Figures of Argentine tango
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Figures of Argentine tango are elements of Argentine tango.
Introduction and terminology
On the basis of several instructional tango books published between 1911–1925  early tango figures can be grouped into eight categories: corte, paseo, la marcha, ocho, grapevine, ruedas, media luna, molinette. From that period we still have: ocho, sentada, media luna, molinete, sandwich.
|Name||Argentine tango between 1911–1925||Picture|
|Corte (detención, freno, parada)||Break and style of dance (bailar con corte, a la quebrada).|
|Quebrada||Style of dance (bailar con corte, a la quebrada) (see Rudolf Valentino).|
|Media luna.||Half moon.|
|Promenade||Popular salida at that time.|
|Rueda||Rotation around a woman.|
|Scissors||Movement which starts with promenade and is followed by a step; repeated.|
In 2010 there exists as many as 200 instructional DVDs discussing elements of Argentine tango dance. These include titles devoted to tango technique and basics   tango nuevo     milonguero style (also known by estilo del centro in Buenos Aires)    and various elements of the dance such as giros.  There are many guides and dictionaries to tango terminology on the internet.  Tango terminology is described in several books.      
Alternative names are provided in (braces) but usage of tango related names varies: for example entrada and sacada or voleo and boleo may be used to describe the same steps. The names used here follow many sources including English instructional DVDs (such as Christy Coté and George Garcia DVDs published by Dancevision), Argentine DVDs which often have English subtitles, internet resources, and published books and glossaries.
Basic concepts: axis, steps, embrace.
Body position and basic steps
Effective lead and elegant following depends on proper position of feet, hips, and torso of the leader and the follower.
|Spanish||English||Description – Body position and basic steps||Image||Image|
|Pie activo||Active foot||The foot which is about to walk or walking.|
|Pie soporte||Supporting foot||The foot which carries the weight.|
|Leg projection||One leg is on-axis and the other is projected, big toe stays on the floor. This element is the basis of many steps.|
|Paso||Step||Side, forward, back step. See also forward cross step and backward cross step|
|Posición cero||Tango close (position 0, collection)||Collecting feet at the end of the figure. This is sometimes called position 0 of the eight count basic (basic step).|
|Disociar||Dissociation (contra body)||Position in which there is dissociation between torso and hips. One classic lead with strong dissociation is used during the simple salida (i.e. transition between position 2 and position 3 of the basic step).|
|Cadencia (balanceo)||Cadence (weight change)||Weight change in place. Used, for example, in Position 8 of the basic step. It is used as subtle lead during breaks or to adjust the follow position.|
|Cunita||Rock step (small cradle)||Rocking or swaying to side, forward, or back. Comes from rocking a cuna (cradle)|
On and off axis
Position-related concepts of Argentine tango are axis and off-axis positions. Body position in which legs are approximately perpendicular to the floor is called 'axis' and there are two axis positions associated with one of two legs. Off-axis positions are called apile (apilado, carpa, volcada) or colgada. The center of balance moves outside one's body in case of the off-axis moves.
|Spanish||English||Position||Description – On and off axis||Image|
|Position normal, el eje||Normal position||On-axis||Body position in which one leg is approximately perpendicular to the floor. Center of weight is within the body. Feet position is with her heels together, and toes pointing slightly out. Her weight is on one leg or nearly so. See also collect.|
|Carpa, Apile, Apilado, Volcada||Apile (volcada)||Off-axis||Position in which both partners are leaning forward, may vary in degree of the tilt or shape. Many fluid and elegant tango figures can be danced in volcada position.|
|Colgada||Colgada||Off-axis||Position in which both partners are leaning back, may vary in degree of the tilt and body shape (see colgada shapes). Many fluid and elegant tango figures can be danced in colgada position.|
Embrace and styles
Argentine tango dancing consists of a variety of styles that developed in different regions and eras and in response to the crowding of the venue and even the fashions in clothing. It is danced in an embrace that can vary from very open, in which the dancers connect at arm's length, to very closed, in which the connection is chest-to-chest, or anywhere in between. Styles of dance are not predefined by the embrace itself and many figures of tango salon style are danced in an open embrace, it is also possible to dance tango nuevo in close V-shape embrace. The milonguero (apilado) style is an exception; its close embrace without V-shape and emphasis on maintaining this embrace throughout the dance predetermines range of possible movements and their shape.
