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Tango Dictionary of Terms

The tango dictionary includes the widely used tango terms and terminology.

A - tango dictionary of terms

Abrazo embrace [ah-brah’-tho]
The tango embrace, in which the lead's right arm is around the follower's back; and the lead's left hand is clasping the follower's right hand.
1. Close Embrace: upper bodies touching or in very close proximity.
2. Open Embrace: no body contact.
For more information see the Abrazo and Caminada page
Adelante forward [ah-day-lahn’-tay]
To dance or move in a forward direction.
Adorno embellishment [ah-dor’-no]
A creative movement that adorns or embellishes the dance.
For more information see the embellishments page
Aficionado fan [ah-fe-the-o-nah’-do]
An enthusiastic follower, devotee or fan of something - in this case tango.

Aguja needle [ah-goo’-hah]
A man's embellishment in which the foot is vertical with the toe into the floor whilst pivoting.
For more information see the aguja page
Al costado to the side [al cos-tah’-do]
To dance or move in a sideways direction.
Amague fake [ah-ma’-geh]
Move in one direction that changes the direction at the last second.
For more information see the amague page
Apilado piled on, leaning [ah-pe-lah-doh]
1. When the dancers are off axis and leaning against each other more tha usual.
2. A style of tango dancing which involves leaning.
For more information see the apilado style page
Arrabal slum [ar-rah-bal’]
A term denoting the slums, which were pivotal to the creation of the milonga and tango.
For more information see the tango history page
Arrabalero rough [ah-rah-bah-lay’-ro, rah]
1. Belonging to the outskirts.
2. Illbred.
3. Rough in dress or manners.
arranque start [ar-rahn’-kay]
A device for the leader to create momentum during a molinete: executed by pausing and leading the follower to the side.
Arrastre dragging [ar-ras’-tray]
Same as Barrida - see on this page.
Arrepentida repentant [ar-ray-pen-tee’-dah]
Steps which enable a couple to back away from a collision.
Atrás backward [ah-trahs’]
To dance or move in a backwards direction.

B - tango dictionary of terms

Bailamos shall we dance?
A question a man may ask of a follower: shall we dance?.
Bailar dance [bah-e-lar']
The tango dance itself.
Bailarín dancer [bah-e-lah-reen’]
1. A term for any dancer.
2. A very accomplished dancer.
Bailongo local dance [bah-e-lon’-go]
A Lunfardo word for a milonga.
Balanceo rocking [bah-lan-cee-o]
Same as Cadencia - see on this page.
Baldosa floor tile [bal-do’-sah]
A step sequence in the shape of a square.
Bandoneón [ban-do-lay-on’]
An accordion-like musical instrument to create the mournful sound of modern tango music.
For more information see the bandoneon page
Barrida sweep [bar-ree’-dah]
The foot (normally of the woman) is swept with a swift movement - interchangeable with the terms Arrastre and Llevada.
For more information see the barrida page
Barrio neighbourhood [bar’-re-o]
A district or neighbourhood.
Básico basic [bah’-see-co]
The basic tango pattern, the most common of which is the 8-count basic. See the Eight Count Basic on this page.
Bicicleta bicycle [be-the-clay’-tah]
A circular movement of the feet executed by the lead.
Bien Parado well stood
Elegant posture.
Bloque block
A step where the motion of one dancer's feet are blocked by the other dancer. Normally executed by the lead.
Boleo whip [bo-lay’-o]
The women’s ocho is swiftly changed direction, producing a whip action from her leg.
For more information see the boleo page
Brazo arm [brah-tho]
The arm of the tango dancer.

