the Game of Argentine Tango

Everything is a range of possibilities

Index, abbreviations, glossary

Index and glossary of words, phrases, abbreviations, and symbols.

Section index

Index of Step 1 cards

Tag cloud


A shorthand for your note-taking and used in the GoAT for concise descriptions.

move-pair — A FollowerLeader (Fw Ld) move-pair (see xy below) always shows the follower’s move first because, at each move, a leader wants first to give attention then intention to their partner, then make their move.

= –- used in a move-pair to indicate follower/leader position held.

? -– used in a move-pair to indicate follower/leader position can be any of the possible moves.

# –- Step(s) of 8-Count Basic, in PS unless noted as CS. E.g., #6-8 is the resolution.

<, > -– left, right; counter-clockwise (CCW), clockwise (CW); backing, toward.

<m, m> -– Molinete left (CCW), right (CW). The direction is from an overhead view of the center partner.

(move-pair, move-pair, …) -– parentheses group move pairs to organize and possibly name them.

((move-pair, move-pair, …)) –- double-parentheses indicate a group of moves that can be repeated.

xy – where x is the follower’s step and y the leader’s step; x and y are one of (see individual entries) =, ?, O, o, F, f, or B, b. Example: #3 is BF.

ALOD –- against LOD, as in #1 of the 8-count basic.

AS, HS –- arm-side (often, open side), hand-side (often, closed side) of the embrace.

AAS, HHS, AHS, HAS -– given first in a sequence means start with FollowerLeader weight on A/H-side. (See AS, HS.) The follower’s side is given first. We assume starting AAS (as in #2 of the 8-count basic in PS) unless given otherwise. Example: HAS = #3 of 8-count basic in CS.

CCW, CW — viewing from above the floor, movement in a counter-clockwise, clockwise direction.

CS, PS –- Cross-System, Parallel-System. (See system.) We assume starting in PS unless given otherwise.

DC — leader facing Diagonal Center.

DW — leader facing Diagonal Wall.

FLHP, FRHP -– Follower’s Left/Right Hip Position; follower’s left or right hip moves in perpendicular position across their partner (as for sacada).

Fw –- Follow, Follower. The partner who resolves a movement.

HL -– heavy-leg. The foot-leg side bearing most of the body weight. (Often, old, leaving, standing, supporting-leg.) See also light-leg and on-axis.

L, R -– left, right.

LL –- light-leg. The foot-leg side usually bearing no more than the weight of that foot-leg. (Often, new, receiving, free-leg.) See also heavy-leg and on-axis.

LLHP, LRHP –- Leader’s Left/Right Hip Position; leader’s left or right hip moves in perpendicular position across their partner (as for folower-sacadas).

Ld –- lead, leader. The partner who initiates the couple's movement.

LOD –- Line Of Dance (counter-clockwise around the edges of the dance floor).

LOP, ROP -– Left Outside Position, Right Outside Position. Instead of face-to-face, the partners’ Left (LOP) or Right (ROP) sides are closer together. See outsideposition.

O, F, B –- Open step (often, side step), Front-crossing step, Back-crossing step. In lowercase represents a ‘small’ feet together (o) or crossed together (f, b) step. See Open, Front, and Back. See also move-matrix.

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.

wc — Weight Change. Changing (shifting) our body weight from mostly over one leg to mostly over the other leg. See weight change.

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Notes that say, “(Often, …),” give alternative terms used elsewhere. Words or phrases followed by “(En. term)” or “(Sp.term)” give an English or Spanish translation.

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z


abrazo, -s — (En. hug) The tango embrace (dance position) is called un abrazo, a hug. Tangueros (tango dancers) often end messages with, Abrazos, or Un abrazo grande (a big hug). See embrace.

adorno, -s — (En. adornment, decoration) Extra movements that suggest interpretations of musical elements. Drawing or tapping on the floor with a toe; creating “poses” with the feet; momentary crosses. It can be done while in motion or paused.

agility — ability to make a rapid whole-body movement with a change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus.

aguja — (Sp. needle) An adornment where the point of the extended light-leg foot (the “needle”) is placed near the heavy-leg. A pivot by the heavy-leg causes the light-leg to twist around it in a spiral. (See also enrosque.)

Alexander Technique — Writings by F. M. Alexander and others on right uses of the body and how at every moment of choice, we can: continue as we always do, do nothing, or do something different.

