May 20, 2024

Tango Tidbits

A Beginner’s Checklist

Here is a list of things you should be able to accomplish as a beginner.
For Leaders:
1. Know how to ask someone to dance
2. Follow the line of dance and stay in your lane
3. Walk smoothly
4. Keep your own balance
5. Keep the rhythm (even at the expense of executing fancier steps)
6. Be aware of where you and others are on the floor
7. Know how to walk, turn, stop and lead a few embellishments
8. Know how to interrupt a step to keep from hitting another couple
9. Know how to put basic elements together to make a dance
For Followers:
1. Know how to accept or decline a dance
2. Wait for the lead
3. Walk smoothly and walk to the cross well
4. Keep your own balance
5. Keep the rhythm
6. Be aware of others on the floor
7. Know how to walk, turn, stop and execute a few embellishments Once you have mastered the elements on these lists, you are an intermediate dancer. As an intermediate dancer you will work on how to dance more improvisationally, how to improve your posture and balance, how to interpret the music on a more sophisticated level, and how to combine many basic elements to form new dance steps or perhaps create your own.

Useful Tango Terms

The following terms are often used to describe some of the basic elements of tango.
adornos….. embellishments
amague….. a fake
arrastre….. a drag
barrida….. a sweep
boleo…. “The Whip” (a particular embellishment that can be done high or low)
caminar….. to walk—the basic walking pattern of tango
cruzada….. the cross
corrida….. a rhymthic run (double-time walking)
enrosque….. a twisting movement during a turn
freno….. a brake (blocking a foot)
gancho….. a hook (a type of embellishment)
giro….. a turn
lapiz….. literally means a pencil (to draw a circle on the floor)
mordida….. literally means a “bite” (used when the feet form a sandwich)
ocho….. an “eight” (part of a turn)
parada…. a stop
salida….. literally means “exit,” but in tango it’s a basic entrance to the dance
sacada….. a displacement

Volcada….. from Volcar – to tip-over or capsize; a falling step: The leader causes the follower to tilt or lean forward and fall off her axis before he catches her again. The process produces a beautiful leg drop from her. The movement requires the support of a close embrace.


For a more complete list of terms, see Ed Loomis’ Guide to Tango Terminology.

Do you have a Tango Tidbit you would like to add? Please comment below…

5 thoughts on “Tango Tidbits

  1. Regarding terminology- what does a “figure” mean? Also, maybe you could note the different styles or rhythms – tango, milonga and vals.

  2. Addition to #6: Be respectful of the ronda and do not JUST cut into the line of dance. Wait for a space to develop and if possible cabeseo the  leader of the couple that you will be stepping in front of to signal your intent.

  3. Women, please don’t drape yourselves over your partner as you are heavy on them and you should maintain your own axis in order not to lean on them.
    Maintain a correct embrace whether open or closed. Be upright, chest upright and dance with intention.

  4. There are three dances which make up the dance hall Milonga night. One is the Vals (a Waltz), the other a Milonga which is usually done at a faster pace with different patterns of steps and the third is the Argentine Tango. I have been told that the Vals is usually the most popular at a Milonga night but I don’t know how true that is.
    We should all remember to NOT walk across the dance floor in order to access it or to get off it. Start at the side of the dance floor and wait for space and if you finish a dance walk to the side of the space and go around to your seat or table. 

  5. The musical timing for Tango, Vals, and Milonga are in the February, March, and April 2019 issues of The Dance Calendar. Milonga sounds faster (not necessarily faster) than tango because its timing is 2/4 while tango’s timing is common time. Milonga has more eighth notes than tango so it sounds faster.

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