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1- Tango Terminology (PART 1 OF 4) A - E

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

This list is part of an ongoing effort to educate and assist the friends and enthusiasts of Tango in their pursuit of the lovely dance called Tango.

Source: Steve Brown


Academic Basic — Another name for the 8-count basic which is the the first figure usually taught to beginning students after the walking steps. See 8-Count Basic, Basico.

Abrazo — The embrace; a hug; or dance position.

Adelante — Forward.

Adorno — Adornment; embellishment. See Firulete.

Aficionado — From afición - liking; amateur; fancier: An enthusiastic admirer or follower; a devotee or a fan of something, such as tango.

Agujas — Needles: An adornment for the man done with the working foot vertical with the toe into the floor while pivoting inside a molinete.

Al costado — To the side.

Amague — (from amagar - to make a threatening motion) a feint: An amague is used as an embellishment either led or done on one’s own, and may be used before taking a step. An example of an amague may be a beat (frappé) before taking a step. See Cuatro.

Apilado Style — Piled on: As used in tango, the reference is to the way a jockey is "piled on" his horse, when racing—hugging the neck. See Milonguero Style.

Arrabal — The slums.

Arrabalero — A person of low social status. A person of simple and direct ways who speaks plainly and uses coarse language. A slum dweller.

Arrastre — From arrastrar - to drag. See Barrida.

Arrepentida — Repentant; To change one’s mind: A family of steps which allow a couple to back away from a collision or traffic jam in a minimal amount of space and on short notice.

Atrás — Backward.


Bailar — To dance.

Bailarin — A professional or very accomplished dancer.

Bailongo — A lunfardo word to describe a place where people dance, i.e. a milonga.

Balanceo — A deep check and replace. See Cadencia.

Baldosa — A walking box figure named after the black & white checkerboard tile floors which are common in Buenos Aires. See Cuadrado.

Barrida — A sweep; a sweeping motion: One partner’s foot sweeps the other’s foot and places it without losing contact. Barridas are done from either the outside or the inside of the foot of the receiving party. The technique is different for the inside and outside barridas. See Arrastre and Llevada.

Bandoneón — An accordion like musical instrument originally created to provide missionaries with portable pipe organ music for religious services in remote locales which has been adopted by tango musicians to create the mournful and soulful sound of modern tango music.

Barrio — A district or neighborhood.

Basico — The basic pattern. There are several basic patterns, the most common of which is the 8-count basic.

Bicicleta — Bicycle: A circular movement of the feet led by the man in the vertical plane with the couples feet pressed together as in a barrida.

Bien Parado — Well stood (literally), standing straight up. Elegantly and gallantly presented. See Pinta, Postura.

Boleo — From bolear - To throw: a boleo may be executed either high or low. Keeping the knees together, with one leg back, swivel and return on the supporting leg with a whipping action of the working leg. Sometimes spelled Voleo. See Latigazo.

Brazos — Arms.


Cabeceo — (from cabeza; head): Traditional technique for selecting dance partners from a distance at the milongas in Buenos Aires by using eye contact and head movements. Also see Codigos.

Cadena — The chain; enchainement: An athletic and very theatrical turning figure which moves rapidly across the floor turning left or right, in which the couple alternate amagues (cuatros) or ganchos. Another variation involves the man stepping 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, alternately going around her and bringing her around him.

Cadencia — A deep check and replace, usually led by the man as he steps forward left. Useful for avoiding collisions and making direction changes in small spaces. May also refer to a subtle shifting of weight from foot to foot in place and in time with the music done by the man before beginning a dance to give the lady the rhythm he intends to dance and to ensure that she will begin with him on the correct foot. See Balanceo.

Caida — Fall: A step in which the man steps backward, sinks on his supporting leg, and crosses his working leg in front without weight while leading the lady to step forward in outside position, sink on her supporting leg and cross her working leg behind without weight. Caida may be done to either side.

Calesita — Carousel; the merry-go-round: A figure in which the man places the lady on one foot with a lifting action of his frame and then dances around her while keeping her centered over, and pivoting on, her supporting leg. Sometimes referred to as the Stork when the lady’s leg is lifted in the cuatro position.

Cambio — Change: as in cambio defrente, change of the front or face; or cambio parejas, change the couple (change partners).

Caminada — The walking steps; a walking step.

