Passionata’s Tango Dictionary
Tango Dictionary Reference guide. Note: This is a comprehensive Tango Terminology guide for Learners and Aficionados.
This Tango Dictionary is to be a rough guide to some of the terminology used in tango lessons. The best way to learn tango is through private lessons with a tango instructor. Please feel free to email and contribute to this Tango Dictionary.
Abrazo – Embrace
The holding position of the tango. The man holds the woman connected by around five contact points creating a distictive tango posture and establish lead to follower connection. The procedure is the man takes the left hand forward asking acomodating the ladies hand, he then pulls the womans right hand gradually while she steps into his space. his right arm will sweep under her raised left arm and onto her back past her centre. she will rest her arm on a comfortable position on his arm or back. variations are allowed as distinct embraces. The open hold is used in a upright position and allows for more open figures, while the closed styles limit to walking and smaller embelishments.
Academic Basic – Basic 8
This first figure of salsa, It is refined from years of basics to include essential structure condensed into basic steps. see Basico, Salida
Adelante – Forward
A movement forward. usually a walk motion by stepping forward or a indication of a ocho’s direction. Advancing with a forward walks (caminar) or ocho.
Adorno – Embelishments
Adornments or Embelishiments are small stylish movements that sit on top of the tango mechanics to demonstrate musicality and understanding by adding detail to steps. May range from taps, ankle twists, kicks, drags, slides, cuts, brushing or drawn spiralling circular motions. these movements decorate the dance.
Aficianado – Devotee
A person who is dedicated to the love of an activity or hobby. Somebody who is passionate about their pastime.
Agujas – Needle
A adornment when the toe is pointed to the ground and draws like a pencil on the ground. It resembling a record players needle tracing figure eights, rounds or spirals on the ground.
Al costado – Side motion
A step to the side. The step consists of firstly reaching the foot with the ball connected to the ground. taking the shoulder frame across to the side to transfer the weight of the supporting leg to the foot on the side and following the motion through to collecting the former supporting leg to the new supporting leg.
Amague – Pretend, Fake, Feign.
A fake step done by a leader. The step is taken and changed without any lead given to the follower. the follower continues to follow the normal lead and no change except in the leaders foot. eg. Trick leads.
Apilado – Piled on
When dancers lean on each other off their axis like a tent. Particular styles like milonguero style have this.
Arroje – Push
Pushing the follower before a giro to create energy.
Arrabal – Slum
The place the tango was initially developed. In the prostitution houses for the cowboys and miners.
Arrabalero – Slum Dweller
Rough person, Someone from the outskirts. A Badass. The inhabitants who originally contributed to the development of the tango. Tango was developed by men dancing with men as they waited for the prostitutes. They would often pay a prostitute to dance with them with silver coins.
Aranque – uproot, Start
A movement that creates energy to force a momentum.
Arrastre – Drag
Dragging of the foot, Sweeping, Pushing motion. Same as Barrida.
Arrepentida – Repent
A change in movement involving a cradle rock step to change direction of a figure. usually used to shift away from obstacles on the dance floor or as a change in trajectory.
Atras – Backward
A movement backwards, Usually a backward walk into either a caminar or backwards ocho.
Bailamos – Shall we Dance?
Asking a lady to dance in a polite way.
Bailar – Dance
Bailongo – Milonga
Milonga. A Slang term for dance night.
Bailarin – Dancer
Ballerino or Ballerina. some one accomplished in dance mastery.
Balanceo – Balancing, Rocking step
Balance, Cadencia, Cunita
A square figure resembling a tile. Box step.
Bandeneon – Argentinian Accordian
Bandeneon, A unique instrument used in tango music. It is in the aerophone family and has a distictly lonely timbre used to give emotional accents to tango music. It is said that the bandeneon has a soul.
Barrida – Sweep
Pushing the foot of the dance partner in a sweeping motion.
Barrio – The hood
The neighbourhood place.
Basico – Basic
The academic figure of stepping to the 8 step figure known as 8-step Basic or Salida Figure.
Bicicleta – Bicycle
A figure whereby the leader foot takes the followers foot into a series of small mid air circles like pedaling a bicycle.
Bien Parado – Good Posture
Good form in tango. Postura and elegance.
Bloque – Block
Blocking the followers foot with the leaders foot, see Parada – stop.
