La Clique

Over the years, there have been quite a few references about cliques in the various Milongas, and not in a good way.  It usually suggests some sort of exclusivity and snobbery that can be offensive to some people’s sensibilities.  After all, everyone is gathering together in one place because they all have an interest in common.  Surely one would think that the environment would be friendlier because of that common interest.  Not necessarily so.  Cliques and their sub-cliques merely represent a small part of the real world in which we live, and as we know, the world can be a harsh place to navigate successfully.  There are times when it is all about the survival of the fittest.

According to Wikipedia: A clique is an exclusive group of people who share interests, views, purposes, patterns of behavior, or ethnicity.   A clique as a reference group can be either normative or comparative.

A normative clique or reference group is often the primary source of social interaction for the members of the clique, which can affect the values and beliefs of an individual. The comparative clique or reference group is a standard of comparison in which a clique can exist in the workplace, in a community, in the classroom, in a business, or any other area of social interaction. Cliques tend to form within the boundaries of a larger group where opportunities to interact are great. Cliques are often associated with children and teenagers in a classroom setting. Schools are a prime place where peer network exist and can easily be accentuated through the differentiation of various cliques, and through the processes of inclusion and exclusion that characterize a clique.

So, there we are.  All of us that dance Argentine Tango are already members of a clique.  The ‘Worldwide Argentine Tango Club’ (WWATC), so to speak.  It is not a private club.  Anyone can join and you can leave whenever you want.  You don’t even have to know how to dance Argentine Tango.

You can be a member as long as you love the music.  Some people get great joy just being in an environment where they are able to listen to the music and watch others dance.  These people enjoy socialising with other like-minded individuals.  I know that some of you may be wondering why someone would want to be a member of the ‘WWATC’ if they don’t dance.  I say why not?  Many people fall in love with the music before they decide to learn to dance, or maybe they may not be physically able to dance.  That shouldn’t stop them from being able to enjoy Argentine Tango in the way they choose.

There are many lovers of other musical styles that prefer to just listen to the music, such as classical, jazz, or blues.  If you listen very carefully, you might hear variations of these other musical styles that have been incorporated into Tango music.

Membership to the ‘WWATC’ is free, but as with all free memberships, privileges may be limited.  Just being a member of the ‘WWATC’ is not a guarantee of getting in any dances.  Before being able to get dances in, one must Pay One’s DuesPaying One’s Dues consists of taking many lessons (private or group) for dancing Argentine Tango, and lots of practice.  The more one Pays One’s Dues, the more dancing one will get in.  Generally, men must pay more dues than women as the men have more to learn and must multitask on the dance floor.  It is generally known that women are better at multitasking than men.  Dancing Argentine Tango is one of the few times in a woman’s life where she is not required to multitask and is able to just relax and enjoy the music and trust that the leader will do his part effectively.  Well, that is the theory.

There may also be an entrance fee to various Milongas.  The Milonga is the venue where we can gather together to listen to the Tango music, to dance and to socialise.  There are Milongas all over the world and members are free to travel from one Milonga to the next, wherever they happen to be.

The Rules: As in any club, there are usually rules that must be followed if one wants to retain membership.  In Tango, there are certain unwritten rules and codes of behaviour or codigos, particularly in Buenos Aires where the dance originated.  The rules vary from culture to country.  Before venturing out to a foreign Milonga, it would be a good idea to do some research and learn the protocol before asking for a dance.  It could save a lot of embarrassment.

For example:  In London, it is acceptable for men and women to ask each other to dance, men and women to sit with each other, and as seating is limited no empty seat is sacred.  In Buenos Aires, the men ask the women to dance with cabeceo, the men and women are usually seated separately, and the seat you are given is yours for the evening.

The cliques within the clique – this is what people are really talking about when discussing cliques at the Milonga – the sub-clique.  These sub-cliques tend to emerge in any large group and I have discovered similarities in the other dance forms in my repertoire.  I shall list some of them for you based on my observations these last four years.  If I have left any out, please feel free to let me know.  These are the sub-cliques in London as I know them along with the various types of dancers:

Teachers – Interestingly enough, there is no qualification required to be an instructor of Tango.  There are plenty of teachers that don’t even dance well or that don’t communicate effectively in spite of being good dancers.  You can spot the teachers at certain Milongas as they tend to sit near each other, usually near the DJ or organiser, away from the rest of the crowd.  They also tend to dance with each other most of the time and on occasion have been known to dance with their students.  They also dance with the Really Good Dancers from time to time.

The Wannabees – They know everything about Tango (or think they do) and try to get really friendly with the organisers, DJ and teachers.  They usually like to sit near the organisers or DJ and the Really Good Dancers.  Some of them even think they are Really Good Dancers.

The Really Good Dancers – They are not so much as a sub-clique as they are a type of dancer.  These are not always easy to spot as they are rare.  They can usually be found on the dance floor but have also been known to be sitting down in no particular area if there are not enough other Really Good Dancers around.  The Really Good Dancers don’t belong to any one particular group as they can be made up of various members of the other sub-cliques, so it is better to scrutinize the dance floor if you want to try and dance with one.

The Tango Nuevos – Another type of dancer that can be easily spotted by their open hold, and syncopated dancing style.  The men usually wear baggy trousers and T-shirts and the women in trendy, sexy gear.  They don’t belong to any one particular group although you can see them in little clusters occasionally.   This is pretty much a younger crowd and you can usually find them dancing large on the dance floor regardless of the type of music being played.

The Latinos – They are mainly Argentinean and include other Spanish speakers.  They tend to sit with other Latinos and mainly dance with each other.  The men prefer to ask the women to dance as they would back home.  This group consists of various individuals from the other sub-groups and dance types as long as they are Latin.

