Abbreviations, glossary, terminology, vocabulary

On the Austin Tango website you will find an extensive collection of Tango Terminology.

Here we have a simplified list of the abbreviations and words used in the Tango Tribe group classes, private lessons, and writings.

Note:  this does not tell you how to dance any movement; it only describes the effect.

Abbreviations, notation

This is a shorthand system I have found useful for my note taking.

= – used in an O/F/B pair (see xy below) to indicate follower/leader position held.
# – Step(s) of 8-Count Basic, in PS unless noted as CS
<, > – Left, Right; counter clockwise, clockwise
<m, m> – Molinete left (CCW), right (CW)
xy – where both x and y are one of =, O, F, or B (see below) and x is the follower’s step, y the leader’s step; e.g., 3 PS is BF
A – against, as in against LOD
AS – arm-side of the embrace
CS, PS – Cross System, Parallel System
fw – follow, follower
HS – hand-side of the embrace
ld – lead, leader
LOD – Line Of Dance (counter clockwise around the edges of the dance floor)
LOP, ROP – Left Outside Position, Right Outside Position
O, F, B – Open step, Front/Back-cross step. In lowercase represents a ‘small’ feet together (o) or crossed together (f, b) step.
Om, Fm, Bm – Open/Front/Back move where m is one of: b-boleo, c-colgada, e-enganche, g-gancho, o-ocho, s-sacada, x-cruzada, v-volcada
p – partner
R, L – to the right, left


8-count basic – a teaching tool. A mini-phrase in length, it includes steps in each of the cardinal directions, plus walking outside (in ROP) and the cruzada. (Often step #1 is omitted to avoid stepping backwards against line of dance.)

In PS starting standing on hand-side
2 OO to ROP
3 BF4 OO
5 fo (cruzada)
6 OO
7 OO to arm-side
8 oo

In CS starting standing on hand-side
2 OO to ROP, =o
3 BO
4 OF
5 f= (cruzada)
6 OO
7 OO to arm-side
8 oo

adorno – “adornment”; ornamental movements

alteration – couple’s change of direction from a rock step plus pivot

amague – “threatening movement”; feint

arm-side, AS – the side of the embrace where the arms go around our partner. May be used to indicate the direction of a giro/molinete.

axis – the concept of a body structured in a long line from the ball of the foot of the supporting leg, up through the leg, hips, mid-section (core), thorax, and head. Typically vertical, but may be tilted toward (volcada) or away (colgada) from our partner.

B – back-crossing step, back, backward, backing. The leg farthest from my partner crosses the center-line extending from my partner to beyond me. In lowercase is a feet together cruzada move. Movement is in LOD or toward our partner unless noted otherwise.

barrida – “sweep”; the effect of sweeping your partner’s foot across the floor with your foot.

boleo – “to throw”; a ‘whipping’ action of moving leg

cadencia – “cadence, rhythm”; rock step

colgada – “to hang”; our partner’s axis tilts away from us

confront – to be with and facing our partner. Typically our hips face the direction of travel (or right angles to it), while the upper body and head want to turn toward our partner.

core – the mid-section of the body that includes the abdominal and oblique muscles that let the body twist around its spine. May also be used to refer to the deep structures of the body.

corrida – running steps

cross system, CS – where each partner steps with a leg on opposite sides of the body. That is, one partner steps arm-side, the other hand-side; or vice-versa. This forms three tracks and has the benefit of bringing the partners closer together than parallel system (see) when outside partner.

cruzada – “the cross” (also, el cruce). When a dancer’s feet cross tracks and come to a stop side-by-side with one leg crossed over in front of or behind the other. E.g., #5 of the 8-count basic.

dissociation – an Argentine tango term of art referring to positions and movement in which the upper body does not face in the same direction as the lower body.  Consider Right Outside Position (#3 of the 8-count basic), for example, where the hips face straight ahead to the direction of movement, while each dancer’s upper body is twisted to face their partner.

enganche – “hooking”. A leg wrap or a catching of the partner’s foot.

F – front-crossing step, front cross, front, forward, facing. The leg closest to my partner crosses the center-line extending between me and my partner. In lowercase is a feet together cruzada move. Movement is in LOD or toward our partner unless noted otherwise.

gancho – “hook”; dancer’s moving leg hooks around a leg of their partner

giro – “turn”; turning step or figure

hand-side, HS – the side of the embrace where the partner’s hands embrace. May be used to indicate the direction of a giro/molinete.

landing leg – the leg receiving the body’s weight, becoming the new axis (often, ‘standing’ or ‘supporting’ leg)

lápiz – “pencil”; tracing a circular figure on the floor with toe or edge of the free foot

leaving leg – the leg giving up the body’s weight as we move to a new axis on the floor. (often, ‘free’ leg)

matrix – A modern understanding of Argentine tango movement possibilities tells us that when we step with, around, or even away from our partner we have but three step directions. See The Tango Keypad.
Open: in one direction (which could encompass up to 180 degrees), such that when you twist to directly face your partner, your legs are still open;
Front: a leg goes between you and your partner, such that when you twist to directly face your partner your legs twist together; and
Back: a leg goes behind you and across an imaginary line extending from your partner through you, such that when you twist to directly face your partner, your legs twist together.

media vuelta – “half turn”; often 3 BOF with follower’s turn around leader ending in an overturned pivot.

molinete – “windmill”; a grapevine figure that one dances on a circumference around their partner (or both dance around a common center) where F and B steps alternate with O steps, as in OBOF.

notation, notes – We have found it helpful throughout our tango career to have a notebook and pen with us in every class. We record our interpretation of the central messages of a teacher’s class, and sometimes direct quotes we like. Using abbreviations from this glossary we notate sequences we want to remember. At each step we list the Follower’s move, then the Leader’s, the same order in which we dance them.

O – open step (often, ‘side’ step). In lowercase is a feet together move. Movement in in LOD or toward our partner unless noted otherwise.

ocho – figure-eight (or a half of one) drawn on the floor by the feet. Can be in a F or B direction.

ocho cortado – “cut ocho”. Most often refers to a specific figure, but more generally refers to when a molinete or an ocho-like movement is stopped and sent back on itself.

parada – “to stop”; placing my foot alongside my partner’s, giving the appearance of having stopped them in their tracks

parallel system, PS – where each partner steps with the legs on the same side of the embrace. When the partners are in front of each other this forms two tracks; when outside four tracks.

pasada – “to pass”; my partner steps over my parada

rebote – “to rebound”;  as when a partner rebounds from a suddenly stopped pivot

salida – “exit”; step #2 of the 8-count basic

sacada – “to take (away the partner’s leg)”; to step under and close to your partner’s leaving leg, giving the appearance of having displaced it

spine – beginner dancers tend to think of moving their partner with the front of their own body; advanced dancers think of moving themselves around their spine, and their connected partner follows.

spiral – rotational twisting of the body along its axis. May begin at the floor and continue up to the upper body, as when leading our partner; or begins in the upper body and spirals down to the floor, as when performing an ocho. Note that the amplitude of the spiral increases as it progresses along the axis in either direction.

tijera – “scissor”; a leader’s (typically) leg crossed position as an adorno or a way to coax the partner’s free leg into a cross

torso – from hips to head

volcada – “to tip over”; our partner’s axis leans toward us

zarandeo – “to sift”; a shake to and fro

What do you have to say?