This explanation forms the WHAT of my understanding of Argentine tango. Now as to the HOW, well that’s where the real fun begins.
From my answer to the question on Quora, “What are the five most common moves of tango dancing?”
Five most common moves of Tango dancing? Well I say there are really only two most basic movements that make up all the rich complexity of Argentine tango. Changes of weight and Pivots are the bases that form the DNA of tango’s life.
Change of weight — moving our balanced weight from over one foot to over the other foot.
We have many ways to modify the character of a weight change. The size of the movement can range from in place (with a few inches of movement in your upper body and none in the feet) to a distance of several feet. The direction can be forward, backward, or sideways. The duration can be a total change (as in walking), a momentary change (as in rebound, ‘rebote’), or the longer moment of a rocking step (‘cunita’). Additionally, you can vary the speed and dynamics of the movement.
Pivot — with our weight over one or the other foot, we twist the body, pivoting our standing foot to point in a new direction. (A gross over simplification of the movement, which can be found covered in a great variety of great detail all over the Internet. I admire the clear and concise demonstrations in the Howcast series by Ana Padron and Diego Blancoand Vanessa Gausch has a wonderful YouTube series of explanations and exercises . And see a local teacher!)
Changes of weight move us in an orthogonal direction (forward, backward, left, right), while pivots reorient the direction of that grid. We may combine pivot with change of weight, creating a curving step.
At the next higher level of consideration, we have three basic relationship movements between partners. (So maybe two basic movements plus three relationships is your asked for five.) Each partner can move (or not move at all) in three fundamental relationships with their partner. Open step — stepping with legs apart (also called Side Step), Front-cross step — where the free, moving leg comes between me and my partner, and Back-cross step — where the free leg moves behind me, on the side away from my partner. This is all explored in great detail in.
Changes of weight over a distance (zero to as far as you and your partner can comfortably, elegantly step), Pivots to change direction, and the movement relationships Open, Front-cross, and Back-cross steps are what I consider the most fundamental movement elements of Argentine tango. A person could spend a lifetime exploring and mastering those movements, creating wonderfully musical, expressive, and creative dance.