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Beginning and Intermediate Tango Terminology

BASICO (THE BASIC) - The first figure usually taught to beginning students after the walking steps. The 8 count basic includes elements which are used throughout the dance, although the complete figure itself is not much used socially. The name refers to counts in music, however, the man is not constrained to rigidly mark a step on each count or beat of the rhythm. He is free to hold or to syncopate, or cut the beat, as the music moves him or as space on the floor around him allows. Also the figure may be danced into or out of at various points and is not always entered at the beginning. There are also shortcuts within the 8 count basic. For instance, the man may lead the lady from the cruzada at 5 directly to 2, or he may close his left foot to his right without weight on 7 and step side left directly to 2. So in actuality the positions which the dancers move through at each step are numbered as reference points. In closed dance position, they are as follows;

  1. The man steps back right, the lady forward left. Or, variations: the man settles his weight on his right leg, placing the lady on her left, and holds. Also, the man may settle on his right leg, placing the lady on her left, quickly extending his left leg to his left side to point then closing back to his right leg without weight, as the lady mirrors his action with her right leg. Or the man may step through with his right leg between the partners, leading the lady to mirror his action (espejo) by stepping through with her left leg, remaining in closed position although briefly resembling promenade position.
  2. The man steps side left, the lady side right, with the man stepping slightly further than the lady.
  3. The man steps forward right in outside right position keeping his upper body turned toward the lady in contra-body, the lady back left paralleling the man and also in contra-body. This is a common point of entry to the figure which the ladies should be aware of.
  4. The man steps forward left, the lady back right stretching slightly more and seeking the man's center.
  5. The man closes his right foot to his left with weight and rotates his upper body to face forward, leading the lady to cross her left foot in front of her right with weight (cruzada) as she finishes moving back in front of the man. Many variations for the lady begin from this position.
  6. The man steps forward left inside his partner (to her center), the lady back right.
  7. The man steps side right, the lady side left.
  8. The man closes his left foot to his right with weight, the lady her right foot to her left.

Steps 1 through 3 (sometimes 1 through 5) are known as the salida. Steps 3 through 5 are known as walking the lady to the cross. Steps 6 through 8 are known as resolucion. See Basico.


Amague An Amague is used as an embellishment before making a step, typically a rapid crossing and uncrossing of the feet prior to a step. From Lunfardo (Argentine slang) meaning a "faking" action
Barrida (Sweep) A sweep of the partners foot. One partner foot sweeps the other foot without breakiing contact. (Also: Arrastre)
Block A position where the lady's feet are together and her forward progress is blocked by the man's foot.
Boleo (also Voleo) From bolear - to throw. Keeping the knees together, with one leg held back in CBMP without weight, swivel on the supporting leg and collect the feet with a whipping action of the lady's working leg. A Boleo is executed either high or low.
Calecita (Carousel) A figure in which the man places the lady on one foot with a lifting action and then dances around her while keeping her centered and pivoting on her supporting leg.

Contra Body Movement - This happens when the upper body rotates in the opposite direction from the lower body while moving. (unlike the "stick man" in our illustration above - this is what happens to many of us, when we try to think about CBM) - the stick man has the wrong arm forward, for the movement of his feet.  Actually CBM is what happens when you are walking along, allowing the NATURAL swing of your arms with your stride.  As you stride forward on your LEFT foot, your RIGHT arm goes forward in a very natural balancing movement. The same principle works in dancing. (And, your dance partner will APPRECIATE it.)

To try this out stand with your weight on the Right foot. Step out on your Left foot and at the same time twist your upper body to the left (Right shoulder forward). Next step back with your Left foot and twist your upper body to the Right. (Right shoulder back) If it feels like a wind up for a spin it should. If you were to place and center your weight on the moving foot you could spin easily.