|Spanish||English||Associated styles||Description – Embrace and styles||Image||Image|
|Abrazo cerrado||V-shape close embrace||Salon and tango nuevo||The dancers' chests are closer to each other than their hips, and often there is contact at about the level of the chest (the contact point differing, depending on the height of the leader and the closeness of the embrace). In close embrace, the leader and the follower's chests are in contact and they are dancing with their heads touching or very near each other.|
|Abrazo abierto||Open embrace||Tango nuevo, salon||In open embrace, there can be as much space as desired between the partners, but there should always be complete contact along the embracing arms to give optimum communication. Argentine tango dancers do not hold their upper bodies arched away from each other; each partner is over their own axis. Whether open or closed, a tango embrace is not rigid, but relaxed, like a hug.|
|Apilado (estilo milonguero, estilo del centro [de Buenos Aires])||Square close embrace||Style milonguero||Milonguero style of embrace is danced in closed position, chest-to-chest, with the partners leaning – or appearing to lean – slightly toward each other to allow space for the feet to move. The follower's left arm position on the leader's shoulder is a style issue. It originates and is used in crowded milongas where there is so much people that you're literally dancing in "square". In those places the lifted arm avoids touching and accidentally hurting other people during turns. Close embrace, no V-shape.|
|Tango al reves, doble frente||Reverse embrace||Tango salon and nuevo||Reverse embrace where both partners face the same direction; it is now used only occasionally to perform tango figures (see doble frente).|
Embrace hold used during tango practice. One example is when both partners hold hands, the follower holds the leader's shoulders, and variants.
Walk and salidas
Walking in a cross system is defined as the couple stepping simultaneously with their two right legs and stepping simultaneously with their two left legs. Walking in a parallel system is defined as the couple stepping simultaneously with the leader's right and follower's left leg, and then with the leader's left and the follower's right leg. When dancers are facing each other, the cross system results in an anti-mirror effect. For this reason, in ballroom tango cross system is never used unless both dancers are facing the same direction. Argentine tango, however, makes extensive use of the cross system with dancers facing each other. In Argentine tango, the leader can change his weight from one foot to another while the follower's weight remains unchanged; this is the simplest method of changing from parallel system to cross system or vice versa. By contrast in ballroom tango, a weight change by one partner leads to an automatic weight change by the other.
The cross system and parallel system walk nomenclature originated with the Naveira/Salas "Investigation Group." Early on, they used 'even/uneven' to describe the arrangement of legs in the walk or turn. By the mid-1990s, they began using 'parallel/crossed' and later 'normal/crossed'. The process of changing from the parallel system to cross system (or vice versa) by having the leader change weight without the follower changing weight (or vice versa) is named contrapaso, or "contra-step". This change can be made off or on the normal beat.
|Spanish||English||Description – Walk elements||Image|
|Sistema paralelo||Parallel walk||The leader steps with his left leg forward, the follower steps with her right leg back; the leader steps with his right leg forward and the follower with her left leg back|
|Sistema cruzado||Cross walk||The leader steps with his right leg forward, the follower steps with her right leg back; the leader steps with his left leg forward and the follower with her left leg back|
|Contrapaso||Weight change||Weight change used to switch between parallel and cross system of walking.|
|Americana||Promenade (sweetheart walk)||Walking by facing the same direction and stepping forward. This resembles a walk in the park by sweethearts (except they may hold their hands together whereas in tango the embrace is preserved). This walk can be initiated by salida Americana.|
Eight count basic (8CB)
Basic step (paso básico, basico cuadrado y cruzado) is used for education purposes and almost never danced as a basic step of tango. For this reason it is sometimes called pejoratively academic basic. Nevertheless, it contains basic elements of the dance. Also, it serves a purpose of "establishing notation" to more complex tango elements. Basic step (eight count basic, 8CB) is composed of back step, side step, cross for the lady (leader steps outside of his partner with his right leg), forward step, and side step. Basic steps can also be divided into four phases: salida – position 1 and 2 and transition from position 2 to position 3; caminata (position 3 and 4), cross (position 5), and resolution (positions 6,7,8). There are variants of the basic step.