The Beginners – These are a type of dancer and will more than likely become part of one of the sub-cliques and morph into another type of dancer, hopefully a Really Good Dancer.  Almost everyone has been a part of this group.  You can usually spot the beginners by the slightly nervous and bewildered look they sometimes get.  Beginners can usually be found at classes (Paying Their Dues) and occasionally on the dance floor.  Beginners should be treated with due care, attention and encouragement.  The Beginner has unlimited potential and can one day become a Really Good Dancer.

The Couples – They are a sub-clique of two people and can be seen dotted around the Milonga.  On occasion, they can be seen sitting with another couple.  They usually dance only with each other.

The Friends – These are people that you see all of the time every time you go out to a Milonga.  You can go out 5 nights a week and these people will be there the same nights that you are.  You won’t usually get beyond saying and receiving a ‘hello’ or acknowledgement of your existence, if you are lucky.  The friends have known each other for a long time and tend to dance with each other.  They may also socialise with each other outside of the Milonga, and may even take holidays together.  They are in their comfort zone and rarely dance outside of it.  There may be more than one of these sub-cliques in any given Milonga and the only way to be a part of one is by a formal introduction.

Everybody Else – These are the people that refuse to be categorised into a sub-clique.  They tend to mingle and are friendly to everyone.  They may not dance every invitation, but they are usually very nice about it.  They are just people who love Tango and who want to dance, listen to the music and socialise. They are made up of Teachers, Really Good Dancers, Beginners, Latinos, Tango Nuevos and Couples that are in an open Tango relationship.

Sorry if I missed anyone out.

It can be especially difficult for someone visiting  a Milonga for the first time if they are not made to feel welcome.  After all, we are all human beings with feelings, and we are all together for the same reasons, more or less.  We don’t have to dance with each  and every person that crosses our path, but I do think it is important to be friendly and sociable, at least in the beginning.  Don’t be dismissive of people before you get to know them.  And visitors also need to be more assertive and make an effort.  It’s a two-way street.  Tango is in a league of its own and anyone who dances it knows that they must earn dances and not expect them.

So, if anyone feels that they do not fit into any of the sub-cliques mentioned, you can always create one of your own. 🙂

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Voice of Reason
    Feb 03, 2009 @ 17:43:38

    Dear Arlene

    I read your article with interest. I think there are cliques. These are very obvious from those tango dancers who have inflated ego’s and an over-rated sense of their own skill level to those who are in their own little group. I have come a cropper from two of these groups recently.
    Firstly, I asked this woman to dance who was a beginner but improving. She said no thanks, that she didn’t do milonga. Fair enough, but the way she refused made me feel that I could have been the best tango dancer in the world and she wouldn’t be interested in dancing with me. She belonged to that other clique – The tango buffet user. No real interest in the quality of the dance just that it has to have tasty packaging. I held myself back from further comment. I saw her dancing later when a milonga came on. To tell the truth she was right she really could not dance milonga.
    I may ask her again but I think she may have to do a little practice first. I never refuse a woman a dance. I may ask them if we can dance in a few minutes if I have been dancing a lot or if the music is crap. So if you know who you are, please feel free to let me know you would like to dance with me.

    On the same evening at Negracha, I asked what I think was one of the DJ’s friends, she was “tired”! Why didn’t she just go home then or at least get off the part of the floor where ladies interested in dancing sit, or at least could sit if she wasn’t sitting there under false pretences. If you dont want to dance then don’t sit on the edge of the dance floor looking like you do. Go home or get a seat at the back behind the DJ.


  2. Stellina
    Feb 03, 2009 @ 20:04:11

    Dear Arlene,
    Thank you for your nice articles. I find them very interesting especially because I am a beginner and I want to learn not just how to dance but also a bit more about the ‘tango world’! Yes…there are cliques and I think it is quite a normal human behaviour to stick to some kind of groups… least for some people! However you make a really good point about us beginners….please everybody out there ….you must remember what is was like at the start of your tango life!??This dance is hard to master , it takes time and even if we spend hours and hours ‘paying our dues’ how are we going to become ‘really good dancers ‘if the really experienced dancers don’t occasionally ask us to dance? I admit for us ladies it is possibly a bit easier, but for the male beginners it can be really challenging to ask an experienced lady to join them on the dancefloor, so just think about that!
    Thank you to that lovely gentleman and great dancer( I remember your name but not sure I am supposed to name people here!) who invited me for my first milonga last Sunday. It was a pleasure dancing with you.

  3. Game Cat
    Feb 03, 2009 @ 21:16:01


    Hope you’re well, and this is a nice topic.

    I’m pleased that you think people who just enjoy tango music without dancing to it are also part of the WWATC. I first heard the music and saw a performance by a touring group on the other side of the world perhaps 15 years ago. I can’t recall anything about the dancing, but burnt into my memory are the music and the sheer intensity of the two 70+ year old musicians heaving at their bandeneons.

    For some strange mix of life experiences, I felt the music calling more keenly about two years ago, and felt compelled to dance. If I could play the violin, piano or bandeneon, perhaps I would have been content not to have started. Now dancing is the closest I can get to the music.

    Cliques are as natural as life, and I like to think that tango (and the milonga) is a small but telling reflection of real life. They’re neither good nor bad, it’s how their members behave that make them good or bad. I do agree though that one needs to temper this with being open, on both the receiving and giving ends.

  4. Arlene
    Feb 03, 2009 @ 21:23:51

    Hi Gamecat,

    Glad you joined the club. Like you I heard the music many years before I started dancing. Good things come to those that wait. Better late than never!

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