C - tango dictionary of terms

Cabeceo invitation [cah-bay-thay'-o]
A non-verbal invitation to dance from man to woman - the man looks at the woman and indicates with a movement of his head that he would like to dance; if she accepts she will move towards him, if she refuses she will look away.
For more information see the cabeceo page
Cabeza head [cah-bay’-thah]
The head of the dancer.
Cadena chain [cah-day’-nah]
A turning figure in which the man steps outside left or right in crossed feet and leading the lady in a change of direction to keep her in front of him as he turns.
For more information see the cadena page
Cadencia rhythm [cah-den’-the-ah]
1. A series of forward-and-left series of steps executed by the lead to to change direction, usually to avoid collisions.
2. A subtle shift of weight to and fro at the start of a dance to synchronize on rhythm and ensure both dancers begin on the correct foot.
Caída fall [cah-ee’-dah]
Executed by the lead such that he steps backward and crosses his free leg in front of the supporting leg without a weight transfer, while the follower is led to the outside position to cross her free leg behind her supporting leg also without a weight transfer.
Calesita carousel, merry-go-round [cah-lay-see’-tah]
The lead ensures the follower is upright on her axis, and dances around her whilst she pivots on her supporting leg. The follower's free leg is generally held in the Cuatro position.
Cambio change [cahm'-be-o]
The lead executes a cambio when he pivots both feet in the same direction (either clockwise or anticlockwise), usually as the follower performs a molinete. Often called Cambio de Frente (Change of Front).
Caminada walk [cah-me-nah’-dah]
Series of steps that walk forward.
For more information see the Abrazo and Caminada page
Caminado Valseado carried walk
A sequence of steps, as part of step 3 of the Eight Count Basic (see this page), wherein the lead steps forward right, forward left and continues the the follower to the cross.
For more information see the Abrazo and Caminada page
Caminar to walk [cah-me-nar’]
Similar to a natural step, with the ball of the foot placed first instead of the heel; the body is in balance over the forward foot.
For more information see the Abrazo and Caminada page
Candombe [can-dom-beh]
A drum based dance which originated from the descendants of black slaves in the Rio de la Plata region and still performed today.
Cangrejo crab [can-gray’-ho]
A pattern of dance steps where the lead advances turned nearly sideways to the follower.
Canyengue [can-yen-geh]
An old-guard style of tango from the early 1900s, still danced today.
For more information see the Canyengue style page
Carancanfun
Dance of tango with many interruptions or cortes.
Caricia caress [cah-ree’-the-ah]
Stroking with the leg or shoe part of the partner's body.
For more information see the caricia page
Carpa tent [car’-pah]
Same as Apilado - see on this page.
Castigada seduction [cas-tee’-ga’-dah]
An embellishment in which the follower caresses her supporting leg with her free leg.
For more information see the caricia page
Chiche delicate ornament [chee’-chay]
An embellishment in which small beats are executed by the free foot in time with the music.
For more information see the golpetico page
Cintura waist [thin-too'-rah]
The waist of the tango dancer.
Código code [co’-de-go]
The code of behavior, such as cabeceo, in the milongas of Buenos Aires.
Colgada hanging [col-gah’-dah]
Fast turns which takes the woman off her axis or plays with her axis.
For more information see the colgada page
Compadre honorable man
A responsible, macho and honorable working class man.
Compadrito punk
A street punk. Compadritos originally invented the tango.
Compás beat [com-pahs’]
The musical beat to which tango is danced to.
Connection
A beautiful and sensual communication between lead and follower, established during a tango dance when everything fits just right: the msuic, the style, the rhythm, the ambience. In a milonga situation, all tango dancers strive for this.
For more information see the connection page
Contrapaso contra step [con-trah-pah’-so]
A step in which one foot is locked behind the other.
For more information see the contrapaso page
Corrida run [cor-ree’-dah]
A syncopated walk which will look like a run. The dancers take a series of short double-time steps so the feet appear to run while the bodies move at the same pace.
For more information see the corrida page
Corrida Garabito covered run [cor-ree’-dah gah-rah-bee’-to]
A milonga step in which the couple alternately step between each other.
For more information see the corrida page
Corte cut [cor’-tay]
A sudden turn in direction, generally done by holding for several beats (or syncopating) - often in a back-and-forth action to double time.
For more information see the corte page
Cortina curtain [cor-tee’-nah]
A musical interlude in between a tanda at a milonga.
For more information see the cortina page
Contrapaso backstep [con-trah-pah’-so]
Same as rabona - see on this page.
Cross System
A dance in which the man steps in the same way as the women (right foot to right, left to left).
For more information see the cross system page
Cruzada cross [croo-thah’-dah]
Executed when a step leads to the free foot being crossed in front of or in back of the supporting foot, almost always by the follower.
For more information see the cruzada page
Cuadrado square [coo-ah-drah-do]
Same as baldosa - see on this page.
Cuatro four [coo-ah’tro]
An embellishment in which the follower flicks one of her lower legs backwards, keeping her knees together, creating a numeral 4 in profile.
For more information see the cuatro page
Cucharita spoon [coo-chah-ree’-tah]
The lifting of the follower's foot with a gentle scooping motion. Usually led in forward ochos to create a flicking motion of the follower's leg.
For more information see the cucharita page
Cuerpo body [coo-err’-po]
The body of the tango dancer.
Cunita crib [coo-nee’-tah]
The rocking back and forth that can be done in order to mark time or change direction.
For more information see the cunita page

