Social conventions on the dance floor


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Tango Manners

The following guidelines apply to dancing in a typical tango environment and of course also to the interactions at the Yale Tango Club. Some are more specific to our club; this will be obvious from reading them.

Social conventions on the dance floor

Who asks whom to dance?
At the Yale Tango Club both men and women are encouraged to invite people to dance. Other places may be more conservative; in Buenos Aires it's the men who ask.

How can I invite someone to dance?
The purpose of the following time-honored Argentine custom, known as the "cabeceo", is to make the invitation to dance less stressful and the possibility to decline more discrete. Essentially you can avoid receiving or having to say a harsh verbal "No". It spares everybody's feelings.
The accepted way to invite a person to dance is to catch someone's eye, and smile and nod, perhaps raising your eyebrows in an inquiring expression or directing a nod towards the dance floor. The response, if the invitation is accepted, is to smile and nod back, whereupon both people walk to the dance floor and dance. If you get the smile and nod response but the person does not catch your drift, you may additionally say: ďshall we?Ē, or ďwould you like to dance?Ē.
By the same token, if you try hard and are unable to catch a particular personís eye, or if somebody averts their eyes as if they didnít actually see you, it may be better not to verbally ask at this time. The person may actually refuse, or dance with you against his/her wish if they donít have the heart to refuse. Better luck next time or with the next person.
If you don't succeed in catching a person's eye and eliciting a smile, please donít resort to tapping somebodyís shoulder or positioning yourself squarely in front of a person so they canít avoid looking at you. It is considered very rude.
Obviously the new people donít know about this way of inviting people to dance and besides just asking them verbally, please also explain to them how things are done so they know for next time.

How can I avoid dancing (with someone, or at all)
We are a friendly bunch and it is unlikely youíll be refused or want to refuse.
Nevertheless, if you prefer not to dance at this time, avoiding to catch someoneís eye will prevent 90% of attempts to dance with you.
If the eye contact avoidance does not have the desired effect and someone resorts to the shoulder tap method, itís OK to just say no.
If you decline a verbal invitation to dance from somebody you generally like to dance with except just not right then, it is expedient to come up with an excuse such as "sorry, I really need a break right now", "thanks, but I already promised the next set to ...", or "thanks but not right now, my feet hurt". Obviously if you use fatigue or painful feet as an excuse, you should wait a little bit before leaping onto the floor with somebody else, or the excuse won't look genuine.

What if some person just wonít dance with me?
Certain people will never dance with certain people. Donít take it personally or get worked up over it, please. Nobody has an obligation to dance with everybody. Itís very much a consensual privilege and not a moral duty. To get more dances with more people, try introducing yourself, being friendly, saying hello to everybody, and working hard on your technique.

When and how to stop?
If one of the partners says Thank You at the end of a song, the other one responds in the same way and both move off the floor. It is customary to dance 3-4 dances with the same person before saying the magic word ďthank youĒ and moving on. This is the standard way of doing things and nobody will think anything of it, especially if you say something nice like ďthank you, that was lovelyĒ, or ďthank you, I need a little break, letís dance again laterĒ, etc.
If you drop a person before 3 dances, it will convey the message that you donít enjoy dancing with them, and it should be done only if your inconvenience or impatience outweighs the rudeness you convey. Itís rarely done at the Yale Tango Club, but more common in the big city tango communities.
In small communities like ours, people often dance more than one set (a set is usually 4 songs), perhaps 2 sets or even 3. A good way to ease in the end is to ask you partner if they want to dance another one, and then the expectation is to part after the end of that one. You still need to say Thank You.

What (NOT) to say or do to your partner in between two songs
If you enjoyed the dance you may be tempted to say ďThank youĒ. These words will be interpreted as ďIím done dancing with you and I will now return to my seatĒ, so they should be saved for the end of the set. Instead, say something pleasant like ďthat was niceĒ or make a friendly comment about their dancing style. Often people introduce themselves or just chat.
In between songs, you let go of your partner; it feels a little odd to remain locked in the embrace when there is no music. Also you want to wait for the next song to start before resuming the embrace.

What if weíre having so much fun we donít want to stop?
If neither person says thank you and moves on, likely you will continue dancing with each other. If this goes on a long time, people may notice and start to think you want to monopolize each other. Market forces being what they are, people are more likely to notice this if they also want to dance with you. You donít have to care what people think, but you should be aware of it. If there happens to be a gender imbalance, maybe you want to show community spirit and give your friends a chance to dance with your partner.
Of course none of this applies to dancing with your significant other or your special date. If there's romance going on, or some other variation on lust, nobody can reasonably object to you being all over each other the whole night.

Chatting while dancing
Some people like to concentrate on the dancing while others chatter constantly. If you are one of the former, itís perfectly OK to say ďsorry, I find it hard to talk and concentrate on the steps at the same time.Ē In general both conversation and dancing improve when not done simultaneously.

