Tango Terms

Buenos Aires, 1950s

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The embrace; a hug; or dance position.


Adornment; embellishment. See Firulete.

Aficionado (Afficionado)
From afición – liking; amateur; fancier: An enthusiastic admirer or follower; a devotee or a fan of
something, such as tango.

Al costado
To the side.

From amagar. To make a threatening motion as 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.

Style See Milonguero Style.

The slums.

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

From arrastrar – to drag. See Barrida.

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.


To dance.

A professional or very accomplished dancer.

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

A deep check and replace. See Cadencia.

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

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.

A district or neighborhood.

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

Bien Parado
Well stood (literally), standing straight up. See pinta, postura.

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.


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. See also Codigos.

The chain; enchainement: An athletic and very theatrical turning figure which moves rapidly across the floor turning left, in which the couple alternate amagues (cuatros) or ganchos. Another variation involves the man stepping outside left in crossed feet and leading the lady in a change of direction to keep her in front of him as he turns to the left, alternately going around her and bringing her around him.

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.

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.

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.

The walking steps; a walking step.

Caminando (Caminar) Valsiado
A crossing and walking step which the man initiates at 3 of basico 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.

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.

A type of dance originally danced by the descendants of black slaves in the Rio de la Plata region.Music of African origin with a marked rhythm played on a “tamboril” (a kind of drum).Cangrejo The crab: A repetitive pattern of walking steps and or sacadas in which the man advances turned nearly sideways to his partner.

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. 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.

(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.

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.

The tent: A figure created when the man leads the lady onto one foot as in calecita and then steps back away from her, causing her to lean at an angle from her foot to his frame.

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.


Club Style
See Milonguero Style.

Codes: Refers to the codes of behavior and the techniques for finding a dance partner in the milongas in Buenos Aires. See Cabeceo.

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

Dandy; hooligan; street punk; ruffian: They invented the Tango.

Beat, as in the beat of the music.

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 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, then pivot to face each other as they step together. May be repeated as desired.

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 Quartas.

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

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. 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.

A square; A box step: Used mostly in Milonga and Club or Canyengue style tango. See Baldosa.

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.

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.

Body; torso.

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.

Erect, straight. See Postura.

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

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.

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

Dancing without keeping the feet on the floor. This was the style before the turn of century when
tango was danced on dirt surfaces in the patios of tenements, low-class taverns, and on the street. 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’.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

A rhythmic tapping or stomping of the foot in time with the music for dramatic and emotional effect. Boisterous behavior. See Golpecitos.

An adornment; a decoration; an embellishment: Complicated or syncopated movements which the
dancer uses to demonstrate their skill and to interpret the music. See adorno, and lapiz.
Freno To stop and hold; brake.

The hook: Occurs when a dancer hooks a leg sharply around and in contact with their partners leg by flexing the knee and releasing. May be performed to the inside or outside of either leg and by either partner.

Turn: A turning step or figure.

Little toe taps: Rhythmic tapping done with a flat foot on the ball or underside of the toe as an
adorno. See Fanfarron and Zapatazo.

Toe taps: With a tilted foot tap the floor with the toe and allow the lower leg to rebound keeping the
knees together. See Picados.

A lunfardo term for woman. See mina.

Handsome: A respectable and desirable man. A compadre.

A side together side together stepping action entered with a side chassé, commonly used by the
man as he leads backward ochos for the lady in crossed feet. An Afro-Cuban dance from the mid 19th century which contributed to Tango.

Another term for Cunita.

From juntar – to join or bring together (as in, one’s feet or knees); close: In Tango it is essential that the ankles and knees should come together or pass closely by each other between each step to create an elegant appearance, preserve balance, and to communicate clearly the completion of the step to one’s partner. This applies equally to the man and the lady.

Pencil: Tracing of circular motions on the floor with the toe or inside edge of the working foot, while
turning or waiting on the supporting foot. These may vary from small adornments done while marking time to large sweeping arcs which precede the lady as she moves around the man in molinete. See Dibujo, Firulete, and Rulo.

Whip. Describes a whipping action of the leg as in a boleo.


Smooth, as in Tango Liso: An early term for Tango de Salon.

From llevar – to transport; a carry; to take with: Occurs when the man uses the upper thigh or foot to “carry” the lady’s leg to the next step. Barridas interspersed with walking steps in which the man takes the lady
with him across the floor.

The Spanish slang of the Buenos Aires underworld which is common in tango lyrics and terminology.

