imagine a queerer tango. We forbid ourselves to use the word ‘passion’ and instead tried to articulate the experience more precisely.

Argentine Tango is more than an elaborate and difficult dance, it is an international culture of intimacy, desire, and dignity. No mere romance or memoir, the intricately woven stories evoke tango’s true mysteries … the elation, the frustration, the compulsion…

We published the book in 2009. Dancers asked “how did you know what I was feeling?”

Silences in history. Silences by code. Silences of fear. You already know that Tango’s silences can be sublime and they can be devastating.

What I do in my blog is use myself as a lens – sometimes a microscope, sometimes a telescope. I try to be as honest with myself and you as words concede. Then I try to find a deeper meaning and imagine a pathway for us.

A blog post can be a fragment, a wisp of inspiration, an outline for thinking. A book must complete and reconcile it all. Now I drag the social scientist to the scene to enumerate the facts of the case, the mystery which brought both stardom and tragedy to my life.

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