Tango York

Tango Terminology

"The Tango begins with the posture and finishes in the legs". Pablo Pugliese

Abrazo The embrace; a hug; or dance position. The embrace symbolizes the union of two partners determined to care for each other while enjoying the moment. If you're not doing that you're not dancing tango.

Abrir To open.

Adelante Forward

Adornos Embellishments.

Al costado To the side.

Amague From amagar. To make a threatening motion as a feint: An amague is used as an embellishment either led or done on one’s own, and may be used before taking a step. An example of an amague may be a beat (frappé) before taking a step. See Cuatro.

Apilado Style. See Milonguero Style.

Arrabal The slums.

Arrabalero A person of low social status. A person of simple and direct ways who speaks plainly and uses coarse language.

Arrastre A drag. To drag your partner's foot with your own.

Arrepentida Repentant; To change one’s mind: A family of steps which allow a couple to back away from a collision or traffic jam in a minimal amount of space and on short notice.

Atrás Backward

Bailar To dance.

Bailarin A professional or very accomplished dancer.

Bailongo A lunfardo word to describe a place where people dance, i.e. a milonga.

Balanceo A deep check and replace. See Cadencia.

Baldosa A walking box figure named after the black & white checkerboard tile floors which are common in Buenos Aires. See Cuadrado.

Barrida From barrer, to sweep away. Also called llevada. A sweeping motion. One partner's foot sweeps the other's foot.

Barrio A neighborhood in an Argentine city.

Boleo From bolear. An ornament. Throwing or swiveling one leg with the knees locked together, usually one behind the other. A boleo may be done with the toe touching the floor or higher. And may be executed either high or low. Keeping knees together, with one leg in back, swivel on the supporting leg.

Los brazos The arms.

Cabeceo From cabeza; head. Traditional technique for selecting dance partners from a distance at the milongas in Buenos Aires by using eye contact and head movements. See also Codigos.

Cadena Chain. A movement of two people across the floor in a circular motion. One partner displaces the other partners leg and rolls across the front of their body. The other partner continues the motion. Must be seen to be appreciated.

Cadencia A deep check and replace, usually led by the man as he steps forward left. Useful for avoiding collisions and making direction changes in small spaces. May also refer to a subtle shifting of weight from foot to foot in place and in time with the music done by the man before beginning a dance to give the lady the rhythm he intends to dance and to ensure that she will begin with him on the correct foot. See Balanceo.

Caida Fall. A step in which the man steps backward, sinks on his supporting leg, and crosses his working leg in front without weight while leading the lady to step forward in outside position, sink on her supporting leg and cross her working leg behind without weight. Caida may be done to either side.

Calecita Carousel; the merry-go-round. A figure in which the man places the lady on one foot with a lifting action of his frame and then dances around her while keeping her centered over, and pivoting on, her supporting leg. Sometimes referred to as the Stork.

Caminar To walk.The walk is similar to a natural walking step. The body and leg must move as a unit so that the body is in balance.

Candombe A type of dance done by the descendants of black slaves in Argentina. A type of tango music with a marked rhythm played on a drum. The place where black people went to dance (synonymous with 'milonga').

Cangrejo The crab: A repetitive pattern of walking steps and or sacadas in which the man advances turned nearly sideways to his partner.

Canyengue An older style of tango.

Carancanfunfa Also carancanfun. In the lingo of the compadritos, the dance of tango with interruptions (cortes) and also those who dance it that way in a very skillful manner.

Caricias Caresses. A gentle stroking with the leg or shoe against some part of the partner's body. They can be subtle or extravagant. See Adorno, Firulete, and Lustrada.

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

Carpa The tent A figure created when the man leads the lady onto one foot as in calecita and then steps back away from her, causing her to lean at an angle from her foot to his frame.

Castigada From castigar: to punish; a punishment. A lofting of the lady's working leg followed by flexing at the knee and caressing the working foot down the outside of the supporting leg. Often done as an adorno prior to stepping forward, as in parada or in ochos.

Chiche pl. chiches. Small ornamental beats done around the supporting foot with the working foot in time with the music, either in front or in back as desired. See adorno, firulete.

La Cintura The waist.

El compás The beat.

Corrida A running step used in milonga, a series of small steps in double-time.

Corte Cut. Corte means cutting the music either by syncopating or holding several beats, taking something away from the principal move. Opposite of Firuletes.

Cruzada The cross. Crossing one foot in front or in back of the other.

Cruzar To cross.

El cuerpo The body

Los dedos The fingers, toes

Derecha Right.

Derecho Straight.

Despacio Slowly.

Desplazamiento displacement. Displacing a partner's foot or leg using your own foot or leg.

Dibujo A drawing or sketch. A dibujo is done by drawing circles or other small movements on the floor with the toe.

Doble Tiemp Double time.

El eje The axis (of the body).

Enganche Hooking or coupling, wrapping your leg around your partner's leg.

