Tango Etiquette (Codigos)

This is the third and final piece about the traditional etiquette of tango events (the codigos). The first was about how the tanda system helps us to dance with a variety of partners. The second was about the use of mirada and cabeceo to extend and accept invitations to dance. Now, I’m going to set out, briefly, some other conventions that it is useful for every dancer to understand.

Joining the dance floor

When first joining the line of dance, the man (leader) should judge whether he will impede the progress of the approaching couple. If he will, he should first catch the eye of the approaching man (leader), and wait for the man’s acknowledgement before joining the line of dance. If the floor is half empty, this convention (sometimes known as the leader’s cabeceo) is completely redundant. However, be aware that while in some areas it is ignored altogether, in others, everyone is expected to observe it all the time. Watch what others do – and fit in.

Starting to dance

Every dancer embraces their partner in a slightly different way (and most options are valid ones). The majority of social dancers dance in a close embrace that requires body contact. Sometimes they stand directly opposite their partners and embrace straight on. Sometimes couples embrace in a V-shape, with the open side of the embrace looking towards the clasped hands. There are considerations of relative height and build too, but the aim is to be comfortable. A man (leader) should always respect the preference of a woman (follower) in the physical closeness she is comfortable with. If you are a woman who prefers to keep some space between the bodies, then you will have to accept that in some tango communities you may not dance very much.

However, always treat your partner with respect and courtesy. An obvious thing to do is to be fastidious about personal hygiene. Be clean, fresh and as dry as possible. If you tend to perspire when you dance, carry some spare clothes, and change if you need to. Make sure that you have fresh breath and avoid wearing overly strong fragrances.

It is never acceptable to instruct your partner on the dance floor, nor to offer unsolicited feedback about their dancing. The place for instruction and feedback is the practica – but even there, be cautious. Many practicas are informal milongas in all but name. If you observe the majority ‘just’ dancing, then observe the milonga codes as far as you can. Some men think that on the strength of six weeks of classes they are more than qualified to offer ‘advice’ to every experienced follower, but generally, they are mistaken.

It is usual to chat to your partner between the songs of a tanda. Simple, non-controversial topics are best. Once the music begins again, the chat continues for some time. This is never more true than in communities with the utmost respect for the music and for the tango codes, although it puzzles the inexperienced. When in doubt, delay beginning to dance again until you see others around you doing the same.

Navigating around the dance floor

When we dance tango we don’t just dance with our partner, but with everyone around us. All of the tango family (tango, vals and milonga) are danced in a progressive manner. The dancers make slow but steady progress in an anti-clockwise direction around the room, rather than dancing on the spot. Think in terms of a slow-moving river, the current of which carries all the dancers along. Usually, the busier the floor, the slower the progression.

The object is for all couples to move in a predictable manner, with everyone sharing the available space. The path that each couple takes around the room is called the line of dance (la ronda). If the dance floor is quite small, or when there are not many dancers, all the dancers may form one continuous line around the room. If the floor is larger, and there are enough dancers, a second (and sometimes even a third) inner line of dancers can form. These separate lines are usually referred to as lanes, and the basic rule is that you stay in your own lane (as far as possible). For the purpose of navigation, the man (leader) is concerned only with the couples in front and behind, but not to the sides. The lanes can move forward independently.

Each couple should maintain their place in their dance lane, avoiding overtaking or changing lanes. It is fine to pause or to dance some rotational element in place, but take care to move forward when there is space ahead to do so. However, don’t dance so close to the next couple that they have no room to pause or to turn, themselves. If a large space opens up ahead of you, there is a good chance that a jam is forming behind you. Be very cautious about stepping backwards, against the line of dance, into someone else’s space. Each couple should aim to maintain forward progression, carried by the gentle current of the unseen river, without causing splashes or ripples that would affect the other dancers.

If a collision occurs, then acknowledge it with a brief apology (regardless of fault), and resume dancing, if possible.

Dancers should be content to dance according to the available space. When there are many dancers, forward progression may be very slow and there may be very little space between couples. Steps should be kept small, feet should stay close to the ground, and elbows should point down to the floor, tucked against the body. No one is entitled to more than a fair share of the available space, but skilled social dancers can dance perfectly happily in crowded conditions. Those that can’t are a menace.

Ending the dance

When the cortina marks the end of the tanda, all dancers should clear the dance floor completely. Men normally escort their partners back to their seats, before returning to their own.

