Argentine Tango



From about 1880, large scale immigration, most of whom were meant, increased the population of Buenos Aires.  The one trade that flourished above all others was prostitution.  A reflection of the hardships endured by the people, a way of survival for some, and a desperate mens of earning income for others.  It is here in the brothels and bordellos on the back streets of Buenos Aires, that the Tango really came to life.  These illegal brothels, most became know as Academies de Dance, were the massage parlors of their day. The dance had to be simple, so if the police raided the joint (police which had not been bribed), there would appear to be “dancing instruction” going on. 

The dance probably started out as some form of acting out the relationship between the prostitute and pimp in Buenos Aires.  This was often reflected in the titles of the first tangos where referred to o characters in the world of prostitution.  It must also be noted that when written lyrics began to appear, women were often portrayed as evil temptresses, there to lead men into sin and degradation.  At the time, the dance was totally reflected by the upper class elite of Buenos Aires society, as a dirty street dance.  Although many of the young well-to-do gentlemen would allegedly visit the “Dance Academies” for instruction. 

More than anything else the Tango is about a connection, an empathy between two people, the need to embrace, and be in the arms of another, to escape, albeit for just a brief moment of time, and that moment, to live a life time... 

Some see the dance in terms of “how flashy can I be with the steps” and I want more steps, and more steps.  All I want to do is impress the people standing around the edges of the dance floor.  This is, in a way, the very antithesis of the concept of the Tango.  

Tango must be simply danced, with immense feeling, with a sense of energy flowing between the dancers.  This energy grows or decreases as the music ebbs and flows.  It is a seduction, or a private conversation, something to be quietly shared, not publicly displayed.


  • Basic Argentine Tango
  • Salida with back start (8 counts)
  • Cruzada--Lady’s
  • Crusada--Man’s
  • Ocho--from Cruzado forward
  • Ocho--from count 2 backward
  • Parada from Crusada
  • Closed Sundial
  • Giro (grapevine)
  • Giro w/ Lapis
  • Boleo--from two (small-cuddle)
  • Boleo--from two Basic with flare
  • Boleo--from two lower with Man’s sandwich



Argentine Tango Terms:




Abrazo:  Embrace.  Foundation for the frame.

ADORNO: Any embellishment.

AMAGUE (from amagar): An embellishment either led or done on one's own. Keeping knees together, bend one leg in front of the other in a very quick motion. An amague is used as an embellishment i.e.; the foot may execute a frappe (beat) before taking a step.

APILADO (from APILAR): A vertical A-frame position of two dancers in close embrace.

Axis:  Vertical spinal & abdominal support created by lifting & tightening  the torso & rib cage.  Essential.

Bandoneon:  Buttons & bellows squeeze instrument unique to tango.  Adds drama, playfulness, texture.

Barrida: sweep. A sweeping motion. One partner's foot sweeps the other's foot. Also called llevada.

Boleo:  To throw. A boleo may be executed either high or low. Keeping knees together, with one leg in back, swivel on the supporting leg. Natural rebound of relaxed leg to quick reverse motion of the axis.  Led.  Not the same as an embellishment kick.

CADENCIA or RHYTHM: Any steps done in a rhythm of syncopation.

CALESITA: The lead steps in a circle around the follower - keeping them on their own axis.

Caminar: to walk. The walk is similar to a natural walking step but the ball of the foot touches before the heel. The body and leg must move as a unit so that the body is in balance. Walks should be practiced for balance and fluidity.

Close embrace Partners maintain torso contact.  Communication is directly axis to axis.  “Milonguero” style.

Collect:  Bring legs & feet together between steps.

Corte: cut. In tango corte means cutting the music either by syncopating or holding several beats.

Cortina:  Curtain, Short musical interlude between tandas.

Cruzada*:  The cross.  Usually Follow’s left leg crossed over the right with weight change.  *Led.

Desplazamiento: displacement. Displacing the partner's foot or leg using one's leg or foot. 

Dibujo: drawing, sketch. A dibujo is done by drawing circles or other small movements on the floor with one's toe. 

Enganche: hooking, coupling. Occurs when partner wraps leg around the other's leg. 

Enrosque: from enroscar. To coil, twist. While woman executes a molinete, man spins on one foot, hooking other foot behind the spinning foot. 

Gancho:  Quick flick of the relaxed leg between partner’s legs.  Led.  Not the same as an uninvited kick.

Giro:  (“Heero“)  Steps rotating around partner in grapevine sequence.  (Front, open, back, open.) While woman does molinete, man turns on one foot placing the toe of the foot in front and executing a sharp turn.

Lapis: The pensil – usually done in a Giro the man traces the floor in a circular motion beginning at the Lady’s back step in the Giro.

Milonga**:  (1) Dance in 2/4 time.  (2) Music for the dance.  (3)  Place to dance tango.

Milonguero:  Refers to early tango dancers & their style of dancing close embrace.

Molinete:  Windmill.  Refers to giros. Forward and back ochos (figure 8-s).

Musicality:  Personal interpretation by Leads & Follows of the music’s tempo, rhythm, & mood.

Ochos:  Figures drawn on the floor with the foot resembling the numeral eight.

Ocho atras: ochos backward.

OPEN/CLOSE: Refers to the arms and hands while in dance position. The "open" position is the lead's left hand and the follower's right hand. The "closed" position is the lead's left arm and hand and the follower's right arm and hand.

PARADA or STOP: To move and stop a partner's foot by pushing their foot with your own.

Pista: dance floor.

Practica:  Place to practice skills, style & technique.

RESOLUCION or RESOLUTION: Ending of a common basic.

SACADA or REMOVE/WITHDRAW: To displace - to move your partner's foot with your own.

Salida: Exit, or start. It's interesting that the word for the basic step (a place to start) should be a way to get out of a figure as well.

Salida cruzada: the beginning of a pattern with a cross; i.e. side left crossing right foot behind left, or side right crossing left foot behind right.

SALON: Style of tango best suited for social dancing. Always following line of dance, being aware and be courteous to others.

SALUDO: Front leg wipe.

Sandwichito: One partner's foot is sandwiched between the other partner's feet. 

SECOND: Open position or side step. Body is balanced over open feet.

SENTADA or SIT POSITION: A sitting action. Weight on one leg with bent knee; other leg out straight, with knees together.

SYNCOPATION: To modify rhythm by a shift of accents on a beat.

Trabada: fastened. It is a lock step - the step that the woman takes when man steps outside with his right foot and then straight forward left, together right. At this point the woman crosses and this cross is referred to as trabada. 

Tanguero/a:  Male or female who dances tango.

Tanda:  A set of dances usually in the same musical style or by the same orchestra.

Vals cruzado:  Fast 3/4 time dance incorporating tango steps.  Lilting, flowing music in 3/4 time.

*Whether the cross is “led” or “memorized” is a topic of much discussion.  Most agree it is led.

**We can dance a milonga to a milonga at a milonga.

Definitions of some terms will expand with increased skill level & experience. 

Some teachers say “giros” others say “turns” & still others say “molinetes.”   Some say “collect” others say “gather.”  Some say lead with the toe, others say lead with the heel.  You get the idea. 


Deal with it.  :-)


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