Americana — (also, “promenade”) A side-by-side mirror position where the AS legs step through toward the HS.

apilado — (En. piled on) a dance embrace style in which the torsos stay in contact, but each dancer's feet are well away from their partner's feet. The position looks like an A-frame, and the partners share the weight in the chest area.

arm-side, AS — Arm-side of the embrace. (Elsewhere, often called the “closed side.”)

axis — A term of art in the Argentine tango. It refers to the organization of body parts in which the bones are stacked on top of one another, in balance, and with active but not tense muscles.


B — abbreviation for back-crossing step or backward direction.

Back — short for back-crossing step. The leg farthest from our partner steps across our sagittal plane at the back of our body. Abbreviated as B. See the move-matrix.

balance — see grounded.

baldosa — (En. tile; i.e., a square) a six-step figure that resembles a domino-shaped rectangle on the floor.

bar — See measure.

basic — (Sp. el basico; also, 8-count basic, academic basic) A teaching tool. This figure is a musical phrase in length and includes steps in each cardinal direction, plus walking outside (in ROP) and the cruzada. (Often step #1 is omitted or done as a weight change in place to avoid stepping against the line of dance.) See above for the Abbreviations used here.

In PS, weight on HS
1 OO ALOD (Often oo weight change in place.)
2 OO diagonal center to ROP
3 BF
4 OO
5 Fxo
6 OO
7 OO >AS
8 oo
Cross-system Basic
2 OO ROP, =o Switching to CS
3 BO
4 OF
5 Fx=
6 OO
7 OO >AS
8 oo

beat — 1. A steady pulse in the music.
2. A single pulse of music. Argentine tango music is ordered with four beats per measure, and of these, the odd, 1, and 3 beats are typically strong beats, with 1 the strongest. These are called the downbeats and the ones we often step on.

body — the portion of the total body from hips up to head. A “cylinder” that the legs carry across the floor or pivot over a spot on the floor.

bodymind — Our body parts and layers have their own awareness and intelligence. Our mind has a virtual understanding by way of our body. It has pattern learning, matching, and synthesis abilities that we call intelligence. It also has plus and minus emotions that create their own feelings. We call all this rich mix of possibilities our bodymind. (Elsewhere, often called “mind-body.”)

body-structure — We want to use ourselves in a dynamic structure that changes moment to moment to best serve the music's demands and our partner's needs. Posture–good or bad–is the static or habitual holding of a position. When we're forced to hold an “ideal posture,” it can feel unpleasant and is easily broken. Structure is a dynamic organization of parts that respond to their environment and the forces acting upon them.


cabeceo — (En. head nod) From a distance, looking directly into the eyes of a prospective partner, a nod of the head indicates an invitation or willingness to join the other as dance partners for the current tanda. See also mirada.

calesita—(En. carousel) One partner remains on-axis while the other partner walks around them, powering a continuous pivot. (We will cover this in a future Step of the GoAT.)

center-light — Our torso (head, shoulders, ribcage) always looks for our partner. Think of it as a lighthouse beam shining from our lower sternum. It can sweep side-to-side. (It can even rise and lower, but not tilt!) The center-light includes our attention and intention.

close-embrace — a dance position in which the partners dance with torsos touching in the area of the solar-plexus. The embrace may “breathe” during a dance, expanding and coming apart (but with arms still encircling) before reconnecting, as necessary to allow for all the tango movements of partners about one another.

colgada — (from Sp. colgar, to hang) the couple sends their body-weight away from each other, counter-balancing across a shared axis. Typically a swirling or spinning movement of the couple about the shared axis will complete the movement. (Mentioned but not covered in Step1 of the GoAT.)

collect — (Sp. coleccionar) to bring the light-leg close to the heavy-leg as we come to or pass through our on-axis position.

cortado — (En. cut) a movement or figure that is cut short. Most often seen in the Ocho cortado figure.

cortina — (En. curtain) a piece of music quite unlike the tanda that preceded (or will follow) it. Often cut short, to a minute more or less in length. It is used to mark the end of a tanda—the time to leave the dance floor to prepare to find a partner for the next tanda.

count — The Argentine tango and Vals (the tango “waltz”) have their own timing counts that give the music its distinctive character and feel. Tango is written in 4/4 timing (2/4 timing for older music), with four measures of four beats each making up a phrase. Basic movement is typically on the odd, strong beats, giving us eight walking beats per phrase. However, Argentine tango is richly diverse music that often plays with the counts of a phrase, perhaps giving fewer or extra measures, adding intros, bridges, or outros that confuse a count. For this reason, particularly for social dancing, dancers are encouraged to respond to the music by feel instead of counting.

cross — (Sp. cruce, cruzada) the crossing of one leg in front of or behind the other.

cunita — (En. cradle; also, hamaca hammock) a rock step. Cunita


dissociation — the result of separating the way our hips face (which control our direction of travel) from where our “center-light shines.” For example, when we walk outside of or step around our partner, our hips will aim across, not toward our partner, while our torso will turn toward our partner to help keep our connection.

double-time — (“double fast”) Add a note between two (or several) downbeats. A QQS rhythm.

