This glossary attempts to give a basic, simple guide to some common Tango terms. Terms are presented in English with their Spanish equivalents also given.
Please also see:
Adornment (Spanish term: Adorno)
Adornment; embellishment. See Decoration, Shine and Pencil.
Axis (Spanish term: Eje)
Axis or balance. See Posture.
An aerial is an "air step", i.e. a move where one partner supports ("lifts") the other partner off the ground - typically the leader supports the follower. In Tango, aerials are rarely used except in exhibition dances.
An accordion-like musical instrument used by tango musicians.
The first figure usually taught to students after the walking steps, including elements which are used throughout the dance.
Beat (Spanish term: Compás)
The beat of the music. The walking count or impulse of each measure, the simplest element of each piece of music.
Bicycle (Spanish term: Bicicleta)
A circular movement of the feet led by the man in the vertical plane with the couples feet pressed together.
Break (Spanish term: Quebrada)
A position where the lady stands on one foot with the other foot hanging relaxed behind the supporting foot.
Traditional technique for selecting dance partners from a distance at dance halls in Buenos Aires by using eye contact.
Check (Spanish term: Balanceo / Cadencia)
Check-and-replace step. Useful for avoiding collisions and making direction changes in small spaces.
Carousel (Spanish term: Calesita)
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.
A very old style of tango from the 1900s to the 1940s.
Caresses (Spanish term: Caricias)
A gentle stroking with the leg or shoe against some part of the partner's body. They can be subtle or extravagant.
Codes (Spanish term: Codigos)
The codes of behavior and the techniques for finding a dance partner in the dance halls in Buenos Aires.
Corkscrew (Spanish term: Enrosque)
In a turn, while the lady dances around the man, the man pivots on his supporting foot, hooking or coiling the working leg behind or around in front of the supporting leg.
(Curtain) A brief musical interlude between tandas at a milonga.
Cross (Spanish term: Cruzada)
A cross occurs any time a foot is crossed in front of or in back of the other.
Occurs whenever the couple are stepping together on his and her right feet and then on his and her left feet, regardless
Cradle (Spanish term: Cunita)
A forward and backward rocking step done in time with the music, which is useful for marking time or changing direction in a small space.
Decorations (or embellishments) are additional components, usually added by the follower, to the dance; they are not led, but they allow the follower to add interpretation without disrupting the lead.
Departure (Spanish term: Salida)
The first steps of dancing a tango, or a tango pattern.
Displacement (Spanish term: Sacada or Desplazamiento)
Occurs when a dancer places their foot or leg against a leg of their partner and transfers weight to their leg so that it moves into the space of and displaces the partner's leg.
Embrace (Spanish term: Abrazo)
The embrace; a hug; or dance position.
Entrance (Spanish term: Entrada)
Occurs when a dancer steps forward or otherwise enters the space between their partners legs without displacement.
Glide (Spanish term: Planeo)
Occurs when one dancer steps forward onto a foot, and pivots with the other leg gliding behind as his/her partner dances around him/her.
Half-moon (Spanish term: Media Luna)
A sweeping circular motion of the leg similar to a ronde in ballroom but always danced in contact with the floor, never lofted.
Hanger (Spanish term: Colgada)
A move in which both dancers lean out away from each other.
Hook (Spanish term: Gancho and Enganche)
Occurs when a partner wraps a leg around the other's leg, or uses a foot to catch and hold the other's foot or ankle.
Lean (Spanish term: Volcada)
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.
Line of Dance (Spanish term: Ronda)
Refers to the etiquette of dancing in the line of dance by moving anti-clockwise around the dance floor.
The Spanish/Italian slang of the Buenos Aires underworld which is common in tango lyrics and terminology.
A type of pose, with the feet more than shoulder width apart, the leading foot pointing out to the side and bearing most of the weeight, the trailing leg is straight. Looks similar to a fencing lunge.
May refer to the music, written in 2/4 time, or to the dance which preceded the tango, or to the dance salon where people go to dance tango, or to a tango dance and party.
A generic, non-company specific name for a simplified social partner dance. Commonly taught as LeRoc, or under a brand or company name such as Ceroc, Mo'jive, etc.
Eights. A walking-and-pivoting "figure 8" pattern. Ochos may be danced forward or backward, and are so designated from the lady's perspective.
Cut eights: A common figure which is designed to allow interpretation of rhythmic music while dancing in a confined space.
The situation where (for facing couples), if the man steps on his left, the lady steps on her right foot, and vice versa.
Pause (Spanish term: Pausa)
Hold a position or pose for two or more beats of music.
Pencil (Spanish term: Lapiz)
Tracing of circular motions on the floor with the toe or inside edge of the working foot, while turning or waiting on the supporting foot.
Women who never get asked to dance, because they're not good enough. A term which demonstrates the innate cruelty of the dance.
Pose (Spanish term: Cuartas)
Dance lines struck and held as dramatic flourishes at the end of a song.
Posture (Spanish term: Postura)
Correct posture for tango is erect and elegant with the shoulders always over the hips and relaxed, and with the center carried forward toward the dance partner over the toes and balls of the feet.
An informal practice session for tango dancers.
Resolution (Spanish term: Resolución)
An ending to a basic pattern similar to a half of a box step. 6, 7, and 8 of the Basic 8.
Rhythm (Spanish term: Ritmo)
Refers to the more complex rhythmic structure of the music which includes the beat as well as the more defining elements of the song.
Sandwich (Spanish term: Sandwiche or Mordida)
One partner's foot is sandwiched or trapped between the other partner's feet. Sometimes called a "bite".
Shine (Spanish term: Lustrada)
A stroking of the man's pant leg with a shoe. May be done by the lady or by the man to himself but is never done to the lady.
Sit (Spanish term: Sentada)
A sitting action: A family of figures in which the lady creates the illusion of sitting in, or actually mounts, the man's leg. Frequently used as a dramatic flourish at the end of a dance.
Stop (Spanish term: Parada)
The man stops the lady, usually as she steps crossing back in back ochos - the lady stops with her feet extended apart, front and back, and her weight centered.
Sweep (Spanish term: Barrida)
A sweeping motion: One partner's foot sweeps the other's foot and places it without losing contact. Sweeps are done from either the outside or the inside of the foot of the receiving party.
A musical term adopted by dancers to describe cutting the beat, or stepping on the half-beat.
A set of dance music, usually three to five songs, of the same dance in similar style.
Popular music from the Rio de la Plata region dating back to 1885-95, defined by a 2/4 rhythm until the 1920s when a 4/8 rhythm became common. A popular dance originating in the mid-19th century. The exact origins of Tango are a historical mystery.
This is a hybrid tango, an amalgam of traditional tango steps, ballet, ballroom, gymnastics, ice-skating figures, etc. This is what most people see when they buy tickets for a tango show.
Turn (Spanish term: Giro)
A turning step or figure, basically a grapevine motion around a circle. Also see Windmill.
Argentine waltz: Sometimes referred to as Vals Criollo, or Vals Cruzada.
Walk (Spanish term: Caminar)
To walk: The walk is similar to a natural walking step, but placing the ball of the foot first instead of the heel.
Whip (Spanish term: Boleo or Latigo)
Keeping the knees together, with one leg back, swivel and return on the supporting leg with a whipping action of the working leg.
Windmill (Spanish term: Molinete)
A figure in which the lady dances a grapevine on a circumference around the man, stepping side-back-side-forward using forward and back ocho technique and footwork.
- David Bailey