CBMP Contra Body Movement Position - This happens when one foot is placed in front of the other while dancing. To try this movement (man) stand with the weight on your Left foot. Travel forward while placing the Right foot directly in front of the Left. Imagine having a partner with you and you will see that this is the movement that is used when moving to outside partner while continuing to face your partner. Ladies, try the same movement but using the opposite feet and traveling backward.
Cruzada A Position where the Lady's L.F. is crossed tightly in fromt of the R.F. - i.e. Step 5 of the Basico.
Enganche (Hooking Action) A position where the man and lady's legs are hooked around each other.
Enrosque: From Enroscar - to coil or twist. A position where the man pivots on the supporting leg while wrapping the working leg in front or behind the supporting leg, typically while the lady walks a Molinete around the man.
Gancho (Hook) A hooking action that occurs when the man or the lady hooks their leg sharploy around and in contact with the partner's leg by brushing the floor then flexing the knee.
Lapiz (Pencil) Tracing a circular motion on the floor with the toe or the inside edge of the ball of the foot while pivoting or waiting on the supporting leg. The arc traced may be a small or a large sweeping motion. Also Rulo.
Lustrada (Shining) An embellishment when the man's pant leg is stroked with the top of a shoe. It may be executed by the lady or by the man on himself, never on the lady. This embellishment typically follows a block or a Lady's sandwich.
Media Luna (Half Moon) An embellishment for the lady which is executed by swiveling on the supporting leg while the inner thighs are together and the working leg held back in CBMP without weight as in a Boleo but without the whipping action.
Media Vuelta (Half Turn) This is typically a turn made by the lady walkiing 2 or 3 steps of the Molinete around the man.
Milonga Milonga has three meanings. It refers to a type of up-beat Argentine music written in 2/4 time; the dance that corresponds to the mussic; or may refer to a dance party where Argentine Tango, Argentine Vals, and Milonga are danced.
Molinete (Windmill) A figure in which the laey dances a grapevine figure (forward, side, back, side) around the man.
Ocho (Eight) A figure 8 pattern produced by two or more steps either forward or back in CBMP. A figure 8 is actually traced only if 1/2 a turn or more is made. An Ocho which makes less than 1/2 a turn may be called a forward or back cross step.
Ocho Cortado (Cut Ocho) A check action on a side step following a forward step of the Lady that ends witrh the Cruzada (feet crossed).
Quatro Position (Figure Four) A position where the working leg is crossed in front of the standing leg with the knee of the working leg bent and the shin parallel to the floor. This position is usually the consequence of a displacement but can also be executed as an embellishment.
Parada From Parar - to stop. A stop of the lady before a step is completed. The parada is normally executed by the man placing a foot in contact with the lady's forward foot. The Parada commonly follows the back step of a Molinete or Back Ocho.
Pasada (Passing) A stepping-over of the man's outstretched foot or leg by the lady.
Paso A step.
Pausa (Pause) A pause where the position of both partners is held.
Practica A practice session for tango dancers. Part of tango dance etiquette is that milongas are not for practicing dancing.
Resolucion (Resolution) The closing stgeps of the Tango, i.e., 6-8 of the Basic.
Ritmo Rythm
Sacada From Sacar - to take out or displace. A displacement of the partner's leg or foot by the other's leg or foot respectively. The Sacada is executed by placing the foot or leg in contact with the one to be displaced and then transferring weight to that foot.
Salida From Salir - to exit or to go out. The first steps of dancing a tango, and refers to steps 2-5 of the Basico. The usage of the term Salida is traditionally understood to be derived from "Salimos a Bailar?) - "Shall we?" (go out onto the dance floor and dance).
Sandwich A position where the partner's foot is sandwiched between the other's two feet. The Lady executes a sandwich with one foot without wight and should collect the knees and ankles with the foot collecting in a beveled position to creat the desired leg line.
Sentada From sentar - to sit. 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.
Zarandeo (Sifting) A slight shaking back and forth or sifting of the lady, pivoting in place on one foot, or with the foot stationary and a slight body turn R and L. Typically led by the man to embellish and mark time in the music.