Musicality for Ceroc-ers

10th September 2010

(More Fusion articles.)

"Alright chums, let's do this! Leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeerooooooooooy Jenkins!" ~ Leeroy Jenkins

Note: For this article you won't have to worry about rhythms or phrasing. I'm going to stick to Tango music and avoid milonga and vals, because as you'll see that's quite confusing in itself. I will however reference pop music as that will probably make more sense to you.

Introduction: the beat

"This has given us a lot of trouble in the past"

Just in case you don't know or have been confused by other "helpful" people, the "beat" is the thing you clap along to.

Helpfully in Don Omar's "Conteo" the beat is actually counted out for you, albeit in Spanish.

Ceroc beat

So in Ceroc you would normally step once each beat - that is, you would step on each of:

  1. "Uno": step
  2. "Dos": step
  3. "Tres": step
  4. "Cuatro": step

While this is fine if all you want to do is weight transfers (or milonga), but if you try to do a tango walk at this speed, it looks like someone's hit the fast forward button :S

Tango beat

So for tango, you walk half as fast, ie you're now doing:

  1. "Uno": step
  2. "Dos"
  3. "Tres": step
  4. "Cuatro"

At "Dos" and "Cuatro" your feet pass each other. (* I'll come back to this in a minute)

You can also choose to walk even more slowly in tango and only step on every fourth beat:

  1. "Uno": step
  2. "Dos"
  3. "Tres"
  4. "Cuatro"

I strongly recommend you try this for a bit, just walking on your own in these three different ways. Feel free to start with weight transfers if you find that easier. Likewise you may find that counting out loud and / or clapping helps.


And now... the catch"
Now the catch?"
~ Death Becomes Her

OK, now comes the jargon. I'll apologise before I even start, and recommend you're happy with the above before you read this. There's a whole bunch of different and unfortunately contradictory terms that get thrown around, so you may need to read this more than once, but hopefully it'll make sense eventually.

This section is going to relate the examples above to the terms you'll hear in classes, as that's probably the only time understanding the "right" word is important. Followers aren't going to ask you mid-dance to tell them whether you're dancing simple, double or whatever, so you don't need to worry about it.

Important Note: Don't talk to musicians, they will only confuse you. I'm not even going to try and explain the "correct" terminology from a musician's viewpoint. It gets way too arcane.

"Simple Time

(* Right, a minute's passed, and now I want to come back to this). "Simple time" (or "Normal time" / "Single time" / "Basic time"), just means stepping on every second beat - that is, half as fast as you would at Ceroc. You're stepping on the "Uno" and the "Tres".

Double Time

"I'll run in first"

This to me is the standard Ceroc step on every beat, ie you would step on each of "Uno" , "Dos", "Tres", "Cuatro". You're going twice as fast as "normal" tango speed, so double time.

Unfortunately some physicists / pedants argue that you are taking half as long to take each step and so this should be called "Half Time". This wouldn't be a huge problem except for...

Half Time

"I think it's a pretty good plan and we should be able to pull it off this time. What do you think Abdul, can you give me a quick number crunch?'
'Eh, yeah, give me a sec. I'm coming up with 32.33; repeating of course"

This to me is when you choose to walk more slowly than tango normal speed and only step on every fourth beat. In this case it would be the "Uno" and the beginning of the lyrics that follow "Cuatro".

And you guessed it, those pesky pedantic physicists want to call this "Double Time". Argh.

Fortunately, it should be fairly obvious by watching your teacher demonstrate a sequence whether they mean "go twice as fast", or "go twice as slow".

Even more confusion

On and off-beats

I've used the "Uno" , "Dos", "Tres", "Cuatro" for simplicity. However what's important is the "distance" between the beats. So while I've given the example of simple time as being "Uno" and the "Tres" it could also be on the "Dos" and the "Cuatro".

But that's a lot less likely in classes.

If you're collecting terminology, then stepping "Uno" and "Tres" is stepping on the "on-beats" and stepping "Dos" and "Cuatro" is stepping on the "off-beats".

Going slooooow

You can step slower than "Half-time" if you want, which might be referred to as legato, but again that can mean other things, so don't worry about it. (helpful hint, as you've probably guessed by now, if you can possibly help it, never refer to any of these things out loud); or indeed you can pause and let the woman do the work for a bit, known as "pausing" (Yay! For once it makes sense!).

OK, now feel free to go have a cup of tea, or come back to this tomorrow. There's a lot to take in.

Timing in figures

"Let's just stick to the plan!" ~ Three Kings

When doing double-time do not jump to warp speed! Generally speaking, double-times last 3 steps. It doesn't have to, but in classes the most common examples are the cross, the "back-side-forward" of the Giro, and the Ocho Cortado.