From lustrar – to shine or polish; the shoe shine: A stroking of the man’s pant leg with a shoe. May be done by the lady or by the man to himself but is never done to the lady.

From Marque; to plot a course; guide: To lead. (la marca = the lead)

Media Luna
Half moon: A sweeping circular motion of the leg similar to a ronde in ballroom but always danced
in contact with the floor, never lofted. Usually danced by the lady and often led with a sacada to the lady’s leg. May be used to bring the lady to an inside gancho.

Media Vuelta
Half turn: Usually done when the man’s right foot and the lady’s left foot are free. The man
steps forward outside right (3 of 8 count basic), leading the lady to step back left, then side right across his right leg, and forward left around him as he shifts weight first to his center, then onto his right foot as he then pivots on both feet ½ turn with his partner, the lady pivoting on her left foot. Media Vuelta is used by itself to change direction or maneuver on the dance floor and as an entrance to many combinations.

May refer to the music, written in 2/4 time, or to the dance which preceded the tango, or to the dance
salon where people go to dance tango, or to a tango dance and party.

(feminine; Milonguera) Refers to those frequenting the milongas from the early 1900s to the
present who were or are tango fanatics. A person whose life revolves around dancing tango and the philosophy of tango. A title given by other tango dancers to a man (woman) who has mastered the tango dance and embodies the essence of tango.

Milonguero Style
Term originally given by Europeans and some North Americans to the style of dancing in a very close embrace; also referred to as confiteria style, club style, apilado style, etc. Usually used in the very
crowded clubs frequented by singles in the center of Buenos Aires. Milonguero Style is danced in a very close embrace with full upper body contact, the partners leaning into each other (but never hanging on each other), and using simple walking and turning steps. This style relies on music of the more rhythmic type as characterized by orquestas like those of D’Arienzo or Tanturi.

A lunfardo word for woman. See grelas, paicas, or pebeta.

From mirar – to look; see; observe; take notice: Look at this. Observe.
Molinete Windmill; wheel: A figure in which the lady dances a grapevine on a circumference around the man, stepping side-back-side-forward using forward and back ocho technique and footwork, as the man pivots at the center of the figure.

From morder: to bite; the little bite: One partner’s foot is sandwiched or trapped between the other
partner’s feet. If the other partner’s feet are also crossed it may be referred to as Reverse Mordida. Sometimes called Sandwiche, or Sanguchito.

Mordida Alto
A variation in which a dancer catches a partners knee between both of their own.

Ocho Eight (pl. ochos)
Figure eights: A crossing & pivoting figure from which the fan in American tango is derived. Executed as a walking step with flexed knees and feet together while pivoting, ochos may be danced either forward or backward and are so designated from the lady’s perspective. El Ocho is considered to be one of the oldest steps in tango along with caminada, the walking steps. It dates from the era when women wore floor length skirts with full petticoats and danced on dirt floors. Since the lady’s footwork could not be directly observed
the quality of her dancing was judged by the figure she left behind in the dirt after she danced away.

Ocho Cortado
Cut eight: Occurs when a molinete or an ocho-like movement is stopped and sent back upon itself. Typical in club style where many such brakes are used to avoid collisions.

Ocho Defrente
Ocho to the front: Forward ochos for the lady (i.e., crossing in front).

Ocho Para Atrás
Ocho to the back: Back ochos for the lady (i.e., crossing behind).

Ochos Cortados
Cut eights: A common figure in Milonguero or Club Style Tango which is designed to allow interpretation of rhythmic music while dancing in a confined space.

Ochos en Espejo
Ochos in the mirror: The man and the lady execute forward or back ochos simultaneously, mirroring each others movement.

Outskirts; suburban.

Orillero Style
The style of dance which is danced in the suburbs, characterized by the man doing many quick syncopated foot moves and even jumps. See seguidillas.

Orchestra: A large tango band like those of the “Golden Age” of tango frequently referred to as “Orquesta Tipica.”

Otra vez
Another time; repeat; do again.

A lunfardo word for girl. See mina, or pebeta.

Lever; leverage: Describes the subtle assisting of the lady by the leader during jumps or lifts in stage tango.

From parar – to stop; a stop: The man stops the lady, usually as she steps crossing back in back ochos or molinete, with pressure inward at the lady’s back and at her balance hand and with a slight downward thrust, preventing further movement. When properly led the lady stops with her feet extended apart, front and back, and her weight centered. The man may extend his foot to touch her forward foot as an additional cue and element of style or he may pivot and step back to mirror her position (fallaway).