|Spanish||English||Description – Basic step (8 count basic)||Image|
|Position cero||Position 0 (tango close)||Collection. Feet closed. See also collect|
|Uno (salida atrás, primera)||Position 1||Back step, part of salida (not used in social dancing)|
|Dos (salida costado, apertura, segunda)||Position 2||Side step, open step, part of salida or beginning of the salida|
|Tres||Position 3||Salida simple (basico cuadrado) or crossed (basico cruzado); beginning of the basic step walk.|
|Cuatro (caminata)||Position 4||Basic step walk.|
|Cinco, cruce||Position 5 (cross)||Cross. See also cross.|
|Seis||Position 6||Walk, part of resolution.|
|Siete||Position 7||Side step to right, open step, part of resolution.|
|Ocho||Position 8||Weight change, part of resolution. See also cadence.|
Baldosa (tile) or cuadrado (square) is a six-step figure similar to the ballroom box step except the man starts with his right foot, then steps back, side, forward, forward, side, feet together; the baldosa is the basic step of milonga. This baldosa is similar to eight count basic with the exception of the cross.
Some Argentine tango teachers teach complex figures but break them down into simpler parts. Subsequently, they teach students how to improvise their own figures. Beginner classes may include caminada – combination of caminar (walk), cross, and ochos. The beginning part of a figure, its starting-point, is called salida (exit or beginning – as in "beginning of a journey"). The end part of a figure is called resolución. Combination of the salida, a walk, the cross of the lady and the resolución is called basic step (paso basico, la base, salida simple).
Thus, an Argentine tango figure is the pattern of salida, combination of elements, and resolución. This makes for flexible, ever-changing patterns. It gives leader an exceptional opportunity to improvise, and in part makes the Argentine tango unique in the dance world.
|Spanish||English||Description – Salidas||Image|
|Salida simple||Parallel system salida||Beginning with strong contra body position of the upper torso and the leader's right leg outside the follow (in position 3 of the basic step).|
|Salida cruzada||Cross system salida||Beginning with the leader's left leg outside the follow (in position 3 of the basic step).|
|Syncopated salida||Position 4 and 5 of the basic eight is done to the side.|
|Salida Americana||Salida Americana||Lead initiating walk (called promenade) of the two dancers facing in the same direction.|
Technique and embellishments
Follower's technique and embellishments
As in many dances most spectators focus on the follower – her elegance, grace, music interpretation as well as technique. Even though these are highly individual attributes there are some accepted ideas of what makes a follower graceful and beautiful when dancing tango. Such skills include leg projection and weight transfer, stability in movements, elegance in leg placement and leg extension, pivoting, embellishments, as well as expression of emotions.
Both partners can contribute to tango improvisations with adornments (sp. adornos, decoration) known also as decorations (sp. decoration). Adornments do not have to be led or marked. Several embellishments are: aguja, amague, boleo, caricia, cuatro, enroscar, golpecito, lustrada, rulo.
Expressions of emotion
Expression of emotions such as raising hand by a follower and gently lowering it on partner's shoulder; dancing with cheeks together.
Variants and shape
Tango elements come in a variety of shapes determined by, for example, elasticity or flexion of the execution of movement. Such variants gives a figure a more modern or traditional look, it can be an expression of the follower's creativity, or simple adjustment to how crowded is the floor.
Many tango steps are often borrowed from tango shows, but modified for the tight spaces and flow of other dancers around the floor. Many of these steps are part of tango nuevo. The shape of the steps can vary – for example, how the follower's body is curved during the step may change according to her interpretation of the music or the moment. There are several instructional videos illustrating sequences of tango nuevo such as colgadas and volcadas with elements of traditional tango.
Cross and ocho
Large group of classic and elegant tango figures is related to two basic steps: forward cross step and backward cross step. Their combinations form cruce (cross), ochos (figure eight), as well as giros (turns).
|Spanish||English||Description – Cross and Ocho||Image|
|Cruce (cinco)||Cross (regular cross, position five)||Crossed left foot in front of the right foot. See also Position 5.|
|Cruce adelante||Front cross||Crossed one leg in front of the other||see cross|
|Cruce atrás||Back cross||Crossed one leg in back of the other||see cross|
|Cruce forzado||Forced cross||Crossed legs – induced by the lead.|
|Ocho||Ocho||A figure "eight" traced on the floor by the follower's feet.|
|Ocho adelante||Forward ocho (front ocho)||Feet tracing a figure "eight" on the floor by the follower's feet when she walks forward.||Two forward cross steps.|
|Ocho atrás||Back ocho||Feet tracing a figure "eight" on the floor by the follower's feet when she walks back.||Two backward cross steps.|
|Ocho cortado||Cut ocho||Sudden change of direction leading the follower to cross during her forward walk.|
|Ocho milonguero||Non-pivot ocho (lazy ocho)||Ochos led and followed without substantial torso and hip pivoting.|
Circular movements are inherent part of tango and have special importance in tango vals. These include
Steps related to foot play steps spice up the walk and the dance. These are ways for leaders and followers to challenge and tease their partners and make dance more playful. There are different shapes of these moves and their look depends on how crowded is the venue or the follower's interpretation of the lead.