Boleo – Volley
A movement where a ocho is converted from a forward to back or vice versa resulting in a whip volleying the foot.
Brazos – Arms
Arm position of tango dancers
Cabeceo – Invitation
Asking a woman to dance from a distance. Non verbal cue, can be a pointed a finger down in a small spinning motion, establishing eye contact with a small nod and glance at the floor. or a small motion of a extended open palm. The lady will then nod politely and the approach can be made to make the way to the dance floor.
Cabeza – Head or Top
The head of the Dancer.
Cadena – Chain
A figure taking the follower around. Weaving. The move consists of a front sacada, Side step, Back Ocho and a Travel sweep. The follower will be back ocho, travel sweep step, follower sacada, Side step.
Cadencia – Cadence
A rhythmic step. see Arrenpentida.
Caida – Fall
A fall step, leading a back cruzada without a weight shift.
Calecita – Carousel
A move where the man walks around the lady while she pivots on the one supporting leg from the flamenco position. The embelishment leg is tucked behind the supporting leg like a stork. Adornos may also be done during this move.
Cambio – Change
Cambio de Frente (Change of face) – Steps where the follower takes the leaders steps while the leader takes the followers steps leading into a change to the opposing direction. Walks are usually followed by a pivoted side step then converted into the opposite direction.
Cambio de Peso (Change of Foot) – A series of quick weight shifts. The axis is switched a few times on the spot. This gives a delay with axis shifting allowing the lead to choose which foot to use next. Also may be known as Cambio de Eje (Change in Axis) where the weight transfers into the opposite hip and axis.
Caminada – Walking
A series of forward walking steps. can be stopped at a cruzada and reversed in direction to back walks. walking is the fumdamentals of tango and there are variations of walking drills to get used to the stroll.
Caminado Valseado – Walking to the Cross
Steps 3, 4, 5 of the 8-count basic after the opening. The second section of the salida figure.
Caminar – Walk
A natural step in a Walk. The most basic tango step. There are six main walks in the tango. Left foward, Right Forward, Left Back, Right Back and Left side, Right side. All other moves are combinations, variations and interupted leads.
Candombe – A type of Drumming
Drumming originating from African slaves.
Cagrejo – Crab
A figure whereby the leader turns the body around 90 degrees from the follower and advances sideways.
Canyengue – Old Style of Tango
A style of tango originating from slaughter houses. Characterised by a very low frame of embrace wrapped around the lady with the leaders left hand holding the lady low on the waist and using footwork from the knees down. The dance is danced to triple timed steps in Traspie style.
Tango style with many cortes, Cuttings, interuptions and arrepentidas.
Caricia – Caress
Stroking the partner with the shoe or leg. eg. Lustrada.
Carpa – Tent
When the Leader and follower lean toward each other causing a triagular embrace.
Castigada – Seduction, Punish
Where the follower caresses her supporting leg with her embellishment leg. eg. Cuatro and Lustrada.
Chiche – Adornments
Tapping the foot to show the beat. eg. pica.
Cintura – Waist
Codigo – Code of behaviour
eetiquette observed in milongas, eg. cabaceo
Codica – Code
Default ladies steps when doing a molinete figure when unclear about the lead, its is a automatic default as she is waiting for the lead so she can translate into codica. forward ocho, side step, back ocho, side step, foward ocho, side step, back ocho. forward ocho followed by side step followed by forward ocho is not standard as it cuts flow. this is allowed in milonga.
Making sure that each step is taken with a return to axis (eje) and that the brushing of knees and ankles occurs (junto).
Colgada – Leaning out Axis
Playing with the axis by leaning away from partner.
Compadrito – Street Punk
The Rough men who originally contributed to inventing the tango.
Compas – Timing, Beat
The Beat in which the tango is danced to. Distinctively phrased. The best way to understand the compas is to listen to tango music until you can predict the flow of the music.
Connecion – Connection
How the leader and follower fit together.
Contrapaso – Contra step
Locking the foot behind the other, Reversed cruzada.
Corrida – Run, Corridor
A series of quick steps where follower and leader match the fast movements.
Corte, Cortado – Cut
Quick direction change cutting a figure. Ocho cortado is one where the direction changes quickly. Quebrada can be used and is a body twist motion when the music reaches a pause.
Cortina – Curtain
A break in a milonga of a different musical genre to separate the tandas and allow dancers to find a new dance partner as the walk off the floor. The cortina also demonstrates the milonga organiser’s preference in other music.
