Tango Glossary

This glossary attempts to give a basic, simple guide to some common Tango terms.
Terms are presented firstly in English, but with their Spanish equivalents also given.

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Adornment (Spanish term: Adorno)
Adornment; embellishment. See Firulete.
Axis (Spanish term: Eje)
Axis or balance.  See Postura.



An accordion-like musical instrument used by tango musicians.
Basic 8
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 steps around her while keeping her centered over, and pivoting on, her supporting leg. If he steps further away from her supporting leg during the calesita it creates a deeper angle and is often called Carpa (tent).
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.
(Curtain) A brief musical interlude between tandas at a milonga.
Cross (Spanish term: Cruzada)
FA cross occurs any time a foot is crossed in front of or in back of the other.
Crossed Feet
Occurs whenever the couple are stepping together on his and her right feet and then on his and her left feet, regardless of direction.
For more information: Crosses.
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.



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.
For more information: Sacadas.



Embrace (Spanish term: Abrazo)
The embrace; a hug; or dance position.
For more information: Embrace.
Entrance (Spanish term: Entrada)
Occurs when a dancer steps forward or otherwise enters the space between their partners legs without displacement.
Exit (Spanish term: Salida)
The first steps of dancing a tango, or a tango pattern.



Fall (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.
For more information: Volcadas.



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.
For more information: Planeos.



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.
For more information: Colgadas.
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. A "passenger hook" or "Gancho Pasajero" is a hook that is executed on the way to another step; the working leg appears to wrap over the partner's leg while hooking, then releases and proceeds to the next step.
For more information: Ganchos.



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.



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 crossing and pivoting figure. Ochos may be danced either forward or backward and are so designated from the lady's perspective.
For more information: Ochos.
Ochos Cortados
Cut eights: A common figure which is designed to allow interpretation of rhythmic music while dancing in a confined space.



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.
Parallel Feet
The natural condition when a couple dance in an embrace facing each other, the man stepping on his left, the lady on her right foot, and then the man stepping on his right, the lady on her left foot, regardless of direction.
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.
The women who sit all night at the milongas without being asked to dance.  The main reason for that, is because they don't know how to dance well enough. A term which demonstrates the innate cruelty of the dance.

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".
Scissor (Spanish term: Tijera)
A movement, usually danced by the man, in which an extended leg is withdrawn and crossed in front of the supporting leg without weight so that it remains free for the next step or movement.
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.
For more information: Sentadas.
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.  The technique is different for the inside and outside sweeps. See Arrastre and Llevada.
For more information: Barridas.
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.
Tango Fantasia
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. Sometimes called "Molinete" / "Windmill".
For more information: Giros.



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.
For more information: Walking.
Whip (Spanish term: Boleo or Latigo)
This is a movement which appears to throw the working leg in a circular motion. For example, a back boleo is executed by pivoting the supporting leg one direction while extended the working foot back, then quickly changing directions before the working foot has completed the extension back. This creates its characteristic whip effect. If the working foot is lifted during the second pivot, this is considered a high boleo which adds to the illusion of a circular motion.
For more information: Boleos.
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