DVIDADance Vision International Dance Association. A ballroom dance teaching and teach-the-teacher site with an extensive syllabus of Argentine Tango figures and instructional videos. (As well as the American and International styles of tango.)


embellishment — See adorno.

embrace — (Sp. abrazo) the way tango partners hold each other while dancing. Embrace

enrosque — (from Sp. enroscar, to screw in) An adornment where a heavy-leg pivot draws in the light-leg to wrap around in a spiral, like a screw thread.


F — abbreviation for front-crossing step, or in a forward direction.

figure — (Sp. figura; also, pattern, sequence). A set of individual dance moves that form a pleasing whole. They are often designed to fit two phrases of music (16 beats of music, a typical organizing unit of Argentine Tango music. Many figures were developed by historical dance masters, then embellished and updated by modern dancers.

frame—the two feet of one partner bracket the heavy-leg of the other. This forms a triangle on the floor and adds stability to the movements of the partnership.

Front — short for front-crossing step. The leg closest to our partner steps in front of and across the sagittal plane passing between our bodies. Abbreviated as F. (See also move-matrix.)


giro — a circular movement of one partner around the other or both partners around a central point.

Grounded — 1) Having strong stability. A state of good balance and well-connected within the body and to the floor. 2) Between a step we may “ground” our partner with a downward pressure, signaling that we want them to stay in place with weight split between the two legs.


half-time — (“half as fast”) Use only a single beat per measure.

hand-side, HS — Hand-side of the embrace. (Elsewhere, often called the “open side.”)

heavy-leg, HL — the foot-leg that carries most of the body weight. (Often, base, old, leaving, standing, supporting-leg.) The heavy-leg is well structured—bone stacked on bone and muscles energized—but not tense.

At any moment in the dance, the light-leg might be the showy one, but the heavy-leg is the important one because it gives the body a stable connection to the floor, making possible the flashy moves of the other leg. It does this by being well Grounded.


improvisation — a hallmark of the Argentine tango. Although we learn figures, we often dance them improvisationally, where we may add, subtract, or jumble the parts of a figure.

intention — (Sp. intención) Using our body to prepare for, and thereby express the intention to do a particular movement. By being clear and deliberate in our own body preparations, we tell our partner's body what to expect.




lápiz -– (En. pencil) Tracing a circular figure on the floor with the toe or edge of the free foot.

la ronda — (En. the round) The one or more concentric ovals or tracks (like in a foot race) that the dancers form around the room.

light-leg, LL — the foot-leg free to move because it carries little of the body weight. (Often, free, new, receiving-leg.)

Each dancer wants to know at all times their partner's current light-leg, the leg that is free to move. They help each other know this by being well Grounded in the heavy-leg. The light-leg must be the other one! =)

Line of Dance, LOD — the line of dance runs in racetrack fashion around the edges of our dance space. Dancers move counterclockwise along their track. A crowded dance space may have several tracks running parallel to each other, like in a foot race.


measure — (also, bar) an organizing unit of four beats of music.


  1. An energetic and rhythmical style of music.
  2. A style of tango dance used with milonga music.
  3. A social dance party where they play the music of the Argentine tango, milonga, and vals.

milonguero — Originally referred to habitué of milongas. Now primarily used in the sense of a close embrace, highly musical, highly improvisational dance style.

mirada — (En. to look) looking about the room to find a suitable partner for the current tanda.

molinete — (Often, grapevine in ballroom dances.) A repeating sequence of front and back Pivot+step with an open link between each F and B.

move-matrix — an organizing principle for the modern understanding of Argentine Tango. Developed by Gustavo Naveira, Mariano (“Chicho Frumboli”), and Fabian Salas. At any step of our dance couple, either partner (or both) may step together or “around” their partner's heavy-leg in one of three ways: an Open step, a Front-crossing step, or a Back-crossing step. If we represent the situation with a FollowerLeader, pair of letters, then we have:

Fw/Ld O F B

Suppose the couple starts in CS (instead of PS); that gives another set of nine possibilities. Then you have the possibility that one partner takes an extra step while the other waits. So that's three more possibilities each, for a total of 24 possibilities. See also improvisation.


normal-time — see simple-time.


