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.
8-count basic – a teaching tool. A musical 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.) See below for the Abbreviations used here.
In PS, weight on HS
1 OO ALOD
2 OO >ROP
7 OO >AS
In CS, on HS
1 OO ALOD
2 OO >ROP, =o
7 OO >AS
adorno – “adornment”; ornamental movements
alteration – couple’s change of direction from a rebound-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 step or giro.
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, 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”; the visual appearance of a ‘whipping’ action of the moving leg
cadencia – “cadence, rhythm”; rock step
colgada – “to hang”; while sharing a central axis, my weight and my partner’s hangs away from each other.
confront – to be with and facing our partner, center-to-center. 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” (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.
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, 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.
lápiz – “pencil”; tracing a circular figure on the floor with toe or edge of the free foot
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 step: 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 crossing step: a leg goes between you and your partner, such that when you twist to directly face your partner your legs twist together; and
Back crossing step: 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.
new leg (nl) – the leg we are moving to, receiving the body’s weight, becoming the new axis (often, ‘free’ leg)
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 is 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.
old leg (ol) – the leg we are leaving, giving up the body’s weight as we move to a new axis on the floor (often, ‘standing’ leg)
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 step
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 or away from us
zarandeo – “to sift”; a shake to and fro
A shorthand system I find useful for note taking.
In all FollowerLeader move pairs (see xy below) we show the follower’s move first because a leader wants at each move to first give attention then intention to their partner, then their own move.
= – used in an O/F/B pair to indicate follower/leader position held.
# – Step(s) of 8-Count Basic, in PS unless noted as CS. E.g., #6-8 is the resolution.
<, > – left, right; counter-clockwise, clockwise; backing, toward
<m, m> – Molinete left (CCW), right (CW). The direction is from the view of the center partner.
xy – where x is the follower’s step, y the leader’s step; x and y are one of (see below) =, O, o, F, f, or B, b. E.g., #3 is BF.
ALOD – against LOD, as in #1 of 8-count basic.
AS, HS – arm-side, hand-side of the embrace
AS, AHS, HS, HAS – given first in a sequence means start with FollowerLeader weight on A/H-side. Where two sides appear, the couple is in Cross-System. We assume starting with weight on HS unless given otherwise.
BLOD – backing LOD, moving in direction of LOD but backwards
CS, PS – Cross System, Parallel System; we assume starting in PS unless given otherwise.
FLHP, FRHP – Follower’s Left/Right Hip Position; follower’s left or right hip moves in perpendicular position across their partner. LLHP, LRHP could be used (but would be rare) for the leader moving in perpendicular position across their partner.
fw – follow, follower
ld – lead, leader
LOD – Line Of Dance (counter-clockwise around the edges of the dance floor)
LOP, ROP – Left Outside Position, Right Outside Position. The partners’ Left (LOP) or Right (ROP) sides together.
O, F, B – Open step, Front/Back-crossing 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 – right, left
wt – weight
Thank you to Christy Cote, Rose Vierling, Diane Jarmolow, and George Garcia who created the ProDVIDA syllabus for Argentine Tango. Many of the terms and abbreviations come from my work with this program.
Article updated 2019-03-19