D - tango dictionary of terms

Dedo finger [day’-do]
The finger of the tango dancer.
Derecha right [day-ray-chah]
The right side of the body or the dance.
Derecho upright [day-ray’-cho]
To stand upright.
Despacio slowly [des-pah’-the-o]
A slowing of music or dance.
Desplazamiento displacement [des-plah-thah-me-en’-to]
Same as sacada - see on this page.
Dibujo sketch [de-boo’-ho]
Same as Rulo - see on this page.
Doble Tiempo double time [do'-blay te-em’-po]
Tango danced at twice the musical beat.

E - tango dictionary of terms

Eight Count Basic
The basic step sequence - also known as the 8CB - is taught to beginner-level students:
1. lead backward R during follower forward L
2. lead side L during follower side R
3. lead forward R (outside R) during follower backward L
4. lead forward L during follower backward R
5. lead feet together (1/2 step) during follower cross L over R
6. lead forward L during follower backward R
7. lead side R during follower side L
8. lead closes his L to his R while follower closes her R to her L
Steps 1 through 3 (sometimes 1 through 5) are known as the salida. Steps 3 through 5 are known as 'walking the follower to the cross'. Steps 6 through 8 are known as resolución.
Eje axis [ay'-hay]
The physical axis of the dancer, along which the posture and balance are formed. Both lead and follower have their own axis, though in certain styles of tango the axes may align into the one.
Elevada elevated [ay-lay-vah'-do, dah]
Dancing without keeping the feet close to the floor. This was the style in the early 1900s when tango was danced on dirt surfaces and on cobble stone. When tango went to smooth surfaces, such as polished wood, dancers began to 'caress the floor'.
Embutido inlaid work [em-boo-tee’-do]
A foot swinging behind other foot.
Enganche hook [en-gahn’-chay]
Same as gancho - see on this page.
Enroscar corkscrew [en-ros-car’]
The man pivots on his supporting leg whilst his free leg is either held behind him, or is hooked onto his working leg. Generally performed as the follower executes a molinete.
For more information see the enroscar page
Entrada entrance [en-trah’-dah]
The man puts his leg between the woman's legs, without moving her or causing her to shift weight.
For more information see the entrada page
Entregar surrender [en-tray-gar’]
Denotes that the follower has surrendered herself to the lead.
Espalda back [es-pahl’-dah]
The back of the dancer.
Espejo mirror [es-pay'-ho]
Executed when the lead and follower do mirror image steps of each other.

F - tango dictionary of terms

Fanfarrón fanfare [fan-far-rone']
An embellishments in which the foot is rhythmically tapped in time to the music. It is also called Chiche.
For more information see the golpetico page
Fantasia show tango
Same as Show Tango - see on this page.
Faroliito small lantern [fah-ro-lee'to]
Same as rulo - see on this page.
Firulete embellishment
Same as Adorno - see on this page.
Freno brake [fray’-no]
To stop on a step.

