Rock that milonga tanda: the 5 differences between tango and milonga

Ah, the milonga tanda….

For some of us it’s the best moment of the night, for others it is time to hide and despair at how complicated dancing can be….

If you’re in the latter case, we know how you feel.

Starting out, the milonga tandas were the moments I’d glue my eyes to the floor praying that noone would invite me. And for Pablo, they signalled it was time for a toilet break. Yet now, after years of dancing, milonga is our favourite tanda.

Because actually, milonga is pretty simple to dance…. once you’ve understood a basic truth: Milonga and Tango are not the same dance!

Definitely not.

Don’t be tempted to step on the dance floor and adapt your tango moves to the milonga rhythm, it won’t work. 


True, tango and milonga look similar to the untrained eye but they are definitely not the same dance. In fact, there are 5 major differences between tango and milonga. 

Here at Tango Space, we recently organised a 3-part milonga worshop students loved, and the focus was on these 5 elements. 

Nail them, whether you are a leader or a follower, and you are ready to dance….


1. Your embrace should be tighter

Milonga is so precise and sharp that you need a very tight embrace to dance it. It doesn’t mean you should crush your partner’s ribs or prevent them from breathing, but make sure that your embrace is tighter than for a tango. Also, in milonga we rarely (if at all) open the embrace. When we do, it is more of a slight release than an opening. 

This is Osvaldo and Coca Cartery dancing milonga. Check out their embrace: that’s the type of ‘tightness’ you want.


2. Make smaller steps 

Tango music invites you to take long, powerful steps. By contrast, the milonga rhythm is fast and sharp. If you make the long steps you are used to in tango, you won’t be able to keep up with the milonga music. The steps should be very small (women: if you think you’re doing small steps already… do them even smaller!), and just below yourself. You’ll move forward, obviously, but there’s no need to travel all the way across the dance floor as we do in tango.

3. Your keep your axis in the middle

When you step in tango you are completely transfering your weight: your axis moves from point A to point B, from above one leg to above the other leg. So once your step is finished, you align your axis and your legs.

In milonga we keep the axis in between our legs. The legs move but the center of gravity stays in-between the legs. We don’t fully align axis and legs. 

See in the picture below how the axis is moving forward when the tango dancer steps? For milonga the axis remains in-between the legs: the legs that move around the axis.

4. Tighten your upper legs

In Milonga the physicality of the body changes completely.

In tango classes we always tell our students to relax the hips, soften the knees and use the whole of the feet’s soles to soften their walking. 

That’s not the feeling you should be looking for in milonga. Everything, including the body, is much tighter. So, you don’t want to be extra tensed, but you can’t let your hips and upper legs get floppy. 

Keep your knees soft but make sure that your upper legs are tightened – that includes your front of the thighs (quadricep muscles – rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis), the inner muscles (adductors) and the back muscles, just below your bottom (biceps femoris and semitendinosus – commonly called hamstrings muscles). As in tango, your pelvic floor and core muscles should be activated too, so the center part of your body will be very tight. We wrote about core muscles in the past, and you can check out the article here.

In the images below, the adductor muscles are in blue, the quadricep muscles are in green, and the two hamstring muscles referred to here are in red (semimembranosus is also part of the commonly called hamstring muscles)

5. The way you step should be different

When you dance milonga, your relationship with the floor changes. 

Don’t forget: milonga is a popular dance. It was created by compadritos as a mockery (or probably more out of envy….) of the African people dancing in the Rio de la Plata at the turn of the past century. It has never been supposed to be soft and graceful. 

Because your legs are tighter, you will step differently when dacing milonga than when dancing tango. 

Tango walking is soft, elegant. You slowly transfer your weight across the whole solde of foot: first the on toes, then the metatorsals, then on the heels for the ladies. First on the heels, then the metatarsals, then on the toes for the men.

By contrast, the milonga walking is choppy and staccato, like its rhythm. You don’t have the time to unroll the foot. Because everything, from the music to your embrace to your legs is tighter, you need to step quickly, very precisely. The way you transfer your weight should be more compact.

Check out how Osvaldo is doing in the gif below!


With all this in mind, you should find the transition from tango to milonga easier.

Now, how will you know that you’re truly dancing milonga? 

There’s one sign that doesn’t lie…

You’re smiling….

Don’t worry too much when you step on the dancefloor. Keep the serious face for the deep, soulful tango tandas and let the milonga’s cheeky spirit get to you. Milonga is playful and when you dance you should feel like you’re truly playing with your partner.

And if that doesn’t bring a smile to your face… what will?

Do you have any more tips for people who want to improve their milonga skills? Share them in the comments below! 

Happy, playful milonga tandas!


Are you ready to take your tango to the next level?


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