Cross walks – Crossed System
Leaders and followers walking on the same foot. Alternating foot work so it does not follow standard parallel walks.
Cruzada – Cross
The free foot being crossed with the supporting foot.
Cuatro – Four
Embelishment where the follower flicks the embelishment leg around her own supporting leg creating a 4 shape.
Cucharita – Little Spoon
Lifting the followers foot off the ground with a small scooping motion.
Cuerpo – Body
Body of the dancer
Cunita – Crib, Rocking step
Rocking back and forth, Can be used to change trajectory.
Dedo – Finger
Finger of the dancer, Can be used for cabaceo by stiring the finger in a downward motion while maintaining eye contact. It represents “Do you mind going for a spin?”
Derecha – Right
To the Right
Despacio – Slowing of Music
Slowing down of music, simultaneously slowing of the dance.
Desplazamiento – Displacement, Sacada
Sacada, displacing the leg on the off beats.
Dibujo – To Draw
Drawing on the ground, a Lapiz (pencil) or Rulo/Ronde (round).
Eight Count Basic – Salida
The 8 Step Basic Figure. It is a refinement of years of dancing to include 3 elements. The Opening, The Walk to the Cross, and the resolution.
Eje – Axis
The two balancing points for the supporting legs. Fron the centre of the head to the bottom of the supporting leg. This provides a foundation for the embelishment leg to fall towards the centreline. Axis can also be tilted in moves such as the colgada.
Elevada – Elevated
Dancing with your feet slightly above the ground. Used for high friction surfaces which inhibit dance movements. eg. cobbled stone, paving, grass or concrete.
Embutido – Swinging foot
Allowing the foot to swing behind the other foot.
Enganche – Leg wrap Hook, Gancho
Hook into the partners legs together. Both hooks at the same time, entangled. Ladies lingering leg wraps around leaders leg.
Entrada – Insert, Entry
A sacada without the force to displace and affect the followers foot, it just enters and leaves the foot without the displacement.
Enroscar – Corkscrew
leaders leg is hooked onto the supporting leg while the follower takes him around on a molinete. Similar to a planeo.
Entregar – To Surrender
Follower must surrender control to the leader.
Espalda – Dancers Back
Espejo – Mirror
Fanfarron – Fanfare
Same as Chiche, Tapping of one’s foot to the rhythm.
Fantasia – Show Tango, Fantasy Tango
Tango danced with more flair and drama.
Farolito – Small Lantern
Rulo, Represents the Spirals on the Street lanterns.
Firulete – Embelishments
Freno – Brake
To stop on a step
Friccion – Friction, Pulling
Getting the lady to a flammenco position and tilting to a volcada apilado frame, then dragging her toes across the ground while the leader walks backwards.
Gancho – Hook
Hooking into the partners leg.
Gaucho – Cowboy
Argentinian Cowboy. Related to more folkloric dances involving Boleadoras, A type of lasso weapon thrown to entangle the legs of the cattle.
Garcha – Wrong step, Stuff up
Wrong step, Tripping or Collision
Giro – Turn
Turns, When a grapevine is pivoted around a counter motion it creates a turn.
Golpecito – Tap
pica, tapping with the embelishment foot.
When a molinete is done in a straight line. Leader follows the direction of the codica to a side trajectory.
Inclinado – Incline
leaning into the partner. same as Apilado or tented frame.
The movement of the leaders body that indicates a movement to the follower.
Intrusion – Intrusion
A quick opportunistic kick between the partners legs. An invasion of private space.
Izquierda – Left
Left of the body
Junta – Collecting, Closing the feet to axis, Together
Closing the embelishment leg to the supporting leg. to the axis point where the brush of ankles and knees can occur. Sometimes called collecting.
Kizomba – African Tango
Not Argentine Tango, Another form of dance with more African roots and emphasis on hip movements. Kizomba is similar to milonga with lustfully grinding hip movements that break the principles of tango.
Lado – Side Step
Stepping to the side.
Lapiz – Pencil
Drawing on the ground with a pointed ball of foot. eg, Rulo
Latigazo – Whipping
The Whipping motion during a boleo where the lateral side motion is transferred into a flicking motion off the ground.
Lento – slowly
Tango is learned slowly with persistence and practice.
Liso – smooth
Suave movements where the dance is a continuous movement.