G - tango dictionary of terms

Gancho hook [gahn’-cho]
The action of hooking one leg around the partner's leg.
For more information see the gancho page
Garcha screw-up [gahr’-cha]
A lunfardo term indicating bad luck or screw-up. In tango this refers to taking a bad step causing a collision.
Gaucho [gah’-oo-cho]
The Argentine Cowboy central to the development of tango.
For more information see the tango history page
Giro turn [hee’-ro]
The turn in tango, generally performed by the follower stepping around the lead, who pivots in the centre.
For more information see the giro page
Golden Age
The Golden Age of tango is the period between the 1930s and 1950s, when tango was at the peak of its popularity.
For more information see the tango history page
Golpecito tap [gol-pay-thee’-co]
The golpecito is the most basic type of embellishment in tango, in which the free foot does one or more taps as part of a step or during a pause. It has a number of variations including the Punto, the Golpeteo, the Fanfarron, the Picado and the Zapatato.
For more information see the golpetico page
Golpeo strike [gol-pay’-o]
Same as Punto - see on this page.
Golpeteo drumming [gol-pay-tay'-o]
This is embellishment in which lead or follower taps the underside of the free foot - in other words the heel or the ball.
For more information see the golpetico page
Grelas woman
A Lunfardo term for woman.
Guapo handsome [goo-ah’-po]
A handsome and desirable man. Also denotes a compadre - see on this page.

H - tango dictionary of terms

Habanera [ah-bah-nay’-rah]
An Afro-Cuban dance which contributed to tango.
Hamaca hammock [ah-bah-nay’-rah]
Same as Cunita - see on this page.

I - tango dictionary of terms

Inclinado inclined [in-cle-nah’-do]
Same as Apilado - see on this page.
intrusión intrusion [in-troo-se-on’]
The intrusión is executed by briefly placing the free foot between the partner's legs, often in the form of a 'quick kick'.
For more information see the intrusión page.
It takes two to tango
A phrase, coined as a result of the 1952 song by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning named Takes Two to Tango, implying that some activity cannot be successfully completed unless both parties are united in a common objective.
For more information see the origins of the phrase 'it takes two to tango'.
Izquierda left [ith-keer’-dah]
The left side of the body.

J - tango dictionary of terms

Junta close [hoon'-tah]
The essence of elegant tango is ankles and knees that pass by each other closely between each step.
For more information see the junta page

K - tango dictionary of terms


L - tango dictionary of terms

Lápiz pencil [lah’-pith]
Same as Rulo - see on this page.
Latigazo whipping [la-te-gah’-tho]
The whipping action of the leg during a boleo.
For more information see the boleo page
Lento slow [len’-to]
In tango, refers to a dance or music that has a slow beat.
Liso smooth [lee’-so]
1. A smooth dance.
2. Tango Liso was the early term for Tango de Salon.
Llevada carrying [lyay-vah’-dah]
Executed when when the lead uses his thigh or foot to carry the follower's leg to the next step.
Lunfardo
Buenos Aires slang. Many of the words are now used for tango.
Lustrada polish [loos-trah-dah’]
An embellishment executed by the follower lifting her free leg and caressing the supporting leg of the lead - either in an upward action, downwards, or very commonly both. The inside or outside of any part of the lead's leg, including his foot, may be caressed.
For more information see the caricia page

M - tango dictionary of terms

Marcar mark [mar-car’]
To lead.
Media Luna half moon [may’-de-ah loo’-nah]
A half turn - the man creates a back, side, and forward for the women which makes the shape of a half moon.
For more info see the media luna page
Media Vuelta half turn [may’-de-ah voo-el’-tah]
Same as media luna - see on this page.
Milonga [me-lon-gah]
1. The meeting place to dance tango.
2. A fast paced form of the tango with 2/4 beat.
For more information see the milonga page
Milonguero [me-lon-goo-ay’-ro]
1. A tango fanatic, a person whose life revolves around tango, a title given to someone who has mastered tango.
2. Another name for Apilado style of tango - see on this page.
Milonguita
An affectionate name for a woman attending a milonga.
Mina bird [mee’-nah]
An informal name in Lunfardo for a woman.
Molinete windmill [mo-le-nay’-tay]
The woman dances around the man side-back-side-forward using forward and backwards ochos.
For more information see the molinete page
Mordida bite [mor-dee’-dah]
Same as Sandwiche - see on this page.