The difference between a practica and a milonga
A Milonga is a formal party where people dress up and observe all the social niceties discussed on this page. A practica is generally shorter and less formal, and people are free to try new things, work on specific moves, or ask friends to show them things. It is very inappropriate to start critiquing or correcting your dance partner's technique at a Milonga. At a practica it is OK if your partner doesn't mind.
The Yale Tango Club Sunday night dance is a practica which has some characteristics of a Milonga: it's informal and practicing is encouraged, but it lasts 4 hours or more, many people just dance instead of working on specific moves, there is no teacher in charge, and there is a DJ who plays tangos, valses and milongas in tandas (sets of 4 similar songs, in repeating cycles) just like at a milonga. We could call it a "Practi-longa".


Interrupting people while they are dancing.
Very simple. Donít. Not even to say hello when you arrive or leave. If you must acknowledge someone, a quick nod is the maximum. Imagine how you would feel if the lady you are dancing with starts to talk with or wave at some guy. Itís rude. Your dance partner deserves your undivided attention. If you have some urgent need for information exchange, at least wait until a moment between songs, and keep it very brief.

Making friends and making advances
We hope the Tango Club will be a great way for you to make new friends and socialize with fellow students and people who share your interests. We want our events to be a safe and comfortable environment for you to socialize!
You can see that tango can be a fairly invasive way to socialize, and the tango embrace should be considered a privilege and not an opportunity. If flirtation and advances are not consensual or reciprocated, they should cease. If anybody is made to feel uncomfortable as a result of continued unwanted advances, they should approach someone of the club leadership and talk about it to determine if the matter can be resolved diplomatically and discreetly, or decisively if necessary. It is important to us that everybody feels safe and comfortable.

Personal hygiene
Please use anti-perspirant (better than deodorant, see here)! Wear a clean shirt and bring a spare if you worry about getting sweaty. If you come after a long day at work, please consider swinging by your house or the gym to take a shower and change. If you use some fragrance, please use it sparingly. Some people have a problem getting up close and personal to heavy fragrance. At least invest in something that smells good. Breath mints or gum are a good thing to use.
If you have a cold, flu, or stomach bug, please stay home and get better before coming back to dance! Tango is guaranteed to pass your bug to several other people. Wash your hands or use Purell frequently.

What if a dance is an intolerable ordeal?
Once you accept an invitation to dance, it is your responsibility to grin and bear it for the duration of the dance even if your partner tries your patience. Your options are to drop your partner before 3 dances are over (see when and how to stop), or to tolerate the situation with grace. Whatever you do, try not to frown too obviously and by all means don't roll your eyes or make faces at your friends. Other potential partners will notice your rudeness and are sure to wonder if you do the same thing while dancing with them. Try closing your eyes or putting on your patient face until the ordeal is over.

Separating work and tango fun at Yale
A peculiar characteristic of our tango community is that you may find yourself in a tango situation with people that you have a professional relationship with, for example as fellow students, postdocs or staff in the same laboratory or department. Please be sensitive to this. People may find it awkward to be locked in a tango embrace with somebody that they have to work with the next day. Just to be sure, you may ask if they would find this awkward before you go ahead and ask them to dance. Also, leave the tango at GPSCY's and refrain from telling your friends the details about the tango adventures of someone they work with. It may be a social activity, but it can get pretty personal.

About the music

Tango music is played in tandas
At milongas, the DJ will play music in sets (called tandas) of 3 or 4 songs by the same orchestra from the same period. Generally you will hear 2 sets of 4 tangos, 1 set of 3 valses, 2 sets of 4 tangos, and 1 set of 3 milongas, in repeating cycles. A variation on this, which you may hear early in the evening, is 4 tangos, 3 valses, 4 tangos, 3 milongas, 4 tangos, a few alternative or neotango songs, and all over again. You can turn this predictability to your advantage by planning ahead so you can find your favorite milonga partner when you know there's a milonga set coming soon.

What to do with cortinas
At milongas, the DJ will often play a cortina between tandas. A cortina is a short piece (about 30 seconds) of non-tango music that tells the dancers this tanda is over and a new tanda is about to begin. The next tanda will be a different style of music and is normally danced with a new partner. The beauty of cortinas in Buenos Aires is that absolutely everybody thanks their partner and leaves the dance floor. This means that you can now choose who you will dance with next from among everybody present in the room, instead of having to limit yourself to whoever is sitting, or trying to predict (while sitting or dancing) when your favorite partner will become available for you.
On the other hand, if a crowd isn't used to cortinas, they may stand there on the floor with their partner, looking doubtful about the danceability of what the DJ just threw on. Or worse, they may try to dance to the cortina. In Buenos Aires, this will brand you as a barbarian; around here it merely looks awkward.


