Every time we dance, my love dies just a little bit. I strive to make every step perfect, but I know that my own ignorance of the music and its culture will ensure that perfection flees. I accept every recrimination not because I have no self-esteem but because in a twisted sense, I completely understand the need of these men to justify their ego’s. Because tango is that way.

Welcome to the Evocative Dance Lifestyle of Colombia….The Tango.

More Than a Dance, a Lifestyle

How can I ever explain what Tango means to me, and more importantly, to Colombia. It’s a world hidden by dark twists, turns and shades of grey. The music which lifts us up to euphoria, also drops us down to hellish depths of moroseness and intrigue.

The people of Colombian Tango live their music in the midnight rush of aguardiente or rum, combined with intense dance and social interaction.

The Evocative Dance Lifestyle of Colombia – written by Erin Donaldson

By day the women sip their coffee demurely between classes, as the men chat and exchange familiar greetings. At night they come out dressed to kill and ready to conquer the dance floor with their wives, dance partners, mistresses and/or the occasional prostitute.

This is the tango lifestyle. Because it is so much more than a dance. The intense hours of study. Spending days listening to the rise and fall of the orchestra. Weeks and months of practicing small but precise moves until perfection. This is tango.

A Brief History of Tango in Colombia

Tango began in Colombia a little over a hundred years ago with the arrival of cinema. The music was embraced by a people who have a massive capacity to feel on deep levels. It didn’t become popular as a dance until right before the civil war started – over 60 or 70 years ago depending on who you ask. They didn’t go to Buenos Aires, or watch videos on YouTube to learn the basics. Instead, they responded in the way they felt they should in relation to what they saw in movie theaters.

Modern Interpretations

Today, tango is danced in Colombia, in two different forms. One method is empirical, a local interpretation of how tango should be danced. This approach developed into easy to follow, hook-like moves which follow the rhythm.

The other method focuses on dance technique. A style based on the original intentions of Buenos Aires dance academies. Over the last 20 years this is the most common system of codes which you will see in other parts of the world where tango is danced.

A Brief History of Tango in Buenos Aires

The origins of tango are a bit earlier than the 20th century. It wasn’t until then that the dance and music developed into what it is today.

During this time, Argentina was receiving foreign immigrants, a la lata, or in large amounts – mostly men. Women were few and far between, leaving the male species hungering for their love and attention.

The Tango culture is said to have begun in the brothels of Argentina, a woman, for that one Tanda, or series of 3-4 songs, became the lover, the girlfriend, the wife – of a man who otherwise may not have access to one. Only the best dancers were chosen to go to bed, or to receive more dances, by the women. Men would practice with other men tirelessly. They strove to perfect their own moves and techniques for Saturday night.

The Culture of Tango

As with any other dance form, there is a culture and a set of signals which cue the dancers, especially in environments where it may not be possible to speak. The tango culture is subtle and based on the machismo of the Latin man where embarrassment and rejection is to be avoided at all costs.

Cabeçeo: A head nod to invite a desired partner into the dance. If the recipient met the eyes and nodded back, they would meet. Lack of response was a subtle “no” without any shame or rejection – hopefully.

Beginning the dance: Contrary to what may or may not be witnessed locally, a woman should never raise her arms in anticipation until the man asks her to do do. Women must conserve their allure at all costs until the man requests their participation. The cue to dance is an extended hand and a slight lift on the opposite arm, indicating that it is time to enter the embrace.

Tanda: In a proper Buenos Aires Milonga, each pair dances a tanda, which is three to four songs of the same rhythm. One tanda of Tango, one of Vals, one of Milonga, one of Bolero etc. Between each tanda is a cortina. It is frowned upon, and inappropriate to dance to the cortina. This is a song or two to allow the dancers to sit, use the restroom, exchange pleasantries or order drinks. NOTE: Not all tango bars in Colombia use tandas and cortinas, especially in places like Pereira – where less people actually dance to Tango and Milonga, there are more “tropical rhythms, thrown in such as Salsa and Merengue to encourage non-tango dancers to participate.

Milonga: A type of Argentinian rhythm but also the name of a Tango dance party hosted by tango bars or dance schools. Especially if it has the denomination “como en Buenos Aires,” then you should expect the previous etiquette to come into play. These dance parties are often borderline formal dress. Men should wear suits and women should wear nice dresses with stockings and appropriate footwear. Don’t do what this gringa did and show up to her first Milonga in shorts and a cute shirt “a la clubbing.” I was mortified.

The Embrace: There is a nuance in Colombia, particularly in my corner of the Coffee Axis, where it is believed that the only way to dance tango is in a closed embrace. As a result, the dance has become off-putting to some people because the last thing anyone wants, is to embrace a fat – or bony in contrast (we all have our preferences), even an excessively sweaty body, or worse – be bodily caressed on the dance floor by someone they would rather not have caressing them.

Note: It falls on the woman to choose the distance. When the man invites you into the embrace, you have the right to position your hand in second or or third position, versus a full embrace. If someone puts the brakes on a full embrace, respect their wishes and they might come back and dance with you again.

The Evocative Dance Lifestyle of Colombia

Dancing tango for me, is the ultimate image of sensuality – without the intense sexuality of Bachata or the rapid yet alluring forms of Salsa. The more subtle the cues, the more evocative the feeling. This is by no means a dance for someone who wants to learn a couple steps and then hit the dance floor. It’s for the type of person who enjoys new challenges and activities which require persistence.

As a woman who is used to taking control – giving orders and getting what I want, Tango becomes a form of release where I am completely at the mercy of my dance partner. To think is to err. To exert my will is to step outside the context of the dance.

Especially when I am stressed or working hard, the hours I spend dancing is a moment where I am forced to completely disconnect from everything else that is happening and focus on only one thing: following with exacting precision the orders my partner gives me. It is a sweet exhilaration to be completely at someone else’s mercy, and in a compromising position, as a I dissociate and form my body to the rise and fall of the orchestra.

That night, I lay down in my bed and my feet are aching with an exquisite torture. As I fall asleep, the pain in my body reminds me of the delicious feel of the movements which I rehearsed only an hour or two earlier. For just a little while I was able to dissociate from reality to a place where every moment, every movement, every feeling was not my own, but spoon fed to me and my only directive is: Don’t Think…Only Feel!


In Colombia, Tango is an important cultural heritage that many outsiders may or may not encounter. The music and the dance has existed almost as long in Colombia as it has been danced in Argentina. Many famous Tango singers found their way to bliss and contentment here including Carlos Gardel who ultimately died in a plane crash, in Medellin. The relationship between Colombia and Argentine Tango is an intricate tapestry of romance and passion for the music which tango enthusiasts are working tirelessly to revive and ensure that it is not lost to the up and coming generations.

For my other article about Tango in Colombia: Read more here “Why Does Colombia Love Tango? http://coffeeaxistravel.com/colombia-love-tango/

For more information and to stay informed on Colombian tango events, download the Tango Red Colombia app: https://www.facebook.com/apptangored/

Information about tango in Manizales can be found here: Tango and Art Foundation of Manizales:http://fundacionarteytango.com