Llevada – Elevated
Carrying the followers foot off the ground with the friction of the side of the shoe. the leader will then place the foot in the new position.
Marca – The Mark, Leading
Marking the lady to move, Leading. Leading is required to push the follower into moves. Without marca, the lady cannot know what to do. Using the finger tips and the palm of the hand on the followers back to indicate the marca with slight turning of the shoulders indicates to the lady how to follow.
Media luna – half Moon
Back ocho, side, forward ocho around the man for half a turn.
Milonga – Tango Social night
Milonga is the social night, also the fixed tempo stepped version of tango.
Mira – Look
Molinete – Windmill
A figure where the lady turns around the man on codica. Taken out on a ocho step, side and then a reversed ocho, side step, The move continues until a change in lead.
Mordida – Bite
The leader clips the followers foot in between his feet causing a sandwich. Used interchangeably with Sandwich.
Ocho – Eight
Two crossed over forward steps with hips twists causing the figure to stay on the spot with a figure 8 pattern.
Ocho Cortado – Cut eight
When the ocho is interrupted into a reversal of direction and taken into a side displacement followed with a cruzada. can be cut after the ocho or the side step on the codica.
Otra (vez) – Again
Called for a repeat performance.
Outskirts style of Tango. Street styling usually danced with a upright frame. see Canyengue.
Orquestra – Orchestra
Tango music is played by many orchestras with the same song but in their unique style and feel.
Opa – Cheer
Palanca – Lever, Plank
When the leader assists the follower jump off the ground with a push upward from a low hand. This usually follows directly after an ocho.
Parada – Stop
Stopping the dance.
Parallel System – Straight Walk
When the walks of the leader and follower, with mirrored steps. Ladies right back with a Mens left forward. The follower makes space for the leader with the foot on the same side.
Pareja – Pair
The tango couple
Pasada – Passing
Whe the leader presents his leg for the follower to Pass over the leg and embelish.
Patada – Kick
A Passing kick, Kicking in between the legs, sometimes called and invasion. Inline boleos and show moves may include patada.
Pausa – Pause
Waiting for a count over more that two strong beats.
Pecho – Chest
Picado – Foot flick
A flick of the foot. Taps
Pie – Foot
Pierna – Leg
Piernazo – High Leg
The Lady takes the leg and wraps it around the leaders waist. High Leg wrap, can be combined with lustrada or pica adornos.
Overall look and aesthetics of the dancer. Grooming and style.
Pisar – Step
Palanca – Lever and Plank
Assisting the woman to do a lift by providing leverage for her to jump.
Planeo – Plane
A move where the follower goes around on a molinete while pulling the leader around with his embelishment foot pointed out and standing with a bent knee on his supporting leg. It resembles a plane tool shaving the wood.
Planchadora – Ironing Lady
A woman who spends the whole night sitting and waiting to be asked by a male dancer but is never asked. the woman will rather go home and tell her friends the next day she stayed at home doing the ironing rather than tell her friends she had a bad night out at a milonga.
Porteno – Port Dweller
A local person who lives in the port city of Buenos Aires.
Postura – Posture
The Posture of the Tango is having the head upright, the spine straight and knees slightly bent. The arms should come together in an A-Frame, Sholders level and leaders arm pulled back slightly acoomodating the follower. The follwers posture should have
Practica – Practice
Practica is an environment where people can go to refine their dancing skills. Traditionally, practicas were places with only men. The men would talk politics and develop themselves by dancing with each other until they got good enough. Men were not allowed to dance with women at milongas until they were up to scratch. So the men would have to attend practicas until they developed themselves. usually the beginner men would dance as a woman to get the feeling of the tango. Once a man wa ready he was then initiated by a respectable tanguero and may ask his female friends to dance with his protegee.
Position where both dancers face out the same direction through the center together.
Punto – Point
Toe tapping with the free leg. see also picado.
Puente – Bridge
A move where the lady inclines on the leader lifting her leg up on the side of him.
Rabona – Play Cross
Letting the free leg cruzada around the supporting leg repeatedly.
Rebote – Rebound, Bounce step
Rocking step involving a walk and bounce back to other foot. Used in Arrepentidas and Cunita.
Regressa – Regress, Back Caminar
Walk Backwards. Regressive step
Resistencia – Resistance
Putting a small amount of friction or force back against the partners foot or body. Required for Barridas (Arrastre), and moves requiring elevated foot lifting, eg Bicycle.