|Spanish||English||Description – Foot play||Image||Image|
|Traps, catches||Leg traps|
|Barrida (arrastre)||Dragging||One partner sweeps the others foot by displacing it along the floor.|
|Bicicleta||Pedaling||Movement which resembles pedaling on a bicycle. Induced by the leader placing his foot under or to the side of the follower's foot and lifting and lowering it.|
|Empujadita||Small push||Displacement of the follower's leg by the leader's leg.|
|Mordida (sandwich, sanguche, sanguchito)||Sandwich||The leader places both feet on either side of the follow foot|
|Parada||Parada (stop)||The leader halts the motion of the follower's turning by placing his foot close to her foot.|
Sacada and entrada
|Spanish||English||Description – Sacada and entradas)||Image||Image|
|Sacada (entrada)||Shallow sacada (sacada, insert)||Leader's leg replaces partner's unweighted leg position. Entrada doesn't influence movement of the follower's leg. This movement is called entrada or sacada in Spanish depending on instructor.|
|Sacada (quite)||Deep sacada (sacada)||Displacement of partner's unweighted leg.|
|Sacada||Back sacada||Displacement of partner's unweighted leg.|
Gancho and enganche
|Spanish||English||Description – Leg kicks and leg wraps (gancho and enganche)||Image||Image|
|Enganche||Leg wrap||One or both dancers wrap his or her leg around their partner's leg. This wrapping is often sustained or frozen for a moment in time. See also gancho and high leg wrap.|
|Gancho||Gancho (hook)||One dancer hooks her or his leg around their partner's leg. See also enganche.|
|Overturned gancho (gancho nuevo)||The follower places her leg between the leader's legs. This move can be led from overturned back ocho. See also enganche.|
|Piernazo||High leg wrap||Wrap or caress by follower's leg raised up high and touching the partner's waist or legs|
Colgada and volcada
|Spanish||English||Description – Colgada and volcada||Image||Image|
|Colgada||Colgada ("hanging")||Off-axis move in which woman leans back while being supported by leader's arms. Simple colgadas can be executed during woman's step over leader foot. For variants see colgada shapes: hip-under colgada (picture on the left) describes colgada with woman hips under her rib cage; plank or straight colgada (picture on the right) is when her back tilt is without pronounced bend.|
|Colgada||Step over colgada||Off-axis move in which woman leans back while being supported by leader's arms. Simple colgadas can be executed during woman's step over leader foot.|
|Colgada||Side colgada||Off-axis move in which woman leans to the side while being supported by leader's arms.|
|Volcada||Volcada||Off-axis move in which the woman leans forward and does forward or back cross or decorative figures with her legs. Volcadas can be done in open and close embrace. In case of closed embrace she is supported by the leader's torso. In open embrace the leader's arm provides support for the suspension. See also apile.|
|Volcada (suspended)||Off-axis move in which the woman leans forward and her legs are opened and extended.|
|Volcada con adorno||Side volcada||Off-axis move in which the woman leans forward to the man's side. She can do decorations with her leg.|
|Volcada||"Armpit" volcada||Off-axis move in which the woman leans forward to the man's side.|
|Spanish||English||Description – Everything else||Image||Image|
|Corrida||Run||A short sequence of steps.|
|Doble frente||Moving together in one direction.||The woman is in front of the man (see tango al reves style).|
|Espejo||Mirror step||Mirror steps or embellishments done by the man and the woman.|
|Friccion||Pulling||Pulling the woman typically dragged on her toes.|
|Pulpeadas||Leg entanglements, "sticky sacadas"||Class of trapped sacadas, wrapped sacadas, and carried (sp. llevada) ganchos. Named after Norberto Esbrez.|
|Quebrada||Quebrada||Figure in which there is a sudden body twist or jerky move. The name is also associated with the tango style without embellishments (sudden breaks), as opposed to corte.|
|Palanca||Lever||Man helping the woman to jump or lift.|
|Patada||Kick||Kick between legs (by man or woman).|
|Rebotes||Switch step (bounce)||Change of direction, bounce. For example, after salida americana partners step forward and change direction to step back.|
|Salto, Saltitos||Jump, Small jump||Jump or small leaps or jumps|
|Sentada||Sentada||Woman sits on leaders lap, hip, bended leg.|
|Tijera||Scissors||Small jump with scissoring step in between partner's legs.|
|Soltada||Soltada||Breaking embrace to execute a figure (such as a turn) on her or his own.|
|Zarandeo||Swing||Hip swings. Pivoting in place.|
|"Feet walking"||Walking on his feet.|
The most typical endings of tango are simple positions, for example "sandwich" or "tango close". However, in the popular culture tango endings are often associated with more dramatic figures such as listed below.