Recruitment and being nice to new people
Please be nice and welcoming to new people. With a third of our members graduating or moving on every year, we have to keep recruiting!
If a new face stops in to watch the dancing, please donít ignore them longer than a minute or two. You could greet them, tell them who we are and what we do, ask if they are students (or postdocs, or whatever), and in general be very welcoming. If you get their email address, we can tell them about classes etc. We have free classes only for Yale students/postdocs and their dates/SOís. People who aren't students or postdocs we usually refer to Judyís classes at the gym or in Milford.

Dancing with beginners and offering advice
Please take a beginner for a spin. Be encouraging and build their confidence. Remember you were a beginner once too. If the experienced dancers spent time on you and as a result you are still around and not a beginner anymore, that means it's Payback Time.

Just dancing with the beginners is a good thing. Additionally you may feel the urge to explain things and offer helpful friendly advice. Please don't just flatly state they are doing Everything All Wrong. Instead, ask "May I offer a suggestion for a more effective way to do this/ a suggestion to improve this rock step/ etc". Don't argue. Whatever you do, don't do anything that'll make the beginner feel more inadequate than is already the case.

Finally, it is well-known that dancing well with a total beginner is a skill that distinguishes an advanced dancer from an intermediate one. You have seen advanced leaders lead beginners through steps they never knew they could do. Advanced followers move so lightly and easily that beginners can make them follow steps they've just learned and that won't yet work on other dancers. This means two things: (1) if a beginner messes up, it is not exclusively their fault and you would do well to be patient, and (2) if beginners mess up a lot when you dance with them, you are not practicing on beginners enough!

Educating the beginners
Beginners donít know these things so please take the opportunity to briefly explain to them:

  • How to invite somebody to dance by the nod/smile method
  • Thank you means itís over. If itís not over, donít say Thank You. If you want it to be over, say Thank You. Three dances is customary. More is OK, but monopolizing a beginner who doesn't know how to get out is a pretty low trick.
  • Close embrace is by mutual informed consent. If a beginner doesn't know there is open and close, please dance open. Unless you know the beginner very well, an introduction to close embrace is better left for a formal class or a later time.

Please move around the dance floor in a counterclockwise direction and at the same speed as the other dancers. Donít overtake, speed, zigzag or cut people off. Donít EVER step backwards as a leader. Donít dance in the middle of the floor; the best place to be is in the outer lane. Try to move at the same speed as other dancers. If there is a lot of space ahead of you, that means there is a traffic jam behind you, in this case please move on and give the other dancers some real estate.
Dancing couples have absolute right of way on the dance floor. Pedestrians are advised not to walk or loiter on the dance floor when not dancing.

Avoid collisions by obeying traffic rules (see above). If you do bump into someone, you should apologize, if not because you caused the collision, then because you failed to avoid it. The apology can be accomplished verbally or by making eye contact. Road rage is unacceptable.
If some furniture bumps into you, you should apologize to your follower and make sure she's OK.
A crowded floor is no place to unleash your tango theatrics. To avoid injuries, keep your legs out of other dancers' space by refraining from stepping backwards (as a leader) and doing big boleos and ganchos (as a follower). If you must do these steps, at least look behind you an instant beforehand to make sure the coast is clear.
If a leader in front of you is given to hazardous choreography, keep your distance. Followers are not to be used as human shields for your protection; also, followers (especially with stiletto heels) are not to be deployed as weapons.

Ladies may want to think twice about wearing open-toed sandals. Feet get stepped on, toes stubbed, even toe nails ripped off, and such injuries can put you out of business for several weeks. Please be safe and protected with closed shoes, especially when dancing with beginners; they have enough to think about already.

Help your community

Doing your part for the Yale Tango Club
If you enjoy attending Tango Club events and you do so more than a few times, please be so considerate as to become a member and support the club. We do have basic operating costs and they should be fairly shared between all who attend. Membership categories are priced according to your student means. Please be a team player.

Where to learn

Taking classes
Check here for classes available at Yale and in New Haven.
The practica is a place to practice what you learn in a class. It is rude and inconsiderate to expect the more experienced dancers to teach you what you need to know one-on-one on their own precious dancing time. There is no excuse for not taking a class, when there are the beginners and intermediate classes at the gym during the semester, the inexpensive or free classes and workshops that the Club organizes, and our free classes for students and Judyís professional classes outside the semester.
That said, if you show a continued commitment to work and improve and try to make the dance as interesting an experience for your partner as for yourself, everybody will always be happy to practice with you.

If you donít know the steps perfectly, you are not qualified to teach them from scratch. Please refer the beginners to a class or recommend that they speak with one of our experienced dancers.


Tango shoes
Check our website for links to dance shoe vendors online and in New Haven and New York.

Tango music
Ask the Club leadership about the Tango CD Lending Library available free to members. Check out our website for tango CD stores.

Dancing on location
See the regional tango calendar links on our website.

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To Tine Herreman's DJ page