Enrosque From enroscar, to coil, twist, or screw. To spin on one foot while hooking the other foot behind, usually while the woman is executing a molinete.

Escuchar To listen.

Fantasia A style of tango for the stage characterized by large sweeping moves, and often many ganchos. Considered inappropriate in a small club or salon.

Fijarse Pay close attention to.

Gancho A hook. Used primarily on stage, considered inappropriate for salon tango.

Giro Turn. When the woman is doing a molinete, the man walks in a circle to his right or left (can be done either direction), sometimes turning sharply, sometimes slowly. One of the basic walking patterns.

Guiar To guide, also to lead.

Izquierda Left.

Juntos Together. From juntar to join together, as in one's feet or knees.

Lápiz Pencil. A circular figure executed with one foot drawing on the floor.

Llevada From llevarto carry or transport. Similar to a barrida. The man can move the woman's foot with his own, carrying it off the floor or across the floor.

La Marca The lead. From marquar, To lead. The lead is mainly indicated by the man's chest. He does not lead with his left arm or hand, though he may exert a gentle pressure or block with his right. The woman always moves first. She leads the way and he follows.

Media vuelta Half turn.Usually done when man's right foot and woman's left foot are free. Man steps forward with his right leading woman to take a back step with her left and then leads her to take two steps while making a half turn.

Milonga The music of a dance that preceeded the tango, usually in 2/4 time, quicker and more upbeat than tango. 2. A dance, where people go to dance tango and milonga.

Milonguero An older tango dancer, one who frequented the milongas during the 1940's and 50's. Also refers to those frequenting the milongas and considered tango enthusiasts. May also describe a style of dancing during that period.

Mirar To look.

Molinete Little windmill. A fan. When the follower moves in a circle around the leader, doing a footwork resembling forward and backward ochos.

Mordida Bite. One partner's foot is sandwiched between the other partner's feet.

Ochos Eights. Pivoting forward or backward with the feet together during the pivot and extended during the step.

Ocho atras: ochos backward

Ocho cortado Cut eight.

Orillero The outskirts of the city, suburban. Orillero style A style of dancing from the suburbs characterized by the man doing many quick, syncopated foot moves.

Parada A stop.

Pasos Steps.

Patada A kick.

El pecho The chest.

El peso The weight.

El piso Floor

La pista Dance floor

Pocket: Anytime the lead walks on outside of partner - either hip.

Preguntar To ask.

Una pregunta, por favor. A question, please.

Las piernas The legs

Quebrada Break. The woman is standing on one foot, often hanging her weight on the man. The other foot is relaxed, often slightly raised with the toe touching the floor.

Rápido Fast. Usually heard "mas rapido."

Resolución Resolution. An ending to a basic pattern.

El Ritmo The rhythm.

Las Rodillas The knees.

Rulo A curl.

Sacada A displacement of the feet.

Salida A start, or a run. The beginning of a pattern.

Salida Cruzada The beginning of a pattern with a cross, stepping side left crossing right foot behind left or side right crossing left foot behind right.

Salón A style of dancing for the milonga or small club, as opposed to stage tango (see Fantasia).

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

Seguir To follow.

Sacada A displacement, to move your partner's leg out of the way gently with your own. See desplazamiento.

Sentada A sitting move, the woman sits on her partner's bent leg or waist.

Trabada Fastened, a lock step. The step that the woman takes when the man steps outisde his partner with his right foot and then straight forward left, together right. At this point the woman crosses and this cross is referred to as a trabada.

Traspie Cross foot; triple step. A walking step with a syncopated cross. Using two beats of music the dancer does step-cross-step beginning with either foot and moving in any direction.

Una vez mas One more time.

Vals Waltz, done to tango music in waltz time.


Tango Etiquette

Experienced dancers will recognise the following guidelines but new dancers are coming on the scene all the time, so it is as well to restate them. To help avoid embarrassing, awkward, or unsafe situations new dancers should familiarize themselves with some aspects of Tango etiquette. The idea is to recombine simple elements so you never quite repeat yourself. Musicality is the name of the game, and creativity and individuality, and communication, and control, and subtlety.

1. At a milonga, couples dance counter-clockwise around the dance floor. The faster 'lanes' are those toward the outside of the counter- clockwise line of dance. The slower 'lanes' are toward the centre. As you dance, refrain from cutting across these lanes, cutting through the centre, or dancing backward to the line-of-dance, especially on a crowded dance floor. 

2. If you are not dancing, don't walk through the busy dance floor and stay clear of the dance space. For example, while others are dancing, do not stand in the dance lanes and talk. 

3. If you are trying to show your partner a new step, move to a non-dance area for your demonstration and discussion. 

4. The safety of your partner and surrounding dancers is your first concern. Both leader and follower should always be alert to the presence of other dancers in front, to the sides, and behind to help avoid collisions. If a collision occurs, try to soften the collision by bringing your arms in and stopping movement. Afterwards be polite and friendly, even if it was not your fault. 