It is natural to show appreciation to your partner for an enjoyable dance. However, avoid saying ‘Thank you’, particularly part way through a tanda. In this context, ‘Thank you’ is understood as a non-confrontational way of saying that you are finding a dance so unpleasant or uncomfortable that you are ending it immediately.

Click here for the first article in this series (The musical anatomy of a tango event). Click here for the second article in this series (Mirada and cabeceo).

Playlist: 20 August 2016 (Loughborough)


Genre Song Year Artist(s)
Tango Algún día te diré 1936 Francisco Canaro (Ernesto Famá)
El vino triste 1936
No me pregunten por qué 1936
Sinfonía de arrabal 1939
Vals Loca de amor 1938 Rodolfo Biagi (Teófilo Ibáñez)
Lejos de tí 1938
Viejo portón 1938
Tango Se va la vida 1936 Edgardo Donato (Horacio Lagos)
Alas rotas 1938
A media luz 1941
A oscuras 1941
Tango Barrio de tango 1943 Miguel Caló (Jorge Ortiz)
Pa’ que seguir 1943
De barro 1943
Mi cantar 1943
Milonga De pura cepa 1935 Juan D’Arienzo (Instrumental)
Silueta porteña 1936 Juan D’Arienzo (Walter Cabral)
Milonga, vieja milonga 1937 Juan D’Arienzo (Instrumental)
Tango En esta tarde gris 1941 Aníbal Troilo (Francisco Fiorentino)
Cautivo 1941
Mi castigo 1942
Por las calles de la vida 1942
Tango Buscándote 1941 Osvaldo Fresedo (Ricardo Ruiz)
Si no me engaña el corazón 1939
Alas 1940
Hablemos claramente 1941
Vals Flores del alma 1947 Alfredo De Angelis (Carlos Dante & Julio Martel)
Pobre flor (Primera ilusión) 1946
Mi cariñito 1949
Tango Ensueños 1943 Carlos Di Sarli (Instrumental)
El paladín 1941
Ojos negros 1945
Cuidao con los cincuenta 1942
Tango Recién 1943 Pedro Laurenz (Alberto Podestá)
Patria mía 1943
Que nunca me falte 1943
Yo quiero cantar un tango 1943
Milonga El porteñito 1943 Ángel D’Agostino (Ángel Vargas)
Así me gusta a mí 1942
Entre copa y copa 1942
Tango Recuerdo 1944 Osvaldo Pugliese (Instrumental)
Adiós, Bardi 1944
El remate 1944
La yumba 1946
Tango Unión cívica 1938 Juan D’Arienzo (Instrumental)
La catrera 1938
El cencerro 1937
El caburé 1937
Vals Soñar y nada más 1943 Aníbal Troilo (Francisco Fiorentino & Alberto Marino)
Palomita blanca 1944 Aníbal Troilo (Alberto Marino & Floreal Ruíz)
Uruguaya 1943 Aníbal Troilo (Francisco Fiorentino & Alberto Marino)
Tango Una emoción 1943 Ricardo Tanturi (Enrique Campos)
Muchachos comienza la ronda 1943
Palomita mía 1943
Oigo tu voz 1943
Tango Igual que un bandoneón 1945 Lucio Demare (Horacio Quintana)
Se va una tarde más 1944
Lo mismo que un tango 1944
Corazón no le digas a nadie 1944
Milonga Chunga que si, chunga que no 1941 Enrique Rodríguez (Armando Moreno)
Ficha personal 1944
Cuando te hablen del domingo 1945
Tango Derrotado 1956 Carlos Di Sarli (Roberto Florio)
Soñemos 1957
Nuestra noche 1957
Adiós, corazón 1958
Tango La cumparsita 1943 Aníbal Troilo (Instrumental)

De-clicking Noisy Transfers

I am always looking for ways to make my tango music collection sound better.

One source of mostly very good transfers is the TangoTunes catalogue. Rather than ‘remaster’ existing material, TangoTunes has produced brand new transfers from original 78s (and some vinyl), and published them in versions with little or no subsequent signal processing – the idea being that the noises (hiss, pops and crackle) are so intermingled with the actual music, that to remove one, diminishes the other. This is a laudable approach, but inevitably, some of their source material is damaged or worn, and the shellac material used to press the original records can be subject to quite a lot of running noise.

I have been experimenting with some modest further processing, aimed specifically, at reducing clicks and crackle, and I have been evaluating a software program called ClickRepair (authored by Brian Davies). The program doesn’t filter the sound, but examines the waveform for signs of clicks, and ‘repairs’ the affected section with an interpolation based on an analysis of the surrounding sound, but leaving the rest untouched.

