Stealthy and almost cat-like with an unmistakable staccato feel,
the tango has a dramatic attitude expressed in the music, the lyrics, and, of course, the dance.
(Milonga at Ultimate Tango)
You know it's the tango when you see it.
When learning and talking about tango, it's common to hear the term “milonga.”
Most tango enthusiasts are familiar with the milonga as a type of music. It could also be a tango genre — specifically the “Tango Milonga Vals.”
But did you know that milonga also refers to a tango dance party?
Understand the term “milonga” and its meanings, and discover its magic as an event.
Milonga: A Dance, Music, or Tango Social?
Milonga is a term with different meanings in tango. It can refer to the music, the dance, or the social event where people gather to dance.
Tango Milonga is a specific tango music genre characterized by a fast tempo and an upbeat feel.
This type of milonga is often played in 4/4 or 2/4 time.
On the other hand,
the milonga dance is a fast, staccato tango that's usually danced in close embrace.
It has a simple 8-count beat, and the steps are primarily forward and backward movements.
the term milonga also refers to a tango social event.
The next time you hear “milonga,” make sure you know what it refers to. Is it the music, the dance, or the tango party? In this article, we will explore milonga as a tango social event.
Milonga, the Tango Party
Milonga as a tango party can be large or small, formal or informal.
At a milonga, you'll usually find a mix of people called the “milongueros” — some who are there to dance and others who are there to listen to the music and watch the dancers.
Milongas typically take place in tango clubs or studios, but they can also be held in other venues such as restaurants, bars, or even outdoors in parks.
(Milonga at Ultimate Tango)
The milonga became popular in the 1870s in Argentina and Uruguay.
Developed from a type of singing known as "payada de contrapunto," milonga meant "many words" as an African word.
According to Live About, it is a fusion of many cultural dances, including the following:
Early Argentine cowboys called “gauchos” used to gather together in open places, playing the guitar and singing about life.
The black slaves who attended the gatherings could not understand the songs, so they referred to them as “milongas.” Eventually, the word also referred to social gatherings in general.
What happens at milongas?
You'll find people of all ages and from all walks of life at a milonga. The one common denominator is their love for tango.
Most milongas have a traditional structure that includes pre-milonga classes. There are usually introductory classes for beginners who want to learn basic tango steps before joining a milonga. Moreover, milongas have codes or “códigos.”
Milonga Tango Códigos
The tango codes or tango códigos are a set of unwritten rules that govern the milonga social event.
They are there to ensure that everyone has a good time and the party runs smoothly. According to Siempre Milonguero, some of the most important tango códigos include the following:
The cabeceo is the way people communicate that they want to dance with each other.
It's nonverbal communication that's done by making eye contact and slightly nodding the head.
For example, if you see someone you want to dance with across the room, you would make eye contact and nod your head. If they return the gesture, it's a sign that they want to dance with you as well.
The cabeceo ensures that no one dances out of obligation.
In traditional Buenos Aires milongas, it is considered rude to directly ask someone to dance. What if it's difficult to make eye contact in a milonga? Men may stand or walk around the room to get closer to the women, keep their distance, and then make eye contact.
Upon accepting the invitation, the man walks over to the woman without cutting across the floor. The woman must keep eye contact with the man until they meet. Everyone must avoid disturbing other dancers already on the floor as the dance floor is a sacred space.
A tanda is a set of tango songs played one after the other. Each tanda has about three to five songs.
During the tanda, couples stay on the floor and dance to all the songs in that set. It's considered rude to leave the floor during a tanda unless you really need to. For example, if you need to go to the bathroom, it's best to wait until the tanda is over.
In case you really don't feel a connection with your partner, or you're just not enjoying the tanda, it is recommended to last until the end of the song, say thank you, and walk back to your seat.
There is also an order of tandas in every milonga. According to Arthur Murray, there are three different dances: the tango, the vals, and the milango. Generally, the order of the tango music is the following:
Tango Tanda x3
Tango Tanda x3
Milongas are welcoming because you will mostly be dancing tangos.
If you only know how to dance the tango, you'll still be able to enjoy the milonga. Of course, you can try the other dances as well.
The vals is a waltz danced to tango music.
It's a bit faster than traditional waltzes and has a different rhythm.
The milango, on the other hand, is very close to modern tango but more relaxed.
A cortina is a short break in between tandas. Simply walk your partner away from the dance floor - if you are a leader or wait to be taken back to your table - if you are a follower. Cortina serves as a transition between tandas and gives dancers a chance to rest or look for a new partner.
The music during the cortina is usually non-tango music. It can be classical music, pop, rock, salsa, or whatever the local DJ finds appropriate. Some DJs like to play with Cortina, and they will put the song that somehow corresponds to the tanda s/he just played. It can be a. song that comments on the most current politic or the most current season. Maybe a love song. Some DJ-s will repeat the same song every cortina, and some will have different songs for each cortina.