N - tango dictionary of terms

Neo-Tango
A new form of the genre, with evolved music, embraces and moves. It consists of Tango Fusion (collaboration between contemporary tango and other music such as electronica) and Alternative Tango (non-tango music danced to Argentine tango steps).
For more information see the neo-tango page
Nuevo new tango [noo-ay’-vo]
1. A style of music, invented by Astor Piazzolla around 1955, that combines the sound of traditional tango with jazz.
2. A term coined around the mid 1990s to describe a style of tango dancing infused with new combinations of steps, embraces, combinations, changes of directions, use of the loose embrace, and the exploration of the space between the legs and around the body of the partner.
For more information see the tango nuevo history and nuevo style pages

O - tango dictionary of terms

Ocho eight [o’-cho]
The basic turn in tango, executed by a turn that is first one way, then reversed, wherein the torso is disassociated from the top of the body. An ocho can be either forward (Ocho Defrente) or backward (Ocho Para Atrás).
For more information see the ocho page
Ocho Cortado cut eight [o’-cho cor-tah’-do]
Performed when the action of the turn is interrupted and reversed. Upon reversal, the leader displaces the follower's space and pivots the follower, who then executes a cruzada (cross). Note that despite the name of this step, generally it is not the ocho that is interrupted but other turns such as the milonete.
For more see the ocho cortado page
Orillero
1. The historical outskirts of Buones Aires.
2. A style of tango synonymous with Canyengue. See Canyengue on this page.
Orquesta orchestra [or-kes’-tah]
In tango, this is the orchestra playing the music. In the Golden Age of tango, the band was often referred to as the Orquesta Tipica.

P - tango dictionary of terms

Palanca lever [pah-lahn’-cah]
The lead levers, or assists, the follower during jumps and lifts in Show Tango
Parada stop [pah-rah’-dah]
Any stopping action in any direction.
For more information see the parada page
Parallel system
A dance in which the lead steps in the mirror image of the follower: him on his left foot, her to her right foot.
For more information see the cross system page
Pareja couple [pah-ray’-hah]
The two dancers in tango.
Pasada passing over [pah-sah’-dah]
The lead peforms a parada with his foot and leads the follower forward to pass over his foot; affords an excellent opportunity for the woman to adorn.
For more information see the pasada page
Paso step [pah’-so]
The basic tango step.
Patada kick [pah-tah’-dah]
A kick during or between steps, most often executed by the follower.
Pausa pause [pah’-oo-sah]
The couple hold their position for two or more beats.
Pecho chest [pay’-cho]
The chest of the dancer.
Picado chop [pe-cah’-do]
An embellishment executed by an upwards flick of the heel, done when stepping forwards or in the turn, typically an ocho.
For more information see the golpetico page
Pie foot [pe-ay’]
The foot of the dancer.
Pierna leg [pe-err’-nah]
The leg of the dancer.
Pinta appearance [peen’-tah]
The overall appearance and grooming of the dancer.
Pisar to step [pe-sar’]
The chest of the dancer.
Piso floor [pee’-so]
The dance floor (masculine).
Pista floor [pees’-tah]
The dance floor (feminine).
Planchadora [plan-chah-dor'-rah]
This word actually means ironing lady; in tango it refers to a woman who sits all night at a milonga without being requested to dance.
Planeo pivot [plah-nay'-o]
A step used by the lead when he has stepped forward then pivots, tracing his foot on the floor, with the follower dancing around him. For more information see the planeo page
Porteño
Historically, this refers to a ruffian who lived in the port city of Buenos Aires.
Postura posture [pos-too’-rah]
The posture of the dancer. For successful dancing, it is considered critical to have correct posture.
Práctica practice [prahc’-te-cah]
A casual practice session, different to a milonga in that dancers help each other and work on their style.
Punto point [poon’-to]
The punto is an embellishment executed by tapping the toe of the free foot. During a step the lead or follower may tap once or twice. During a pause, the lead or follower may tap any number of times.
For more information see the golpetico page

Q - tango dictionary of terms

Quebrada break [kay-brah’-dah]
A variation of the corte: a sudden turn in direction, generally done by holding the follower for several beats (or syncopating) and bending her at the waist - often in a back-and-forth action to double time.
For more information see the quebrada page