Does it work? Well, I have found it quite effective, but judge for yourself: here is a short clip taken from Pugliese’s 1946 recording of La yumba, as released by TangoTunes. I have processed the clip with ClickRepair and rendered the file as a high-bitrate MP3 (just for this blog) – otherwise the source file is unaltered.

The first clip is the original file (music + clicks); the second clip is the processed file (music – clicks); and the third clip is the ‘alternate’ processed file (clicks – music). All three are at the same level and have had no additional processing or filtering.

Here is an alternative version of the same piece, but taken from the EMI CD ‘Ausencia’. There is still plenty of noise, but the transfer is obviously inferior.

Update Feb-18: Other Noise Reduction

Reducing clicks and crackle can be beneficial, but you are left with other noises (particularly hiss) that can be tamed and I am less convinced that inexpensive tools do a good job here. Here are two further samples, both taking the ‘music – clicks’ sample (from above) as a starting point:

The first is processed with Audacity’s noise reduction effect, using the groove noise immediately before the first notes as a noise sample. The attenuation is 9dB (more than I would usually entertain, but intended to exaggerate the effect of the processing):

The second is processed with DeNoise, the companion to ClickRepair. The same noise sample is used and the same 9dB of attenuation chosen:

Audacity is free and DeNoise is very inexpensive. Of course, there are more sophisticated products available, but they are more complex to use and very much more expensive – more the preserve of professional sound engineers than DJs. I rarely use this type of processing, myself, and rarely exceed 3dB of attenuation (sometimes 6dB).

Tango 250: Lucio Demare

About Lucio Demare

Lucio Demare
Lucio Demare

Demare was born in Buenos Aires in 1906 and died there in 1974. A pianist, he formed his orchestra in 1938. He recorded for Odeón between 1938 and 1945, and intermittently with other labels between 1950 and 1959.

Tango 500 Book
Tango 500: the book.

He recorded with three notable singers: Juan Carlos Miranda (1938-42), Raúl Berón (1943-44) and Horacio Quintana (1944-45).

The suggested Tango 250 collection features vocal tandas with Miranda, Berón and Quintana.

Demare (Miranda) 1942

Miranda was Demare’s first and perhaps best singer. The orchestra sound is both rhythmic and lyrical and is usually dominated by the violins. The tanda ends with Demare’s own composition and best-known work, Malena. He recorded it twice more (including a fine solo piano version in 1957), but the first is the best.

  • Al compás de un tango (13-Mar-42)
  • Sorbos amargos (10-Nov-1942)
  • Pa’ mí es igual (9-Dec-1942)
  • Malena (23-Jan-42)

Demare (Quintana) 1944

After Berón’s one-year tenure at the microphone, Quintana joined the orchestra. Compared with earlier recordings, the mood is darker, the pace has slowed a little and the string textures seem thicker. The third song, Oriente, makes much use of the pentatonic scale to create its oriental feel.

  • Solamente ella (24-Jun-44)
  • El aguacero (14-Nov-44)
  • Oriente (11-Oct-44)
  • Torrente (11-Oct-44)

Demare (Berón) 1943 (Vals)

Berón joined the orchestra in 1943 after spending a year with Caló. In just over a year he recorded 27 sides, mostly tango, but also these 3 valses and 4 milongas. The light lyrical/romantic voice of Berón was perhaps not the ideal match for the Demare sound, and after a year he returned to Caló.

  • Al pasar (3-Sep-43)
  • Un vals (Se fue) (13-Jul-43)
  • No nos veremos más (11-Feb-43)

Mirada and Cabeceo

Tango has various codes (codigos) that govern our etiquette or behaviour at dance events. The codes have a long history and first came into use in an earlier age and in a culture that can feel very remote today. However, they continue to find widespread support, being firmly based on ideas of mutual courtesy and consideration. Those who are relatively new to dancing the tango may find the whole subject of dance etiquette baffling, and sincerely believe that such ‘rules’ work against them; but if you want to be accepted into any social group, you need to learn to fit in – so whatever your personal feelings about the codes, it’s worth learning the rules.

