“Saber Milonguear” Part 2: the hidden codes of the milonga – By Jean-Michel LEDEUR

Los Codigos Esconditos De La Milonga (the hidden codes of the milonga)

14 advices to dance socially in crowded milongas.

1. Do not dance when the floor gets messy.

A lot of milongueros have nothing to prove on the dance floor. They know how to dance small and how to milonguear. But like old sailors, when they feel the storm coming, they keep their ships in the harbor. We had a good example last Saturday at Cachirulo where during the worst hours of the night most milongueros remained seated.

2. Dance with a partner who can milonguear.

Last Saturday, Cacho pointed out to me an Asian girl and told me that he would never invite her on such a crowded floor. The reason was that she can’t help kicking her feet high any time she is doing a boleo or an embellishment. I have been always cautious myself and I usually don’t invite a woman to dance if I’m not confident I can navigate the floor safely with her.

3. Leader, face the outside wall.

This rule comes from my own dancing experience and a careful observation of the milongueros. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that they dance, most of the time, facing the outside wall, slightly angled to their left side. From this position and they initiate most of their moves. As illustrated on the drawing below, in a milonga where the rules are respected, a safe, if limited, zone gets created that I call the “free zone” (in yellow). From the “free zone”, the leader can initiate most of his rotation and them come back to it. It is exceptional to see a milonguero dancing facing forward in the direction of the line of dance.

Milonga Chart

4. Use the “free zone” and the width of the line of dance.

Initiate ocho cortado, right hand turns or left hand turns from the “free zone”. Use the width of the line of dance to complete your rotation . Then come back to your initial position after an even number of half rotation. Also, note that you can take a back step when you face the outside wall, it will make you travel further inside the floor and not against the line of dance. As long as you can keep your back step inside the width of the line of dance you should be safe from bumping into someone.

5. Lead the follower to step into you and walk into her to exchange space.

Considering the couple as one entity, it is important to know how to dance just exchanging space between partners. Make the follower dance into your space and dance into her space. You will save space and be able to dance in a reduced space.

6. Make your turns on the spot.

If you can visit Buenos Aires, admire how milongueros (I think in particular of one milonguero called Abel) can make a full right turn inside the width of their shoulders in a smooth, musical and clean manner. A tip to make it smaller, initiate the turns with upward energy more then circular energy and step outside of your partner foot and not inside.

7. “Rotacion y despues traslacion” (Turn then move)

Cacho summed up the basic of the art of milonguear: you turn and rotate to wait for the couple in front to move. Once they cleared some space in front of you, you move to take that space. And you do it all over again. Easy!

8. Check the floor around you while you turn.

I feel sorry, if it is obvious to you but I still see so many leaders dancing without checking what’s going on around them. Japanese men seems prone to that kind of behavior. And I know what I’m talking about, I’ve been dancing in Tokyo 2 years… Some leaders even dance ignoring totally the crowd around them and are offended when they bumped into someone!

9. Take the space in front of you and don’t slow the traffic down.

We all know how it feels to dance behind a couple who doesn’t move: dancing becomes more difficult and we get impatient. So don’t do to other what you don’t want them to do to you. Don’t be the one slowing down the traffic. Take the space opened in front of you! That space is yours because the leader in front of you won’t step back!

10. Use floor corners, entrance or holes in the traffic to dance bigger.

It allows you and your partner to relax and give you an opportunity to do that move you love so much.

11. Don’t fight for limited space.

Do not push, hit or bump into other couples even when there is no space! The floor isn’t expandable.

12. Be patient and wait for the flow to move.

Unless the couple in front doesn’t respect rule 9)… In which case you need to find a way to make him understand that he can move on.

13. Limit your choreography to safe moves.

Too many dancers, on top of not caring for others around them, feel over-confident about their tango. When the floor is packed, some moves can’t be done in a safe way any more, strike them through from your list and play safe until the space clears.

14. Express the music with your chest…like a milonguero.

Many dancers (especially nuevo or salon dancers) complain that they can’t express the music anymore once the space is limited. This is because their tango is focused on expressing music through steps and/or the variety of steps. Milonguero style is all about dancing and expressing the music through your chest more than through the steps. The musical nuances that can be expressed are endless even with a limited number of steps.

As a conclusion, I invite you to read Cacho’s articles: “The tango and trapeze acts” and “Brief definition of a milonguero”. Because social tango dancing isn’t a fight for space and attention, but rather a musical hug you share with your partner and a good time you spend beside friends on the dance floor.

Most of the tips in this post apply primarily to leaders. It is fair since leaders are in charge of navigation & choreography. But it is equally important for women to know how to “milonguear bien”. And it’s a true pleasure to dance with a careful milonguera. Here in Buenos Aires, I enjoy dancing every week with Betty, a local milonguera. Her sens of “milonguear” is amazing. She can dance on crowded floors with musicality and dynamic without ever bumping into anyone. How to “milonguear bien” for women is definitely worth another post.

9 Responses to ““Saber Milonguear” Part 2: the hidden codes of the milonga – By Jean-Michel LEDEUR”

  1. Peter Says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this. As a leader it is much more enjoyable when you follow the right couple in front of you because you know they will not step back and you know they will not slow down the traffic. When they do slow down, you know it is because there is no space in front of them not because the leader is trying to do anything fancy. As a DJ, you always dream for that tanda when everyone moves in harmonic and you can feel the whole milonga is breathing the same music.

  2. Patrick Says:

    Two great articles, I would love to translate them into german for noncommercial use in my blog. Please contact me.

  3. Royce Says:

    Dear Patrick, I forwarded your request to the author. He will contact you directly.

  4. Tango Padawan Says:

    Hi Royce,

    Most excellent article. I will try to let it become unconscious for me. I’ve noticed sometimes I get lost in playing with my partner having fun and don’t occupy the space that has become available in front of me. 🙂 I need to improve on that!

  5. Anquises Says:

    “… tango dancing isn’t a fight for space and attention, but rather a musical hug you share with your partner and a good time you spend beside friends on the dance floor”.


  6. Damian Says:

    Great article – may I reference this? Love to cross paths with you both some day.

  7. Royce Says:

    Dear Damian,

    You’re welcome to reference it. plus Thank you for your appreciation.


  8. Eran Says:

    There are some excellent little hints in there, well done, I particularly like the one about patience (don’t we all hate leads who can’t wait for the line of dance to move fast enough?) and the direction of the leads on the outside.

  9. Christian Says:

    Hello Jean-Michel !

    How are you?

    I like your description. Is it possible to use the description for my website?

    Thanks and best regards,


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