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
- 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.
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
- A series of forward-and-left series of steps executed by the lead to change direction, usually to avoid collisions.
- 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
- A smooth dance.
- 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
1. The meeting place to dance tango.
2. A fast paced form of the tango with 2/4 beat.
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