Dancing on a crowded tango dance floor is an exercise in avoiding collisions in a safe, creative, and fun fashion. No matter how crowded it gets, experienced dancers don't bump into each other. Improvising tango means being able to change your direction, your ideas, your partner's direction, in the middle of any step, so as to smoothly avoid crashes. You also want to be able to shrink your movements. What would a miniature boleo look like? How small an ocho can you lead and still be clear? On a crowded floor, the crowd literally shapes your dance. Try and take an attitude of enjoying the challenge to your creativity that a crowd can provide. Think of small movements as, rather than frustrating, more intimate, or more expressive of the compressed tension of tango. 

5. No one likes being kicked, run into, or stepped on, so on a crowded dance floor, avoid aggressive movements, high boleos, hard-hitting ganchos, and leg extensions. If you feel you are about to step on someone, hopefully not your partner, try not to follow through with the stepping action to soften the blow of your foot landing on another's. Also, leaders keep your left arm down and about shoulder height with your left elbow down and fairly close to your side. It's not fun on a crowded dance floor having to duck when another dancer swings around with their partner and the lead's left hand is high in the air and close to your nose. 

Not all of the steps ever invented for tango are appropriate at a milonga. You'll see very few ganchos, for example. Any step that disturbs the position of the embrace is suspect. So if you do a sandwich (parada/mordida), you do it small, not opening the frame. Movements should be unpretentious. For example, instead of gigantic boleos you'll see soft little shakes and wiggles. In terms of what you lead, you can't lead too many back ochos and walks. You'll discover a million ways of walking and of dancing back ochos. 

6. On a crowded dance floor, 'showboating' in the outer fast lane is frowned on since it usually stops dancers coming from behind making forward progress and it usually involves steps that are not safe to the surrounding dancers. Remember, it's social dance, so relax and have fun. If you feel the need to do a little showboating, move to the centre of the floor where you can stop and do multiple ochos or molinetes, for example, and not stop the forward line-of- dance.

7. For the leaders, if you absolutely must travel backwards to line-of-dance, look to the rear first. For the followers, as any dance pattern unfolds, be alert to dancers potentially in the way and let the leader know of a possible collision verbally, by a hand squeeze, or by pulling your partner closer, or all of these, especially on a crowded dance floor. 

8. If a couple in front of you stops, then either dance around them, mark time or use a tango side-rocking step, for example, to continue dancing until they move. 

9. Followers, do not backlead. Not only does it make leading more difficult, but it also makes it more difficult for the leader to avoid collisions. 

10. It's OK to smile and have fun on the tango dance floor. 

11. More experienced dancers should set a good example for beginners by being patient, polite and sensitive. It is acceptable to give advice, provided it is asked for first, or provided you first ask permission to make an 'observation' or a 'comment'. A harsh or insensitive, but well intended 'comment' can still ruin someone's evening. 

12. While you're not dancing, you can learn a lot by watching. While it's difficult to pick up whole phrases by watching, you can spot many adornments in people's footwork, and try to imitate them. You can observe how people hold each other, and experiment along that theme. You can watch for the pleasure of seeing how different couples interpret the music. 

13. The old-fashioned way of asking someone to dance, for a man or a woman, is to let your gaze rest on the person you want. Be they far across the room, a friend or a stranger, when you catch each other's eyes, that's the invitation. A nod and a smile, perhaps a glance at the dance floor, is confirmation. The man rises and walks over toward her table. She waits for him at the edge of the floor. They take a moment to position themselves in front of each other, lift their arms and settle into an embrace. This ritual will set the tone for the rest of their dance.

What level am I?

Tango is a difficult dance, with women acquiring their technical essentials faster than men. It will take at least two years of regular lessons and practice sessions to dance proficiently, although you will begin to relax and have fun dancing after about six months. It would be easy to say that you are an improver or an intermediate after so many months of regular lessons and dancing, but that runs the risk of missing some important points.

The purpose of any dance, is for two people to dance together as one in harmony to the music. To dance together as one requires a sound foundation in technique and balance. To be in harmony with the music requires the leader not to just hear the sound but to listen to it and tailor the moves to the beat or the phrasing. The end result is a dance which exudes smoothness to the observer.

The danger is that the leaders measure their level by the number of moves they have acquired. That is all well and good if they complete these moves dancing as one with their partner, but often this is not the case. Leaders will attempt to undertake more complicated moves where their lack of a firm technical foundation leads to a jerky and unco-ordinated result. It is also a bad experience for their partner. Leaders would be better to concentrate on achieving smoothness with the basic moves before they pressure themselves to advance too fast. Once the basics are in place then moving forward will be easier and much more satisfying.

Even advanced dancers, when they dance socially use the skills and steps learnt in the basic classes, not fancy intricate steps. Another reason for this is that on crowded dance floors there simply isn't the space to undertake these advanced moves, but this is something thay rarely tell you at dance classes.