Parallel Feet
The natural condition when a couple dance in an embrace facing each other, the man stepping on his left, the lady on her right foot, and then the man stepping on his right, the lady on her left foot, regardless of direction. The opposite of crossed feet.

Passing over. Occurs when the man has stopped the lady with foot contact and leads her to step
forward over his extended foot. Used frequently at the end of molinete or after a mordida. The lady may, at her discretion, step over the man’s foot or trace her toe on the floor around its front. Pasada provides the most common opportunity for the lady to add adornos or firuletes of her own and a considerate leader will give the lady time to perform if she wishes.

A step.

A kick.

Pause; wait: Hold a position for two or more beats of music. See titubeo.

A lunfardo word for young woman or girl. See mina or paicas.

A flicking upward of the heel when turning or stepping forward. Usually done as an advanced embellishment to ochos or when walking forward. See Golpes.

A foot.

A leg.

Appearance; presentation: Includes clothes, grooming, posture, expression, and manner of speaking and relating to the world. See bien parado.

The dance floor.

The women who sit all night at the milongas without being asked to dance. The main reason for that, is because they don’t know how to dance well enough. Yes, it may seem cruel but one of the many tango
lyrics actually says something like, “let them learn as a consequence of sitting all night.”

Pivot; glide: Occurs when the man steps forward onto a foot, usually his left, and pivots with the other leg trailing (gliding behind) as the lady dances an additional step or two around him. May also occur when the man stops the lady in mid stride with a slight downward lead and dances around her while pivoting her on the supporting leg as her extended leg either trails or leads. Can be done by either the man or the lady.

Porteño (feminine; Porteña)
An inhabitant of the port city of Buenos Aires.

Posture: Correct posture for tango is erect and elegant with the shoulders always over the hips and relaxed, and with the center carried forward toward the dance partner over the toes and balls of the feet. See derecho and eje.

A practice session for tango dancers.

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.

Break; broken: A position where the lady stands on one foot with the other foot hanging relaxed
behind the supporting foot. Sometimes seen with the lady hanging with most of her weight against the man. Also a position in which the dancer’s upper body and hips are rotated in opposition to each other with the working leg flexed inward creating a broken dance line.

A walking step with a syncopated cross. Done forward or backward the dancer steps on a beat, quickly closes the other foot in cruzada, and steps again on the next beat. Adopted from soccer. See traspie.

Resolution; tango close: An ending to a basic pattern similar to a half of a box step. 6, 7, and 8 of the 8 count basic.

Rhythm: Refers to the more complex rhythmic structure of the music which includes the beat or compas as well as the more defining elements of the song. See compas.


A curl: Used frequently at the end of molinete when the man, executing a lapiz or firulete ahead of the lady, curls his foot in around the lady and extends it quickly to touch the her foot. An older term for lapiz.

The most common term for a displacement of a leg or foot by the partner’s leg or foot. Occurs when a dancer places their foot or leg against a leg of their partner and transfers weight to their leg so that it moves into the space of and displaces the partner’s leg. See Desplazamiento.

From salir – to exit; to go out: The first steps of dancing a tango, or a tango pattern, derived from
“¿Salimos a bailar?” {Shall we (go out to the dance floor and) dance?}.

Salida de Gato
A variation on the basico in which the man steps side left, forward right outside the lady, diagonal forward left, and crossing behind right with a lead for forward ochos for the lady. The lady is led to step side right, back left, diagonal back right, and crossing forward left, beginning ochos on her left foot. This figure enters ochos without using cruzada.

A little Jump.

See Mordida.

See Mordida.

Tiny quick steps, usually seen in orillero style.

To follow.

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.

See Calecita.

Smooth, steady and gentle, soft, stylish.

Syncopate; syncopated; syncopa: A musical term adopted by dancers and used in a way which is technically incorrect, musically, and leads to endless arguments between dancers and musicians. Musically it refers to an unexpected or unusual accenting of the beats in a measure such as the two and four beats of swing music rather than the more common accent on the one and three beats. Dancers have come to use the term to describe cutting the beat, or stepping on the half-beat, which annoys musicians all to heck. Maybe if they could dance the tango we would pay more attention to them.

Sube y Baja
Literally, to go up and down: A milonga step in which the couple dance forward-together and back-together in outside right position with a pendulum action of the hips. See Ven y Va.