Resolucion – Resolution
Closing a phrase of music with a distinct close and weightshift. The last three steps of the academic 8-basic involves a forward walk, side and close at end of phrase. Resolution ends the phrase ready for the next phrase to be interpreted.
Ritmo – Rhythm
Rhythm of the Music
Rodillas – Knees
Ronda – Round
The outer perimeter of the dance floor, the closest to the outside. People progress up the line of dance. The Ronda is the outer lane which is sought after by afficianados. The expert dancers want to go as close to the egde as possible given them a longer running trajectory and higher visibility. Using key points on the line of dance to embellish their figures.
Rulo – Round, Circle
Drawing a circle with the foot. The circle can be localised to the ankle or a pivot on the knee, to a full pivot on the hip and thigh. This embelishment can be done slow or fast and with varying spirals.
Sacada – Cicada
Displacements of the followers leg using the leaders leg inserted between on the off counts.
Salchichado – Sausage
A special figure invented by “Steduardo Salichichadarre”. A very cocky move. Involving ripping off someone elses website content completely word for word. The figure comprises of a series of cadencias executed in a row.
Salida – Rising, Beginning.
The first opening steps. Usually referred to as the basic 8-step. Salida contains a opening, Walking to the cross and the resolution.
Saltito – Small hop
Doing a small hop off the floor.
Saltada – Breaking frame
Breaking the frame so the lady can execute moves on her own. Triple gancho figure uses it. where she giros around to complete the other two.
Sandwiche – Sandwich
The leader catching the followers foot between his feet resulting in a sandwich of the followers foot. This is sometimes called a mordida (bite).
Seguidilla – Small steps
Tiny steps done consecutively together.
Seguir – Follow
The art of the follower listening to the leaders marca.
Sentada – Sitting, Seat, Chair
A move where the leader presents the thigh as a seat for the follower to sit into.
Sincopato – Syncopating
Holding back a beat then executing it faster. Half walks and waiting walks to hold and switch between crossed and parallel system.
Stork – Stork, Flamingo
Having one foot balanced on the ground with the free leg tucked behind the supporting leg. like a flamingo bird. Usually led by the leader by marking the followers shoulder blade up after a side step or walk. Precedes a basic Calecita (carousel)
Tanda – Set of tango songs.
A set of 3-4 Tango songs played during a milonga which is divided by a curtain (cortina). Each set of songs have a commonality.
Someone who is passionate about Tango.
Tijera – Scissors
Closing the feet in a crossed position in a floating cruzada. Doing a cruzada with cambio de peso followed by a walk and repeated like a open and close snipping action.
Toque – Touch
When a lady just touches the leaders leg, sometimes done during a pasada.
Tomas – Intercept
Interception of the step, usually into a parada stop for manipulation of the next move.
Truco – Tricks
Show moves, Stunts. acrobatics and circus moves. Strays away from authentic traditional tango. Show dancers may lift the legs too high moving away from traditional tango and toward ballet and contemporary styles.
Tango with a 3/4 timing signature. Gives the music a distinctly swaying rocking boat feel.
Vareado – Stick Beater
A prized tango dancer who flirts with women and is not serious about entering into long term relationships with any of them. May be used to denote a clumsy and inconsiderate leader too.
Vibora – Viper, Snake bite
A move where the leader leads to consecutive sacadas with his right leg.
Volcada – Volcano Spilling
A move whereby the lady capsizes into an piled on (apilado) position and ochos are lead extending drawn motions with her free foot. The foot is then crossed over to allow the other leg to be freed for another drawn out rulo.
Voleo – Volley
Windmill – See Molinete, Codica
Windmill, Followers go around leader using codica.
Yumba – Staccato Sound
The sound of a sharp staccato accent in music. Signature of Osvaldo Puguliese song “La Yumba”.
Zapatazo – Closing and stamping the feet
Stomping with the shoe. A very strong movement indicating a end or close.
Zarandeo – Shaking
Quick swings back and forth with small pivoting of the foot.
Followers doing forward ochos in a diagonal direction towards the leader, while the leader take back ochos away from the follower in the diagonal direction. Or vice versa as the leader takes forward ochos diagonally and the follower takes back ochos away from the leader diagonally.
All material in this Tango Dictionary is compiled and copyright of Passionata Dance.