What a lot of people tend to do is try to jump to warp speed and stay there. This is particularly confusing with the ocho cortado and the giro.

So let's look at each of these figures in turn.

The Cross

The actual cross is usually preceded by 2 double-time steps.

  1. "Uno": step
  2. "Dos": step
  3. "Tres": cross

Again just to be helpful, this whole process is sometimes called "going to the cross" or even "the cross". When people talk about "automatically doing a cross on the third step", this is what they're talking about. It's the first 3 steps of the left hand side of the box / salida / 8 count basic.

The Giro

The double-time giro is made up of

  • 3 steps at double time - back-side-forward
  • 1 step at simple time - side

Rinse, wash, repeat...


  1. "Uno": Back
  2. "Dos": Side
  3. "Tres": Forward
  4. "Cuatro": Start sidestep
  5. "Uno": Complete sidestep

(Though again just to add even more confusion, it may be taught that the whole thing is in single time. Or you may see it danced, either in choreography or socially by people who haven't read this and jumped to warp speed, completely in double time. Or parts may be slowed down. You may even see pauses added in!

(* buries head in hands*)

Note: "The back step can't be done in one beat; so the following two steps are quickly to come back onto the beat; sort of beat-and-a-quarter-quick-quick normal" - BorderTangoMan

Now that we've done the easy figures, let's look at the Ocho Cortado...

The Ocho Cortado

The way the Ocho Cortado is usually taught in its "basic" form is made up of two sets of three double-time steps (for example, see the Ocho Cortado sequence description in the lesson notes here.

This is innately confusing, because it seems like that should mean the whole thing is in double-time. Which it is.

Confused? It gets worse. Like the giro there's a whole bunch of different timings that can be applied to the ocho cortado. (Actually now's as good a time as any to point out that you can generally apply any of these timings to any tango move, though some modifications may be necessary, especially if for the faster ones.)

The Ocho Cortado is treated as two sets of three to make it easier in future lessons when the teacher wants to show you a different version eg the quick-quick-slow, quick-quick-slow version (or whatever).

However it turns out that's not quite complicated enough - this is tango after all. The steps in the ocho cortado can vary slightly too, particularly for turning versions.

The Important Bit

Think of a Manhatten step. Forward and back. It's here at 37-40 secs.

Most reasonable people would describe the "steps" as the left foot moving forward and back. So if I said the timing was quick, quick, quick, or I wanted you to step on "Uno", "Dos" and "Tres", you'd take 3 steps with your left foot, right? Forward, back, forward.

Simple, sensible and completely wrong *(again I'm going to come back to this in a minute).

If you look closely at Amir's right foot he shifts it slightly which is a clue, though when it's taught you'll probably keep that foot still. None-the-less, it counts as a step.

So quick-quick-quick actually means: Step your left foot forward on "Uno", lift up your left foot on "Dos" and start to step back (this counts as your right step even though your right foot doesn't actually do anything), complete the step with your left foot back on "Tres".

And then you get to do the whole thing again this time starting with your right foot going back.

So if you put together two lots of the "Uno" , "Dos", "Tres", "Cuatro"

For the ocho cortado you would do

  1. "Uno": Step forward left
  2. "Dos": Lift left foot start stepping back with left
  3. "Tres": Complete step with left foot
  4. "Cuatro": Step backwards right
  5. "Uno": Lift right foot and start stepping forwards with right to collect
  6. "Dos": Complete step with right foot and collect.

The main way to do this basic version "wrong" is to do it all in simple time (that's stepping at half Ceroc speed on every other beat ie "Uno" and "Tres" ) ie half as fast.

The Illusionary Step

* Another minute's passed so I'm going back to this point. When you first look at it, it makes sense that only the left foot is stepping. If you look carefully at the timing you'll see there's an added piece of sneakiness. The left foot steps forward in one beat - doubletime or a quick; fine. But it then takes 2 beats to complete the next step backwards - which is a simple time or a slow.

So you actually could look at it as left foot forward double-time, then left foot back simple time.

  1. "Uno": Left forward step completes
  2. "Dos": Left step backwards
  3. "Tres": Left back step completes

It really is the whole weird "right step that isn't actually a step" that makes it confusing.

So the other thing you want to avoid is what I said earlier - trying to make all your left steps in double-time.

So, don't do this

  1. "Uno": Left step forwards
  2. "Dos": Left step backwards

Practice makes possible

Again I'd recommend walking through the correct versions of the cross, giro and ocho cortado with the music video above.

Hint: you can buy "Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift 2 Disc Set" for about £3 from Amazon. It includes this music video and you should be able to set your dvd player to loop "Uno, Dos, Tres, Cuatro" continuously.