O — abbreviation for an Open step.

ocho — (En. eight, a figure-8) two-pivots connected by steps form a horizontal figure-8 on the floor. Many teachers also use “ocho” to refer to any step+pivot. See Front ocho and Back ocho.

OFB — letters standing for Open step, Front-crossing step, and Back-crossing step. The three fundamental ways in which we can step with or around a partner. See move-matrix.

on-axis—a position where an overhead light will cast the smallest shadow on the floor underneath us. Where we are balanced with our weight concentrated over one heavy-leg. See On-axis.

Open — (Often called side step.) A step in which our legs open, that is, do not cross with respect to our partner.

outside partner, outside position — instead of toe-to-toe, directly in front of our partner, we are offset to one side or the other. See Walk outside partner.


pattern — (Sp. figura) See figure.

phrase — an organizing unit of music. Four measures (16 beats) make up a phrase in Argentine tango. In each measure of four beats, the strong or accented beats are the odd-numbered ones [1, 3], while the unaccented ones are the even-numbered [2, 4]. We most often step on the strong beats. So a dancer walking to the music will often make eight steps on a phrase of music.

práctica, practilonga—(En. practice, practice+milonga) a dance event at which we are expected to practice. The music for these is often organized in tandas as for a milonga. The codigos are considerably relaxed.



rebote — (En. rebound) 1) an interrupted weight change, more than traspie and less than cunita. Used to power a reverse direction step, and usually danced in QQ timing. 2) a small pivot reversed. Rebote

resolution — (Sp. resolución) ending of a figure. In look and feel, they seem to resolve the movement of a figure, bringing it to a satisfying close that fits with the close of a phrase of music. It is somewhat like coming to the end of a sentence. Before starting another.


sagittal plane — the imaginary plane that bisects a body into left and right halves. (Think saddle.)

salida — (En. “exit”) to “exit” onto the dance floor. A side step that often begins our dance.

sequence — See figure.

simple-time — Step on the downbeat (typically beats 1 (strongest) and 3 of each measure).

solar-plexus — the area of our core above the navel and below the rib cage. The area we most often connect with our partner in a close embrace.

stability — see grounded.

step-together — describes the action of taking a step, collect, then change weight. (See also Weight change reverse.)


tanda — (En. batch) a grouping of typically three or four similar tango songs played one after the other. The songs will be in the same style of music (tango, milonga, or vals), most often the same orchestra, in the same era, with similar energy and feeling. In the Argentine tango, we typically dance with the same partner for the entire length of a tanda. Each tanda is separated by a cortina.

Tango Tribe (Spanish, tribu del tango) — begun in Austin, Texas but representing a worldwide feeling. Regardless of our tango style, our dance style, our nationality, the color of our skin, our gender, our identity, our preferences… regardless of how different we are, we are more same than different. When we come together with warm regard for each other, even when we don't yet understand each other, we all benefit and grow.

touch — sometimes we touch the floor without transferring weight to our light-leg. This can range from a dab (such as to help with a balance upset) to a jab (such as for traspie).

traspie — (En. stumble) A stutter-step. Traspie



vals — Argentine tango music in a 3/4-time signature. Also, it refers to the style of tango danced to this music.

volcada — (from Sp. volcar, to tip over) A movement in which the axis of both partners tilt dramatically toward each other, creating a sort of “A-frame” figure. The partners can also tilt away from each other, but unlike the colgada, the volcada ends with a swirl of the follower's light-leg, ending in a cruzada in front or back, or perhaps a leg wrap. (Mentioned but not covered in Step 1 of the GoAT.)


walk — (Sp. caminar to walk, caminata a walk) is an essential and important feature of the Argentine tango. The quality of our walk is seen in every step we take.

weight change, wc — changing (shifting) our body weight from mostly over one leg to mostly over the other leg. We can do this in place or over a distance small to large, in a direction front, back, sideways, or slightly diagonal. It can be a committed change to a new leg or a temporary change.




zarandeo — to “shake” the free-leg. Like a mini-low boleo back-and-forth. (Mentioned but not covered in Step 1 of the GoAT.)

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