Tango Terms

Tango Dictionary of Terms

The Tango Dictionary includes the widely used tango terms and terminology.

A – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Abrazo [ah-brah’-tho] embrace   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.

Adelante [ah-day-lahn’-tay] forward   To dance or move in a forward direction

Adorno [ah-dor’-no] embellishment   A creative movement that adorns or embellishes the dance

Aficionado [ah-fe-the-o-nah’-do] fan   An enthusiastic follower, devotee or fan of something – in this case tango.

Aguja [ah-goo’-hah] needle   A man’s embellishment in which the foot is vertical with the toe into the floor while pivoting

Al costado [al cos-tah’-do] to the side   To dance or move in a sideways direction

Amague [ah-ma’-geh] fake   Move in one direction that changes the direction at the last second

Apilado [ah-pe-lah-doh] piled on, leaning

  1. When the dancers are off axis and leaning against each other more than usual
    2. A style of tango dancing which involves leaning.

Arrabal [ar-rah-bal’] slum   A term denoting the slums, which were pivotal to the creation of the milonga and tango

Arrabalero [ah-rah-bah-lay’-ro, rah] rough

1. Belonging to the outskirts.
2. Illbred.
3. Rough in dress or manners.

Arranque [ar-rahn’-kay] start   A device for the leader to create momentum during a molinete: executed by pausing and leading the follower to the side.

Arrastre [ar-ras’-tray] dragging

Arrepentida [ar-ray-pen-tee’-dah] repentant   Steps which enable a couple to back away from a collision

Atrás [ah-trahs’] backward   To dance or move in a backwards direction


B – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Bailar [bah-e-lar’] dance   The tango dance itself.

Bailarín dancer [bah-e-lah-reen’]

1. A term for any dancer.
2. A very accomplished dancer

Bailongo [bah-e-lon’-go] local dance   A Lunfardo word for a milonga

Balanceo [bah-lan-cee-o] rocking

Baldosa [bal-do’-sah] floor tile   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

Barrida [bar-ree’-dah] sweep   The foot (normally of the woman) is swept with a swift movement – interchangeable with the terms Arrastre and Llevada

Barrio [bar’-re-o] neighbourhood   A district or neighborhood

Básico [bah’-see-co] basic   The basic tango pattern, the most common of which is the 8-count basic

Bicicleta [be-the-clay’-tah] bicycle   A circular movement of the feet executed by the lead

Boleo [bo-lay’-o] whip   The swiftly changed direction during a pivot, producing a whip action from her leg

Brazo [brah-tho] arm   The arm of the tango dancer


C – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Cabeceo [cah-bay-thay’-o] invitation   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.

Cabeza [cah-bay’-thah] head   The head of the dancer

Cadena [cah-day’-nah] chain

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

Cadencia [cah-den’-the-ah] rhythm

  1. A series of forward-and-left series of steps executed by the lead 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 [cah-ee’-dah] fall   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 [cah-lay-see’-tah] carousel, merry-go-round   The lead ensures the follower is upright on her axis, and dances around her while she pivots on her supporting leg. The follower’s free leg is generally held in the

Cuatro position but other embellishment can be performed

Cambio [cahm’-be-o] change   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

Caminada [cah-me-nah’-dah] walk   Series of steps that walk forward

Caminar [cah-me-nar’] to walk   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

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 [can-gray’-ho] crab   A pattern of dance steps where the lead advances turned nearly sideways to the follower

Caricia [cah-ree’-the-ah] caress   Stroking with the leg or shoe part of the partner’s body.

Carpa [car’-pah] tent A figure created when the man leads the lady onto one foot and then steps back away from her causing her to lean at an angle

Castigada [cas-tee’-ga’-dah] seduction   An embellishment in which the follower caresses her supporting leg with her free leg

Chiche [chee’-chay] delicate ornament   An embellishment in which small beats are executed by the free foot in time with the music

Colgada [col-gah’-dah] hanging   Being in a state of controlled off axis

Compás [com-pahs’] beat   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 music, the style, the rhythm, the ambience..