You should also be aware that a rebound (which is how you start the ocho cortado) is not quite the same as a manhatten, and the difference is important, but it's better to get a tango teacher to show you the difference.

"*lots of swearing and cursing*"


Again another source of confusion with different teachers using it to mean different things. Syncopation also gets used randomly and interchangeably.

For Tango, the easiest way of thinking of traspie is simply it's the fastest you can physically step. It's a bit like "walking through the raindrops". It occurs between the beats.

For example:

  1. "Uno": Step
    • Step
  2. "Dos": Pause


  1. "Uno": Pause
    • Step
  2. "Dos": Step

Some music!

Here's a pop version. Try and walk to the series of 2 notes played at 33 secs.

And here's two tango versions

In this version you can hear it. Between 30 and 31 the violin does "du-dum" Try to step on both. (ignore what the dancers are doing)

In this version you can both see and hear it between 1.20 and 1.21 again it's a "du-dum" , this time from the piano; you can see Sebastian take two sharp steps (right then left) to match it. He does the same at 1.55-56 though it's not quite so obvious in the music as this time that part's sung rather than played.

I'm not going to get into it here, but be aware that traspie can have another meaning when applied to milonga.

Counts and beats

A few final pieces of confusion

"I can't move!"

A Ceroc "Count" is actually two beats. So if you walk to Ceroc Counts, you're walking to simple time in tango.

Tango teachers will sometimes say "E" to mean "y" which means "and" in Spanish. They use this to break the beats in half ie

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4


  1. 1
    • E
  2. 2
    • E
  3. 3
    • E
  4. 4

Break it down

"This is ridiculous!"

To further complicate things, if they want to break the beats down further it can become "1 and a 2". At this point things are moving so quickly it's largely irrelevant what exactly "and" and "a" mean other than there's two things going on between the beats.

Alternatively "tac" gets used to mean "fraction of a beat" eg you step "tac, tac, tac". Again the exact meaning varies...

Beat lengths

"Oh for... Great job Leeroy!"

Still reading? Wow. In both Ceroc and tango there is no exact length of a beat ie you can't say a beat lasts 1.2657 secs. There are fast and slow tangos. DJs have "fun" equipment that lets them change the speed of the music. So don't try and learn a simple time, a double time etc by heart. You need to be able to do it with each piece of music, which means "tuning in" to the beat at the beginning.

Britney Spears song "3" has the helpful lyrics, "1, 2, 3" but slightly faster than Conteo, so is also useful to practice these timings with.

Drumbeats vs Notes

You may have noticed that there's no drum in tango music.

This has a subtle but rather important effect. In Ceroc, the beat is pretty much an "instant" sound, of short duration, as it's (usually) marked by the drum.

But in tango, because it's marked by a note, it lasts a little bit longer.

Now it's such a small difference you wouldn't think it would really matter. However it tends to mean that Cerocers are slightly late all the time when they dance to tango music.

An example of this is your heel touches the ground on the beat - so you're on the beat, right? Nope.

In tango you roll through your foot through the note. By this point you should probably be on your instep. Exactly how you make sense of how to do this is probably down to you. I found trying to land on my instep on the beat works; if I do this my heel naturally hits the floor at the right time.

Trying to land on my heel slightly ahead of the note just gave me a headache, but your mileage may vary. (Read "toe" for "heel" if that's the way you step)

Think or feel?

When it comes to musicality there seem to be two approaches - the intuitive and the scientific. If you like to think in numbers and don't mind counting in your head and doing algebra while you dance then I highly recommend Joaquin Amenabar's book & DVD.

If that doesn't work for you I recommend you first have a look at these articles:

After that, try dancing to these songs, a lot, probably over a few months. What you'll find is that they contain certain patterns that turn up a lot in tango. Gradually you'll be able to feel what's coming next. Oh, and stay away from Pugliese for now.

  • Viego Ciejo - Canaro
  • de Julio - Canaro
  • Bahia Blanca - Di Sarli
  • Derecho Viejo - Canaro
  • Suerte Loca - Troilo
  • Don Juan - Troilo
  • Indio Manso - Di Sarli
  • Casas Viejas - Canaro
  • Alma - Carabelli
  • Marejada - Firpo
  • Lunes - Padula

Note: all these songs are included on Joaquin's book & dvd anyway so it's still probably worth a look.


"At least I have chicken!"

I will (hopefully) get around to filming video clips for these, but realistically it'll probably be next year in the 3rd Edition Ghost Guide; so I figured it was better to put this up now. Good luck.

Naturally there are further levels of complication to the whole mess. Hopefully I'll make sense of them in future articles...

 - Christopher O' Shea, 10th September 2010

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