Tango Notes: Tango Terminology

Argentine tango terminology naturally developed in Spanish. Today even English speakers use mostly Spanish terms for many of the tango figures. The following lists common terms with a brief description, giving the term in Spanish, English, or both depending on how they are used in the United States. There are many more terms, but these are probably the most commonly encountered by the beginning/intermediate dancer. Many of these entries have links to pages with more extensive descriptions and instructional videos.

Misc terms

Open side vs Closed side
The open side is the leader's left and follower's right side, and the closed side is the opposite.
Parallel vs Cross-foot
Parallel footwork occurs when the leader's left is moving with the follower's right, and similarly leader's right with follower's left. Parallel is the common style in dancing, eg as in the Basic Eight. Cross-foot footwork occurs when the leader's left is moving with the follower's left, as is typical in an ocho.

Terms for basic steps

Basic Eight = Eight-count Basic = Eight-step Basic
A common reference figure taught to beginners.
Baldosa Box
A common figure taught to beginners. Similar to the Basic Eight but without the Cross.
Cross = Cruz = Cruzada
Position where the follower's left foot bears the weight and is tightly crossed over the right. Occurs at step 5 in the Basic Eight.
Front Ocho = Forward Ocho = Ocho Adelante
Follower steps forward at right angle to the leader and then pivots 180 degrees.
Back Ocho = Backward Ocho = Ocho AtrĂ¡s
Follower steps back at right angle to leader and then pivots 180 degrees.
Molinete / Giro
A circular grapevine (front+pivot, side+pivot, back, side) done around the leader.
Stepover = Pasada
Following a parada (stop), the follower steps over the leader's stopping foot.
Americana (Espejo)
Couple in promenade position with the inside feet forward.

Foot play

Parada = Stop
A leader's foot is pressed against a follower's foot and the follower is led to stop.
Sandwich (Sanguchito, ...)
The leader's left and right feet "sandwich" one of the follower's feet. Starts with a parada.
Barrida (Arrastre, Drag, Sweep)
Slide the partner's foot.
Sacada (Entrada)
One dancer displaces their partner's leg which is about to move. This is done by pressing low against calf or ankle, or high against thigh, but often has the appearance of contact rather than actual contact.

Intermediate Moves

Gancho (Hook)
The follower flings leg back between leader's legs. Intermediate difficulty.
Wrap
The follower wraps a leg around a leader's leg.

Off-axis Intermediate moves

The follower is not balanced on their own axis but is leaning on (volcada) or hanging on (colgada) the leader.

Colgada
Off-axis with (often centrifugal) force pulling the partners apart.
Volcada
Off-axis with the follower leaning into the leader.

Sources for more complete terminology

A Guide to Tango Terminology
An extensive list of terms, especially in Spanish. This is an interesting site with other good resources.
Figures of Argentine tango
The Wikipedia illustrated list of tango figures with English and Spanish names.