Getting dances

One of the first things that anyone notices about tango is that the method of inviting and accepting invitations to dance is usually based on non-verbal signals. This confuses lots of people – particularly if they are used to the very different system of, say, modern jive. There, everyone is free to ask another prospective partner (man or woman) directly if they would like to dance. Usually, the acceptance is for just one dance (three minutes or so), but there is also a presumption that an invitation will only be declined for good reason – after all, what’s three minutes in a whole evening? This is a clear code, in itself: we’re all here to dance, so just ask, and accept if you’re asked.

Tango is different and for several reasons. One is that an invitation is not for just one song, but for a group of dances (called a tanda) typically lasting around twelve minutes – so the mutual commitment is greater. Another is that there is no presumption that an invitation ought to be accepted. We are free to decline invitations and need offer no explanation for refusal. Of course, no one likes to be refused – it can be embarrassing – particularly if the refusal is seen by others, so an alternate means of arranging things has arisen, known as mirada and cabeceo (often referred to as just cabeceo).

How does it work?

At the end of each group of dances, the DJ usually plays a short piece of non-tango music (not intended for dancing) called a cortina. It announces the end of the group and signals that all the dancers should leave the dance floor completely so that all who wish to dance the next tanda have clear sight lines around the room.

As soon as the cortina is heard, anyone who wishes to dance the next tanda will make that plain through their body language. They may have been in conversation, or be checking their phone, or getting something to eat or drink, but now they give the rest of the room their full attention. They sit up (if they were slouching) and look around them with obvious interest, to see where their own friends and regular partners are sitting, or perhaps to locate new people that they think they might like to dance with. They will also try to notice who else is also actively looking around, and thus draw up a shortlist of prospective partners for the next tanda. This preliminary process applies equally to men and women: it is wholly gender-neutral.

As the music begins again, so does the actual business of arranging a partner to dance with. Each dancer will now look towards their preferred partner for a few moments and see whether their glance is returned. If not, they transfer their gaze to another, and then back again, or move on to another, until eyes do meet. If you have accidentally met the glance of another and don’t wish to dance with them, then you hold their gaze just long enough for them to register your response and then look away – there is no need for any further gesture. If you do wish to dance, then each offers the other a small gesture of acknowledgement. Typically the man may cock his head slightly towards the dance floor, perhaps raising his eyebrows, and the woman will nod in agreement (or it might be the other way around). An agreement has now been reached (and if it was a refusal, it was discrete, and not observed by anyone else). While no one wants to be rejected, equally, no one wants to be someone’s second or third choice, so a hidden benefit of this process is that as no one saw the first refusal, equally, no one knows that they are not the other’s first choice. This process also applies equally to men and women: it is wholly gender-neutral.

With the agreement reached, the man now goes up to the woman, walking right around the floor, if necessary. The woman waits until the man presents himself at the woman’s table (partly to avoid the possibility and embarrassment of having mistaken an invitation intended for another), then she rises from her seat to be led onto the dance floor and the couple embraces to dance.

This process: the mirada (or glance) and the cabeceo (or nod of the head) is a very civilised and efficient way to arrange dances. But it doesn’t end when the first couples have taken to the floor. A second round of active glances around the room may well result in several more couples joining the dancing. This process can continue to at least the beginning of the second song of the group, or even later. Sometimes, if you think that you might like to dance with someone, but are not sure. Perhaps a whole tanda seems too much and you might deliberately delay an invitation until later in the tanda. Of course, the other person will know that you have chosen to dance only part of a tanda (and may feel the same way towards you) but is still happy to be dancing, rather than not. If the dance has gone well, it is perfectly OK to ask whether your partner would like to continue to dance the next tanda too, but there is no obligation. Just take care to leave the dancefloor, briefly, between tandas (or at least to make sure that you are not blocking anyone else’s sight lines).

Mirada and cabeceo are not used when you are already sitting or standing by the person you want to dance with:  it’s not practical to ‘catch their eye’. A verbal invitation may be the only option, but other gestures might also serve.

One vital thing that facilitates this whole process is that the organisers have arranged adequate lighting. If you can’t see your prospective partners easily, you can’t use mirada and cabeceo. It’s amazing how often organisers get this wrong. And who wants to dance in the dark?

Click here for the first article in this series (The musical anatomy of a tango event). Click here for the third & final article in this series (Tango etiquette (Codigos)).

The Musical Anatomy of a Tango Event

If you are new to tango, you may be confused about how a traditional social dance event, a milonga, is structured.