It is not recommended to dance during. Even if you hear your favorite song, resist the urge to dance and wait for the next tanda. Cortinas are between
30-60 sec, you barely have time to walk out of the dance floor. And if you start dancing because you hear your favorite salsa, you will lose the opportunity to pick your partner for the next tanda.
However - there are exceptions.
Since it used to be that the whole family would attend the Milonga, in the old times, there would be a moment when the orchestra started playing other songs, so the non-tangueros could enjoy it too. When the Rock-n-Roll age started - they would play that. So it might be custom in your local community to do just that - and play a tanda of Salsa or whatever your community likes to dance.
Navigation and Behavior in Milongas
A milonga can be overwhelming for beginners. There are so many people, and getting lost in the crowd is easy.
It's important to be aware of your surroundings and to dance in a way that doesn't disrupt other couples on the floor.
Once you get the hang of it, milongas can leave you feeling breathless and ecstatic, wanting to dance all night long.
Be mindful of the ronda and the line-of-dance. Milongueros dance counter-clockwise; typically, there is an outside lane of the ronda.
The milonga may have second and third inside lanes if the floor is crowded. Here are some tips from Siempre Milonguero on navigating your first milonga:
1. Leaders Are Responsible
If a leader enters the floor when people are already dancing, they must make eye contact with the leader they want to enter in front of. They can proceed when the leader signals that it is okay to enter the floor in front of them.
leaders must ensure that they are sharing the dance floor responsibly.
Awareness of the line of dance and other couples on the floor is crucial to avoid collisions. To keep the dance floor flowing, leaders should adjust according to how crowded it is. For example, leaders may need to take smaller steps if the floor is very packed.
Generally, leaders are responsible for ensuring that both they and their partners are safe on the dance floor.
2. Talking While Dancing Is Not Acceptable
It is considered rude to talk while dancing.
When you're on the floor, your focus should be on your partner and the music. This doesn't mean that you can't say anything at all. If you need to communicate with your partner, it's best to do so between the songs, since tanda consists of 3-5 songs, you will have 2 to 4 opportunities to exchange names, or have a quick chat.
Moreover, milongas are never a place to learn how to dance. If you're a beginner, it's best to take some classes and go to the Practica before going to a Milonga. Teaching your partner how to dance while you're on the floor is considered extremely rude. Think about it - if you are a leader, you shall be able to lead anyone, simply adjust the level of dancing to the person you are holding in your arms. If you are a follower - enjoy the embrace and walking to the music if your partner never heard of ochos or giros. Think of Tango as a meditative walk - and listen for the other person’s heart. You can be in te music together.
3. Be Mindful of Your Clothing
What you wear to a milonga matters!
You want to be comfortable and look good, but you also want to ensure that your clothing doesn't interfere with your dancing.
Remember that milongas are semi-formal events, so it's best to avoid jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers. Some people believe tango is a sensual dance, so they dress accordingly.
The most important thing is to be comfortable and able to move freely.
If your clothing is too tight or constricting, it will be difficult to dance. It's also important to be aware of your partner's comfort. Consider how your clothes will feel against their skin and whether they can move freely.
4. Be Respectful
Perhaps the most crucial tango code is respect.
You must respect your partner, the other couples on the floor, the music, and the space.
This means being aware of your movements and not dancing too close to other couples. It also means being mindful of the music and not talking over it as it was background noise.
Milongas have many rules, but they're all for the same purpose — to create a respectful and enjoyable environment for everyone.
When you respect the space and the people around you, you create a positive atmosphere conducive to dancing.
The best way to learn the tango codes is to watch experienced dancers and emulate their behavior. Of course, listening to your partner and communicating with them about what you're comfortable with is also important. Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy yourself.
Milonga: Tango the Night Away!
Feeling intimidated the first time you walk into a milonga is totally normal.
You know there are many things to remember, like the ronda or line of dance, and you might feel like you're not ready to take on the challenge, but there's a different way to see milongas. Yes, they can be overwhelming, but it becomes magical when you think of it as a whole culture in one venue.
As the Argentine Tango School says,
the milonga is where tango lives, where tango is kept alive. Milongas are where you can bring tango to life.
You will feel that tango is in your body and everything you do. Eventually, you will realize that everything you are doing is dancing. Tango feels so natural, as though you were born to do it.
Your first time might not be magical right away. It will take some time to get used to the environment and the culture. However, with an open mind and a willingness to learn, you will find that milongas are one of the most amazing places you could be in. You get to connect with the music and the whole community in a way that is unique to tango. You will discover tango for what it really is: a beautiful, sensual, and passionate dance that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
When you walk into a milonga, you are there for the experience, the culture, and the meaning of tango.
Any milonga is a chance to tango the night away — an opportunity to keep tango alive in the community, in your body, and in yourself!
It doesn’t matter if you are entirely new to dancing… or have been dancing your whole life. We distill everything you need to know to be able to hit the milonga into simple, easy-to-understand steps. Regardless of your level, this course has something for everyone!
At the end of Tango Passport, you’ll be able to improvise and dance the tango…. anywhere in the world. More details HERE.