Contrapaso [con-trah-pah’-so] contra step   A step in which one foot is locked behind the other

Corrida [cor-ree’-dah] run      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

Corrida Garabito [cor-ree’-dah gah-rah-bee’-to] covered run   A milonga step in which the couple alternately step between each other

Corte [cor’-tay] cut   A sudden turn in direction, generally done by holding for several beats (or syncopating) – often in a back-and-forth action to double time

Cortina [cor-tee’-nah] curtain   A musical interlude in between a tanda at a milonga providing time to enter and exit the dance floor

Contrapaso [con-trah-pah’-so] backste

Cross System    A dance in which the man steps in the same way as the women (right foot to right, left to left

Cruzada [croo-thah’-dah] cross   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

Cuatro [coo-ah’tro] four   An embellishment in which the follower flicks one of her lower legs backwards, keeping her knees together, creating a numeral 4 in profile

Cucharita [coo-chah-ree’-tah] spoon   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

Cunita [coo-nee’-tah] crib   The rocking back and forth that can be done in order to mark time or change direction.


D – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Despacio [des-pah’-the-o] slowly   A slowing of music or dance

Desplazamiento [des-plah-thah-me-en’-to] displacement  Same as sacada

Dibujo [de-boo’-ho] sketch   Same as Rulo

Doble Tiempo [do’-blay te-em’-po] double timeTango danced at twice the musical beat


E – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Eje [ay’-hay] axisThe 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 [ay-lay-vah’-do, dah] elevated   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 [em-boo-tee’-do] inlaid work   A foot swinging behind other foot

Enganche [en-gahn’-chay] hook   Same as gancho – see on this page

Enroscar [en-ros-car’] corkscrew   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

Entrada [en-trah’-dah] entranceThe man puts his leg between the woman’s legs, without moving her or causing her to shift weight

Espalda [es-pahl’-dah] back   The back of the dancer

Espejo [es-pay’-ho] mirror   Executed when the lead and follower do mirror image steps of each other


F – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Fanfarrón [fan-far-rone’] fanfare   An embellishment in which the foot is rhythmically tapped in time to the music  It is also called Chiche

Fantasia show tango   Same as Show Tango

Faroliito small lantern   Same as rulo

Firulete [fir-u-let-ey] embellishment    Same as Adorno

Freno [fray’-no] brake   To stop on a step


G – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Gancho [gahn’-cho] hook   The action of hooking one leg around the partner’s leg

Giro [hee’-ro] turn  The turn in tango, generally performed by the follower stepping around the lead, who pivots in the centre

The Golden Age of tango is the period between the 1930s and 1950s, when tango was at the peak of its popularity.

Golpecito [gol-pay-thee’-co] tap   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.

Golpeteo [gol-pay-tay’-o] drumming

This is embellishment in which lead or follower taps the underside of the free foot – in other words the heel or the ball.


H – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Habanera [ah-bah-nay’-rah]    An Afro-Cuban dance which contributed to tango.


I – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Intrusión [in-troo-se-on’] intrusion   The intrusión is executed by briefly placing the free foot between the partner’s legs, often in the form of a ‘quick kick’.


J – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Junta [hoon’-tah] close   The essence of elegant tango is ankles and knees that pass by each other closely between each step


K – Tango Dictionary of Terms


L – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Lápiz [lah’-pith] pencil   Same as Rulo

Latigazo [la-te-gah’-tho] whipping   The whipping action of the leg during a boleo

Lento [len’-to] slow   In tango, refers to a dance or music that has a slow beat

Liso [lee’-so] smooth

  1. A smooth dance.
  2. Tango Liso was the early term for Tango de Salon

Llevada [lyay-vah’-dah] carrying   Executed when the lead uses his thigh or foot to carry the follower’s leg to the next step.

Lustrada [loos-trah-dah’] polish    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


M – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Marcar [mar-car’] mark  To lead.

Media Luna [may’-de-ah loo’-nah] half moon   A half turn – the man creates a back, side, and forward for the women which makes the shape of a half moon.

Media Vuelta [may’-de-ah voo-el’-tah] half turn   Same as media luna

Milonga [me-lon-gah]

1. The meeting place to dance tango.
2. A fast paced form of the tango with 2/4 beat.

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  [me-long-gita]   An affectionate name for a woman attending a milonga.

Molinete [mo-le-nay’-tay] windmill   The woman dances around the man side-back-side-forward using forward and backwards ochos

Mordida [mor-dee’-dah] bite Same as Sandwiche


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).

Nuevo (tango) [noo-ay’-vo] new tango

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.


O – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Ocho [o’-cho] eight   The basic turn in tango, executed by a turn that is first one way, and 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).

Ocho Cortado [o’-cho cor-tah’-do] cut eight   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. The open step is reversed and “cuts into the giro” Maybe it should be called Giro Cortada

Orquesta [or-kes’-tah] orchestra

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 [pah-lahn’-cah] lever   The lead levers, or assists, the follower during jumps and lifts in Show Tango

Parada [pah-rah’-dah] stop   Any stopping action in any direction

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

Pareja [pah-ray’-hah] couple   The two dancers in tango

Pasada [pah-sah’-dah] passing over   The lead performs a parada with his foot and leads the follower forward to pass over his foot; affords an excellent opportunity for the woman to adorn

Paso [pah’-so] step   The basic tango step

Patada [pah-tah’-dah] kick   A kick during or between steps, most often executed by the follower

Pausa [pah’-oo-sah] pause   The couple holds their position for two or more beats

Pecho [pay’-cho] chest   The chest of the dancer

Picado [pe-cah’-do] chop   An embellishment executed by an upwards flick of the heel, done when stepping forwards or in the turn, typically an ocho.

Pierna  [pe-err’-nah] leg   The leg of the dancer

Pisar [pe-sar’] to step   The chest of the dancer

Piso [pee’-so] floor   The dance floor (masculine)

Pista [pees’-tah] floor   The dance floor (feminine)

Planeo [plah-nay’-o] pivot   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.

Porteño    Historically, this refers to a ruffian who lived in the port city of Buenos Aires.

Práctica [prahc’-te-cah] practice   A casual practice session, different to a milonga in that dancers help each other and work on their style

Punto [poon’-to] point   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


Q – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Quebrada [kay-brah’-dah] break   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.


R – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Rabona [rah-bo’-nah] play hookey   A series of steps in which the free foot is crossed across the supporting leg in a cruzada, repeated on each beat

Resolución [ray-so-loo-the-on’] resolutionThe finale (steps 6, 7 and 8) to the eight basic pattern

Ritmo [reet’-mo] rhythm   The rhythmic structure of the music

Ronda [ron’-dah] round   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 [roo’-lo] circle   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


S – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Sacada [sah-cah’-dah] take out   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.

Salida [sah-lee’-dah] From salir – to exit; to go out The first steps of the dance or step. From salir – to exit; to go out and the exit or closing of a combination

Saltito  [sal-tee’-to] small hopA tango step in which either the lead or follower (rarely both) execute a small hop on the floor.

Sándwiche [sanwiˈtʃe] sandwich   To sandwich a partner’s foot between your own

Seguidilla [say-gee-deel’-lyah] merry dance   Tiny quick steps

Seguir [say-geer’] to follow   Following the lead: this is considered an exquisite art-form in tango

Sentada [sen-tah’-dah] sit   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.

Show Tango    The term used for exhibition and competitive tango dancing characterized by a choreographed performance.

Suave [soo-ah’-vay] smooth   Smooth, steady and a very chic style  Considered a critical goal to attain in tango, particularly for the lead

Syncopation In Spanish: sincopado      A subdivision of a beat caused typically by stressing the weak beat rather than the accent.


T – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Tanda [tanh’-dah] group   A set of dance music which can be two, three, four or five songs, separated by a cortina

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.

Tanguero [tan-goo-ay’-ro]    someone who is passionate about tango

Tijera [te-hair-ey] 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 [te-too-bay’-o] hesitation   Same as pausa

Trabada [trah-bah’-dah] connected   Same as cruzada

Traspié [trahs-pe-ay’] trip, stumble   A sequence of steps which are syncopated. For example milonga traspie indicates a form of milonga in which the dancers step between the beats.

Truco [troo’-co] trick   Tricks or stunts, particularly in Show Tango


U – Tango Dictionary of Terms


V – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Vals [vahls] waltz   Argentine tango form of waltz in 3/4 beat.

Víbora [vee’-bo-rah] viper   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 [vol-cah’-dah] capsize   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

Voleo [vo-lay’-o]    Same as boleo


Y – Tango Dictionary of Terms


Z – Tango Dictionary of Terms

Zapatazo [thah-pah-tah’-tho] stamp of the foot   An embellishment in which the shoes are tapped together

Zarandeo [thah-ran-day’-o] shaking   Swinging back-and-forth or pivoting one the same place