R - tango dictionary of terms

Rabona play hookey [rah-bo’-nah]
A series of steps in which the free foot is crossed across the supporting leg in a cruzada, repeated on each beat.
Resolución resolution [ray-so-loo-the-on’]
The finale (steps 6, 7 and 8) to the eight basic pattern.
Ritmo rhythm [reet'-mo]
The rhythmic structure of the music.
Ronda round [ron’-dah]
This is the outer-most lane where dancers move counter-clockwise around the perimeter of the floor - in most milongas this is right up against the tables, and dancers in the ronda have the right-of-way.
Rulo circle [roo’-lo]
An embellishment executed by drawing one or more circles on the floor with the free leg, either as part of a movement or during a pause in dancing.
For more information see the rulo page

S - tango dictionary of terms

Sacada take out [sah-cah’-dah]
A displacement of the woman’s free leg - when the leader places their foot or leg against the leg of their partner, transfers the weight to their own leg, and moves into the space of their partner’s leg.
For more information see the sacada page
Salida beginning [sah-lee’-dah]
The first steps of the dance or step.
Saltito small hop [sal-tee’-to]
A tango step in which either the lead or follower (rarely both) execute a small hop on the floor.
Sándwiche sandwich [sanwiˈtʃe]
To sandwich a partner's foot between your own.
For more information see the sandwiche page
Sánduche / Sánguche sandwich
Same as Sándwiche - see on this page.
Seguidilla merry dance [say-gee-deel'-lyah]
Tiny quick steps.
Seguir to follow [say-geer’]
Following the lead: this is considered an exquisite art-form in tango.
Sentada sit [sen-tah’-dah]
An embellishment executed by the follower mounting, or appearing to mount, the lead's supporting leg. It is sometimes used as a dramatic embellishment at the end of the dance.
For more information see the sentada page
Show Tango
The term used for exhibition and competitive tango dancing characterized by a choreographed performance.
For more information see the show tango page
Suave smooth [soo-ah’-vay]
Smooth, steady and a very chic style. Considered a critical goal to attain in tango, particularly for the lead.
Sube y Baja raise and lower
A milonga sequence in which lead and follower dance first forwards with chest turned in towards each other, then backwards with chest turned out towards each other.
syncopation
A subdivision of a beat caused typically by stressing the weak beat rather than the accent. In Spanish: sincopado.
For more information see the syncopation page

T - tango dictionary of terms

Tanda group [tanh’-dah]
A set of dance music which can be either three, four or five songs, separated by a cortina.
For more information see the cortina page
Tango de Salon
An inclusive term for the tango style danced at 'salons' (ballrooms) - in other words, milonga halls. It is characterized more by a wide variation than by a specific position; it is the style owned, practiced and shaped by the collective masses on the floor.
For more information see the Tango de Salon page
Tanguero [tan-goo-ay’-ro]
Someone who is passionate about tango.
Tijera scissors
A step in which the free leg is crossed in front of the supporting leg, and left there, so that it may be used for the next step.
Titubeo hesitation [te-too-bay’-o]
Same as pausa - see on this page.
Trabada connected [trah-bah’-dah]
Same as cruzada - see on this page
Traspié trip, stumble [trahs-pe-ay’]
A sequence of steps which are syncopated. For example milonga traspie indicates a form of milonga in which the dancers step between the beats.
For more information see the milonga style page
Truco trick [troo’-co]
Tricks or stunts, particularly in Show Tango.

U - tango dictionary of terms


V - tango dictionary of terms

Vals waltz [vahls]
Argentine tango form of waltz in 3/4 beat.
For more information see the vals page
Vareador one who beats with a pole [vah-ray-ah-dor’]
A lead who flirts with all the followers but does not get seriously involved with any of them.
Víbora viper [vee’-bo-rah]
The man places his right leg between the woman's legs, and takes a sacada to her left and her right in succession using a back and forth action.
Volcada capsize [vol-cah’-dah]
The leader causes the follower to lean forward and drop from her axis before he catches her. Generally this also involves sweeping the follower's leg as a result of the off-axis motion.
For more information see the volcada page
Voleo [vo-lay’-o]
Same as boleo - see on this page.

Y - tango dictionary of terms


Z - tango dictionary of terms

Zapatazo stamp of the foot [thah-pah-tah’-tho]
An embellishment in which the shoes are tapped together.
For more info see the golpetico page
Zarandeo shaking [thah-ran-day'-o]
Swinging back-and-forth or pivoting one the same place.