Dance Etiquette Questions
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Question: When a "couple" are at a Milonga and a dance begins, is it ever permissible for another male dancer to ask the Lady of the couple, directly, to dance or must he ask the Male partner for permission to even ask the Female partner? Also, do Ladies ever ask Gentlemen to dance? I Appreciate your responding, this is important. Thanking you ahead for your indulgence, JO

Dear Dancer, At any time, you can, do what you want, however, there are conscenious to your actions. The answer as in life is, it depends, for example, if they are good friends of yours and you have done this in the past and they are both ok (I mean really ok) with it, then yes. On the other hand if the couple always dance exclusively together, then your action will at best cause an uneasy feeling and you probably won't get the dance since some couples agree beforehand to dance exclusively together. Then there is the range in between.

In Buenos Aires, there are milongas which have a "singles" side and a "couples" side. Here the answer then, in general, is fairly clear: you would not ask a lady on the "couples" side to dance. (I have experienced first hand this being broken to my surprise. He asked, but was refused however.)

Milongas in North American, in general, do not have this set up. So the answer is more finessed, for example, there are "couples" who dance together at first, then later go on to dance with others and there are "couples" who only dance together. If you are uncertain, be patience and wait to see if this "couple" ever makes an effort to dance with others, if not, you have your answer.

Again you can do what you wish, however, you may end up in the uncomfortable position of after having made the long trek across the floor to ask, only to be politely regected. Then you're left with the long walk back.

Don't forget to ask dancers or instuctors you respect in your area about the local situation. Then observe what they actually do. One thing is for certain, you will get a different answer to your question from each person you ask. Pick the one that you are comfortable with then test it.

Question: Hi George, I loved your article on tango etiquette. What about aggressive women that walk onto the floor when you have been dancing w/someone for more than 3 dances and they say to the woman "I want to dance with him now, do you mind?" That happened to me last week. She walked right to the middle of the floor where we had just stopped and proceeded to attack me for dancing with this male dancer. He had asked me to dance, I didn't ask him. He ignored her and we continued to dance for another 6 dances. I am a former pro dancer in ballet, tap, jazz, have been in tango for about 2 years. I was taught to wait until the man asks you to dance (as in ballroom). Please let me know if there are "rules" some women need to learn. Thank you.

Dear Dancer, The "rules-of-thumb" behavior at a milonga happen within the general social-behavioral context. Not following the "rules" can result in unsettling encounters and uneasy feelings such as you describe. In your situation, for which I will assume you are somewhere in North America (NA), the pretense for the behavior of the woman you describe is based on one of the traditional Argentine Tango "rules-of-thumb" which goes something like "at a milonga, do not dance more than one Tanda (4 or so songs of one type in a row) at a time with a dancer who is not your "date."

She was waiting evidently to dance with your partner, so she is letting you know in an assertive "in-your-face" fashion that you are "violating" this "rule." The problem with her approach is two fold: first, you are in NA, where, like-it-or-not, for a variety of reasons, milongas are in-general more flexible and tolerant of such rules than they are in Argentina. Second and more to the point, her behavior in the general-behavioral context was impolite. Her "bad" as the kids say these days.

If she really wanted to "educate" you on Tango etiquette as a good-neighbor gesture, a better approach would have been for her to discuss the "rule" with you in a friendly and private encounter. Her approach was much more self serving and short sighted. By the way, in NA it is not so uncommon for a woman at a milonga to ask a man for a dance. The important point as always is the way in which it is done and how rejection, if it occurs, is handled.

Even though from a purely technical point of view the Argentine Tango "one-Tanda" rule was violated, the best you can do in this case is defuse the awkward situation with a charming smile followed by taking your partner's hand and listening to what his feelings are in the matter. (It seems that your partner knew what he wanted to do and was willing to dance on and on rule or no rule. Lucky you I guess.)

Once many years ago while dancing at a milonga on my first trip to Buenos Aires, I was inadvertently but aggressively banged into by a much older and smaller Argentine gentlemen near the end of a song. Whether or not it was intentional, I don't know. The music stopped and we both looked at each other. He then approached me immediately and very gently slapped me on the cheek and widely smiled whereupon we both started laughing. The potentially awkward situation was turned around in a heartbeat with a simple but friendly gesture.

In the end, "rules-of-thumb" are just that, however, there can be unforeseen consequences to their violation. The best advice on how to behave in such unforeseen situations is to, as my great-grandfather used to tell me, "...take the high road lad." I would only add, take it and widely smile.
Sincerely, George

Hi George, My partner and I have been taking dance lessons and just lately we've been going to milongas. My partner is still a basic beginner while I have been progressing faster. At milongas I get asked frequently to dance and sometimes I accept but my partner is clearing not too happy about it. Do have any suggestions?

Dear Dancer, I suggest you discuss the milonga scene with your partner beforehand and come to an understanding about your joint expectations; that is, what is "ok" dance wise at a milonga. This may help to dampen uneasy feelings. In general at a milonga, although people tend to mix it up partnerwise since many come alone, you are still completely free to decide what works best for you both. In Buenos Aires most traditional milongas have sections for couples to sit who only want to dance together, however, in North American, for example, this is almost never the case so you must plan accordingly to help avoid any conflicts of expectation. In any case, even though the bottom line is that you are free to acceptance a dance or not with whoever you wish no matter where you are, if you accept, do it within the bounds of the agreement you have with your partner. If you decline a dance request, be sure to do it with a smile and in a friendly manner.
Sincerely, George

Hi George, I'm new to the Argentine Tango and I have had only a one private lesson and one public lesson. Because I have a dance background, I am picking up the dance quickly. I am great at the Milonga, but just have the basics of the Argentine Tango. I attended my first milonga with a male friend who teaches the Argentine Tango. Since I'm learning, there were times when he was asked to dance while I watched. This is sometimes uncomfortable for me. What to do?

Dear Dancer, As above, if you plan to attend another milonga together, you would be well served by discussing it with your date beforehand. If the response he provides is not satisfactory, let him know. As above you have the option of attending with him or not. He is an instructor so he should be able to come up with a solution that is acceptable to you both. For example, he could introduce you to other good dancers with whom you could dance while he is acting on his feelings regarding his teaching responsibilities or persona.

Happy dancing! George Nicol, Ph.D., Dance Instructor, Palo Alto, California

To learn more about dance etiquette or private dance lessons or if you have a contribution, question or comment, email it to: George Nicol at

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