Simple rules for Argentine tango

  1. I move naturally, keeping “nose over toes”.
  2. I match energy with the music and with my partner.
  3. I seek to confront (be with and chest facing) my partner.
  4. At each step I may: 1) move my weight from one foot to the other over zero or longer distance, forward, backward, or sideways; or 2) pivot forward or backwards on the ball of my supporting foot; or 3) pause. I may step through or around my partner’s space. My partner may do something different.
  5. We create dance sequences by opening space for our partner to flow into, or closing space to send our partner in another direction.
  6. Between steps my body passes directly over my supporting leg, while my free leg wants to swing near and under my body to give me good balance and a small footprint for any possible next step or pivot.
  7. I may test, but not stress, my partner.
  8. I or my partner may intentionally bend or break any rule for special effect.

Not rules in the sense of codigos for behavior at the milonga social, but a framework, a set of principles for a way of being when dancing Argentine tango.

In eight rules and fewer than 150 words we have a complete system to express the rich complexity of Argentine tango. Well . . .

Until dancers reach some stages of unconscious competence, they tend to spend too much time in “System 2” of the mind (Thinking fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman), the slower, more deliberative, and more logical one. That’s good for disciplined practice time, but when we dance we want to be in the flow of “System 1,” the fast, instinctive, and emotional one. How to reconcile the complexity of the infinite possibilities of Argentine tango with the limitations of the novice mind-body? Simple rules give us an emotional and instinctive feeling for how we want to be when we are dancing.

Would you expand or reduce this set of rules?
Does any rule strike you as just wrong?
I’d love to hear your comments on how you express the Argentine tango system to the curious and to new dancers.


Inspired by Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World by professors Donald Sull and Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, about how we all use simple rules, shortcuts to manage the complexities of daily live, and how we can intentionally devise simple rules to help us grasp and manage complex systems, such as the dance of Argentine tango. We have a good example of this in the way that General Motors CEO Mary Barra replaced a 10-page employee dress code with two words, “Dress appropriately.”

What do you have to say?