It can be a bit intimidating to go to a milonga. Everyone else seems to know the ropes, but nothing is said. People arrive, find seats and seem to know how the music is organised and when to start and stop dancing. They appear to get up from their seats, and moments later, be dancing with someone who was sat across the room – with never a word spoken. It’s as though the whole thing is highly organised, but no one explained the rules.

There are, indeed, lots of different things going on. None of them are complicated, individually, but the musical structure is easily explained. The music is arranged to provide variety and to enable dancing with a range of partners.

Songs are played in groups

The DJ will arrange the music into groups of three or four songs, related to each other stylistically or thematically. Typically, they will have been recorded by a particular orchestra, and will work together as a more-or-less coherent group. The group of songs is called a tanda. The analogy isn’t perfect, but you could think of a typical tanda as the movements of a classical symphony. Well-arranged, the songs will tell some form of story, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

We hear the opening bars of the first song. In a moment or two we decide whether we would like to spend the next twelve minutes or so dancing. If we would, we look for a partner. A glance and a gesture of response is all that is needed and couples take to the floor to dance.

Each tanda is followed by a cortina

After the last song of a tanda has been played, the DJ will normally play a short piece of non-tango music that is not intended for dancing. This is the cortina: a signal that the group has ended and that the dancers should clear the floor. As the last dancers leave the floor, the DJ fades the cortina to silence. After a few moments, a new tanda begins, and the process of selecting a new partner is repeated.

Tandas are played in a predictable cycle

Three types of music are always played at the milonga: tango, vals and milonga. The tandas rotate in a standard format: two tandas of tango are followed by one of vals, then two tandas of tango are followed by one of milonga. That cycle will repeat for the duration of the event. So if you listen carefully to what is being played either side of a cortina, you will have a pretty good idea of where you are in the cycle.

The cycle may not begin right from the start of an event. Dancers can be slow to arrive in significant numbers, or may choose not to begin dancing immediately. DJs frequently play straightforward and undemanding music at the beginning of an event, hoping to entice dancers to take to the floor for the first time. As the dancing gets underway, the DJ will judge the right moment to introduce the first vals tanda. After that, the tanda cycle usually continues, unbroken, to the end.

Most DJs will aim to organise the tandas so that the evening ends with tango, rather than vals or milonga. It is common to announce the last tanda. This signals that the event is drawing to an end, and allows those who have a particular partner to end the event by dancing together. By convention, a version of La Cumparsita is the last song played. It might be the final song of a tanda, or be played on its own, straight after.

Click here for the second article in this series (Mirada and cabeceo). Click here for the third & final article in this series (Tango etiquette (Codigos)).

Tango 250: Alfredo De Angelis

About Alfredo De Angelis

Alfredo De Angelis with Carlos Dante and Julio Martel

De Angelis was born in Buenos Aires in 1910 and died there in 1992. A pianist, he formed his orchestra in 1941. He recorded for Odeón between 1943 and 1977 and several other labels up to 1985.

Tango 500 Book
Tango 500: the book.

He recorded with many singers over a long career, but the most notable were Julio Martel (1943-1950) (replaced by Oscar Larroca from 1951), Floreal Ruíz (1943-44) and his replacement, Carlos Dante (1944-57).

The suggested Tango 250 collection features early vocal tandas with Ruíz and with Dante and Martel (tango and vals duets).

De Angelis (Ruíz) 1943-44

Ruiz only recorded seven sides with De Angelis before leaving to join the more prestigious Troilo orchestra (replacing Fiorentino). These songs are therefore some of the earliest De Angelis recordings, and they typify his straightforward and undemanding style.

  • Marioneta (23-Jul-43)
  • Déjame así (10-Aug-43)
  • Madre (3-Jun-44)
  • Bajo el cono azul (29-Feb-44)

De Angelis (Dante & Martel) 1945-48

The voices of Dante and Martel were well matched and while they both recorded separately, it is probably their duets that are most favoured by dancers even though they were only a small part of the orchestra’s total output.

  • Pregonera (26-Mar-45)
  • Selección de tangos de Discépolo (11-Jun-48)
  • Pastora (16-Apr-48)
  • Adiós, marinero (27-Dec-46)

De Angelis (Dante & Martel) 1944-47 (Vals)

The De Angelis orchestra is at its best in the early vals duets. The arrangements are playful and upbeat, and while De Angelis continued to record duets after Martel’s departure (with Dante and Larroca), they are rarely played today.

  • Soñar y nada más (29-Aug-44)
  • Pobre flor (7-Jan-46)
  • Flores del alma (3-Jul-47)