The Rules… and why they don’t matter


There is a perpetual and often-heated debate within the Tangosphere about “codigos” (tango codes of conduct).

(if you’re interested, here’s a detailed description of some codes , and here’s a UK-centric version, and for more reading, I also co-authored what I hope is a humorous article on this a couple of years ago.)

For what it’s worth, as I say here, this all mostly boils down to “be nice”.

However, all of this misses the point. Endless complex prescriptions about The Right Way to behave are not helpful, they obscure the wood for the trees. You can get so obsessed by the minutiae that you lose sight of the entire purpose.

So what is the purpose?

Well, funny you ask. The purpose of all such codes is to ensure that you have enjoy your evening of dancing. That’s it. There’s nothing complex about it. This is a great purpose. Helping people to be happy dancing, what’s wrong with that?

The problem is, you can’t make laws to make people happy. History shows us that – ask the citizens of East Germany in the 1970s whether they were happy. OK, they’d probably answer “yes”, but that’s because they’d be afraid you were a Stasi member.

Safety rules are good

Of course, you need _some_ rules at a milonga, otherwise you have anarchy (or, as some people call it, downstairs at Negrachas). I personally like the driving analogy; you need to ensure people follow basic safety advice when dancing, to be mindful (!) of themselves, their partner, and other couples on the dance floor.

Most of these rules can be lumped under the overall heading of “floorcraft”; don’t tailgate, don’t reverse whilst driving along, don’t switch lanes, that sort of thing.

Happy Rules are not so good

What I personally think works less well are rules about how to get dances – how to ask for, how to accept and how to reject invitations. In traditional tango, these rules are lumped together under the heading of “cabeceo – mirada” (invitation – acceptance). The idea is that these rules create a relaxed situation allowing all attendees to pick and choose who they dance with (I won’t go into them in detail here, feel free to google the terms if you want more details).

But the problem is that these rules are trying to regulate emotions, they’re trying to tell you how you should react to other people. They’re trying to make you feel in a certain way; and the more you’re told how you “should” feel, the more unhappy you feel if you don’t conform.

Asking for / accepting / rejecting a dance can be emotionally-fraught anyway; it’s arguably the main reason people avoid going to milongas at the start. We’re afraid, basically. And then we get told by our teachers about this whole complex situation of secret signals that we have to obey, otherwise we’ll be cast out into the endless darkness or something – so we add yet more anxiety to the whole situation.

What’s the answer?

Again, let’s look at the wood not the trees.

The answer is to be happy at a milonga, to enjoy yourself, and to get the most out of the experience of dancing socially and interacting with others.

And mostly, this enjoyment and appreciation depends on ourselves. It does not depend on slavish adherence to a set of strict rules, it depends on how we feel, how we react, and how we respond.

If we’re happy, if we have a good attitude, if we develop a sense of love and kindness towards everyone, we will enjoy a milonga, no matter what the rules are. And of course, we’ll enjoy life as well.

We’ll be exploring and developing this theme in our next Mindful Tango Foundations workshop: Diving Deep, Flying High.

Hope to see you there.


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