Caminando (Caminar) Valsiado — A crossing and walking step which the man initiates at 3 of the 8-count basic as he steps forward right in outside right position, pivoting to his right on his right foot and leading the lady to pivot on her left foot, stepping side left (side right for the lady) and drawing his right leg under him with weight (the lady mirroring with her left). The man then steps forward left in outside left position, pivoting to the left on his left foot, stepping side right and drawing his left foot under him with weight (as the lady dances the natural opposite). The man returns to outside right position and either continues the figure or walks the lady to the cross. May be danced in tango or vals.

Caminar — To walk: The walk is similar to a natural walking step, but placing the ball of the foot first instead of the heel. Sometimes taught that the body and leg must move as a unit so that the body is in balance over the forward foot. Another style requires stretching the working leg, placing the foot, and then taking the body over the new supporting foot regardless of direction. Walks should be practiced both forward and backward for balance, fluidity, and cat-like gracefulness.

Candombe — A type of dance originally danced by the descendants of black slaves in the Rio de la Plata region and still performed in Montevideo, Uruguay. Music of African origin with a marked rhythm played on a "tamboril" (a kind of drum). It survives today as a rhythmic background to certain milongas such as Azabache by Miguel Caló, Carnavalito by Lucio Demare, Estampa del 800 by Francisco Canaro and the very popular recordings by Juan Carlos Cacérès. For more information, see the Candombe webpage.

Cangrejo — The crab: A repetitive pattern of walking steps and or sacadas in which the man advances turned nearly sideways to his partner.

Canyengue — A very old style of tango from the 1900s to the 1940s. The music from this era had a faster or peppier 2/4 tempo so the dance had a rhythmic flavor similar to that of modern milonga. A very close embrace was used as well as some unique posture and footwork elements. The tango of the arrabal. Also see Stephen Brown's Styles of Argentine Tango.

A lunfardo word with several meanings. It refers to somebody or something from the slums, i.e. low class. It also describes a gathering where people from the slums dance. It is also a certain way to perform or dance the tango with a slum attitude. Finally, it is a rhythmic effect created by Leopoldo Thompson by hitting the string of the contrabass with the hand or the arch of the bow.

Carancanfunfa (also carancanfun) — In the lingo of the compadritos, the dance of tango with interruptions (cortes) and also those who dance it that way in a very skillful manner.

Caricias — Caresses: A gentle stroking with the leg or shoe against some part of the partner's body. They can be subtle or extravagant. See Adorno, Firulete, and Lustrada.

Carousel — A term used for molinete con sacadas to the man’s left, the lady’s right, with ochos and or ocho cortado to exit.

Carpa — The tent: A figure created when the man leads the lady onto one foot as in, or at the end of, calesita and then steps back away from her, causing her to lean at an angle from her foot to his frame. See Inclinada, Puente.

Castigada — (from castigar - to punish) a punishment: A lofting of the lady's working leg followed by flexing at the knee and caressing the working foot down the outside of the supporting leg. Often done as an adorno prior to stepping forward, as in parada or in ochos.

Chiche — (pl. chiches) Small ornamental beats done around the supporting foot with the working foot in time with the music, either in front or in back as desired. See Adorno, Firulete.

Cintura — Waist.

Club Style — See Milonguero Style. Also see Stephen Brown's Styles of Argentine Tango.

Codigos — Codes: Refers to the codes of behavior and the techniques for finding a dance partner in the milongas in Buenos Aires. Civility, respectfulness, and consideration are the hallmark of the true and serious milonguero. See Cabeceo.

Colgada — A spinning move executed by a couple at the end of an inside barrida in which both dancers lean out away from each other and spin rapidly until the man leads out with a back step.

Compadre — A responsible, brave, well behaved, and honorable man of the working class who dresses well and is very macho.

Compadrito — Dandy; hooligan; street punk; ruffian. They invented the Tango.

Compás — Beat, as in the beat of the music. The walking count or impulse of each measure, the simplest element of each piece of music. See Ritmo.

Confiteria Bailable — A café like establishment with a nice atmosphere where one can purchase refreshments and dance tango. A nice place to meet friends or a date for dancing.

Confiteria Style — May refer to a smooth and simple Salon Style as in Tango Liso or to Milonguero Style.

Corrida — (also: corridita, a little run) from correr: to run. A short sequence of running steps.

Corrida Garabito — A milonga step in which the couple alternately step through between each other, the man with his right leg and the lady mirroring with her left in espejo, then pivot to face each other as they step together. May be repeated as desired.