A set of dance music, usually three to five songs, of the same dance in similar style, if not by the same orquesta. The tandas are separated by a brief interlude of non tango music called a “cortina”, or curtain, during which couples select each other. It is customary to dance the entire tanda with the same partner unless the man is rude or very disappointing as a dance partner, in which case the lady may say gracias (thank you) and leave. See Codigos, Cortina.

Popular music from the Rio de la Plata region dating back to 1885-95, defined by a 2/4 rhythm until the 1920s when a 4/8 rhythm became common. A popular dance originating in the mid 19th century which descended from the Candombe, Habanera, Milonga, and (by some tango scholars) the Tango Andaluz. The exact origins of Tango are a historical mystery.

Tango de Salon
An elegant and very social style of tango characterized by slow, measured, and smoothly executed moves. It includes all of the basic tango steps and figures plus sacadas, giros, and boleos. The emphasis is on precision, smoothness, and elegant dance lines. The dancing couple do not embrace as closely as in older styles and the embrace is flexible, opening slightly to make room for various figures and closing again for support and poise.

Tango Fantasia
This is a hybrid tango, an amalgam of traditional tango steps, ballet, ballroom, gymnastics, ice-skating figures, etc. This is what most people see when they buy tickets for a tango show. The moves include all of the basic tango moves plus, ganchos, sacadas, boleos of every kind, sentadas, kicks, leaps, spins, lifts, and anything else that the choreographer and the performers think that they can get away with. Alas, this style of dancing shows up from time to time at the milongas, usually badly performed by ill-behaved tango dancers and frustrated tango performers who insist on getting their money’s worth even if they have to kick, step on, bump into, or trip every other dancer on the floor. This behavior is NOT socially acceptable.

Tango Liso
Literally, tango smooth: A way of dancing tango characterized by its lack of fancy figures or patterns. Only the most “basic” tango steps and figures such as caminadas, ochos, molinetes, etc., are utilized. Boleos, ganchos, sacadas, sentadas, and other fancy moves and acrobatics are not done. A very early term for Tango de Salon.

Tanguero (feminine; Tanguera)
Refers to anyone who is deeply and seriously passionate about any part of tango, such as its history,
music, lyrics, etc. In Argentina most tangueros are scholars, of lunfardo, music, orchestrations, Gardel, etc. One can be a tanguero without being a milonguero and a milonguero without being a tanguero (very few milongueros would be referred to as tangueros). And of course one can be an extremely good tango dancer without being either, such as stage dancers, who are quite disdained by real milongueros and tangueros, unless they go the extra distance and become milongueros by going to the milongas, and/or tangueros as well. An aficionado.

Scissor: A movement, usually danced by the man, in which an extended leg is withdrawn and crossed in front of the supporting leg without weight so that it remains free for the next step or movement. May also refer to a figure in which the man steps forward in outside position (left or right) caressing the outside of the lady’s leg with his leg (as in 3 of basico), then crosses behind himself which pushes the lady’s leg to cross in front. May also refer to a jumping step from stage tango where the lady swings her legs up and over with the second leg going up as the first leg is coming down (frequently seen as an aerial entry to sentadas).

Hesitation. See pausa.

Another term for Cruzada.

Cross foot; triple step: A walking step with a syncopated cross. Using two beats of music the dancer does step-cross-step beginning with either foot and moving in any direction. See rabona.

Argentine waltz: Sometimes referred to as Vals Criolo, or Vals Cruzado.

From horse racing; a man who walks the horses but is never allowed to mount them: In tango it refers to a man who dances and flirts with all the ladies but never gets involved with anyone. May also refer to a man who is a clumsy or inconsiderate lead who “might just as well be walking a horse.”

Ven y Va
Come and go. See Sube y Baja.

Viper; the little snake: A figure in which the man places his right leg between his partners legs and takes a sacada to first her left and then her right legs in succession using a back and forth slithering motion of the right leg and foot.

See Boleo.

A phonetic expression that describes the powerful, dramatic, and driving musical accent of a moderate or even slow tempo which is characteristic of the music of Osvaldo Pugliese.

Shoe taps: A dancer taps their own shoes together. See Adorno, Fanfarron, and Golpecitos.

A vigorous shake to and fro; a swing; a push to and fro; to strut about: In Tango it is the swinging back and forth, pivoting in place on one foot, marked to the lady in time with the music.