Corte — Cut: In tango, corte means cutting the music either by syncopating, or by holding for several beats. May refer to a position in which the torso is erect over a flexed supporting leg with the working leg extended forward to a pointe with the knees together which the man assumes when touching the lady’s foot with his in parada. The lady moves to the same position from parada as the man closes over her working foot in mordida, and pivots on her supporting foot in this position whenever the man leads an outside barrida. May also refer to a variety of dramatic poses featuring erect posture, flexed supporting legs, and extended dance lines by both dancers, used as a finale. See Cuartas.

Cortina — Curtain: A brief musical interlude between tandas at a milonga.

Contrapaso — A step produced when you lock one foot behind the other. For instance right foot steps forward, left foot locks behind right. Now right foot steps forward again. This can be done in single or double time, in one instance or repetitively. Also see Rabona and Traspie.

Crossed Feet — Occurs whenever the couple are stepping together on his and her right feet and then on his and her left feet, regardless of direction. The opposite of parallel feet.

Cruzada — From cruzar - to cross; the cross: A cruzada occurs any time a foot is crossed in front of or in back of the other. The lady’s position at 5 of the 8-count basic. May also be called Trabada.

Cuadrado — A square; A box step: Used mostly in Milonga, Canyengue and Milonguero- and Club-style tango. See Baldosa.

Cuartas — Poses: Dance lines struck and held as dramatic flourishes at the end of a song. Large dramatic ones are used for stage or fantasia dancing, smaller softer versions occasionally in Salon style, and not used in Milonguero style at all. See Corte.

Cuatro — A figure created when the lady flicks her lower leg up the outside of the opposite leg, keeping her knees together, and briefly creating a numeral 4 in profile. This can be led with a sacada or with an arrested rotational lead like a boleo, or it can be used, at the lady’s discretion, in place of a gancho or as an adornment after a gancho. See Amague.

Cucharita — The spoon. A lifting of the lady’s foot with a gentle scooping motion by the man’s foot to the lady’s shoe, usually led during forward ochos to create a flicking motion of the lady’s leg.

Cuerpo — Body; torso.

Cunita — Cradle: A forward and backward rocking step done in time with the music and with or without chiches, which is useful for marking time or changing direction in a small space. This movement may be turned to the left or right, danced with either the left or right leg forward, and repeated as desired. See Hamaca.


Dedo — Toe or finger.

Derecha — Right (the opposite of left).

Derecho — Erect, straight, forward. See Postura.

Desplazamiento — Displacement: Displacing the partner’s leg or foot using one’s own leg or foot. See Sacada.

Dibujo — Drawing; sketch: A dibujo is done by drawing circles or other small movements on the floor with one’s toe. See Firulete, Lapiz and Rulo.


8-Count Basic (Academic Basic) — The first figure usually taught to beginning students after the walking steps. See Basico. The 8-count basic includes elements which are used throughout the dance, although the complete figure itself is not much used for dancing 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. The figure may be danced into or out of at various points and is not always entered at the beginning and there are 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, the steps are as follows:

1. The man settles his weight on his right leg, placing the lady on her left, and holds. Or, variations: the man steps back right, the lady forward left. 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 resolución.

Eje — (pronounced ay-hay) Axis or balance. See Postura.

Elevadas — Dancing without keeping the feet on the floor. This was the style before the turn of century when tangowas danced on dirt surfaces in the patios of tenements, low-class taverns, and on the cobble stone streets. Once tango went uptown enough to actually be danced on floors (wood, tile, or marble) the dancers fell in love with the floor, thus we now refer to 'caressing the floor'. Characteristic of canyengue or orillero-style tango.

Embutido — Filler or inlay: a foot swinging behind other foot after an enrosque.

Enganche — Hooking; coupling; the little hook: Occurs when a partner wraps a leg around the other’s leg, or uses a foot to catch and hold the other’s foot or ankle.

Enrosque — From enroscar - to coil or twist: While the lady dances a molinete, the man pivots on his supporting foot, hooking or coiling the working leg behind or around in front of the supporting leg.

Entrada — Entrance: Occurs when a dancer steps forward or otherwise enters the space between their partners legs without displacement.

Entregarme — Surrender: To give oneself up to the leader’s lead.

Espejo — Mirror: To mirror the movement of ones partner as in "ochos en espejo", a figure where the man and woman both do forward ochos at the same time.


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