|Spanish||English||Description – Finale||Image||Image|
|Open legs||Dramatic final ending figure of tango with the follower's open legs.|
|Corte||Bow (break, cut, stop)||Bow or break in the movements. Corte has also meaning of tango with embellishments as opposed to tango without them (see quebrada).|
Notes and references
- Castle, Vernon; Castle, Irene (1911). Modern Dancing. New York: Harper and Brothers.
- Clendenen, F. Leslie (1914). Dance Mad: Or, the Dances of the Day. St. Louis: Arcade.
- Baim, Jo (2007). Tango: Creation of a Cultural Icon. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-34885-2.
- Castro, Luis; Mendoza, Claudia (2007). Argentinian tango, the dance in depth. Berkeley, CA: General Printing.
- Paez, Luiza (2005). Follower's technique by Luiza Paes. Pulpo's Tango. (head, hands, arms, legs, feet, natural step, pivot, ochos, turn, cross, boleo, sacada, barrida, contact, enganche, adorments)
- Balmaceda, Julio; Rosa, Corina (2005). DVD, Tango secrets and basis, Vol. 1. Julio Balmaceda y Corina de la Rosa Producciones. (el eje, la intención, el caminar, la contraposición, el abrazo, basico cuadrado y cruzado, primer secuencia caminada, ocho adelante, ocho atrás, combinación del ocho adelante y atrás, medio giro derecha e izquirda)
- Rosas, Gustavo; Natoli, Gisela (2007). Curso basico de colgadas y volcadas, Tango, Vol.1, Fusion tango nuevo y tradicional. Gus Producciones. DVD, in Spanish with English subtitles (colgada en línea, colgada circular, colgada en apertura, colgada en apertura con cruce atrás, arrastre con colgada, colgada en cruce atrás, colgada en ocho atrás, colgada en suspensión, ochos atrás bloqueados en volcada, volcada con dibujo círcular de la pierna libre, ocho cortado, secuencias de colgadas & volcadas).
- Rosas, Gustavo; Natoli, Gisela (2008). Curso basico de colgadas y volcadas, Tango, Vol.2, Fusion tango nuevo y tradicional. Gus Producciones. DVD, in Spanish with English subtitles (sanguchito colgado, sanguchito colgado y gancho, colgada en apertura, barrida, colgada y gancho, americana, colgada y gancho, boleo, colgada y sacada, colgada en apertura con cruce, volcada y gancho, volcada líneal y circular).
- Rosas, Gustavo; Natoli, Gisela (2010). Tango "Milonguero Nuevo", Vol. 1., DVD, Tango tradicional con elementos nuevos. Gus Producciones. (step of Gisela, the stop and pasada, soltada in turn to the right, stop and colgada positions, soltada and back sacada, blockade soltada, linear boleo, linear boleo with enganche, volcadas and colgadas, ela paso básico, salida simple, salida cruzada (salida of 1940's), ocho atrás, ocho adelante),
- Paez, Luiza and Esbrez, Norberto ("Pulpo"). Pulpo's tango en La Patriótica.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) (trap sacadas, wrap sacadas, drags, basic ganchos, 3 ganchos, 4 ganchos, gancho boleo, carried gancho, enganches)
- Gavito, Carlos; Duran, Marcela (2000). Un tal Gavito (Someone called Gavito), Classes de tango, DVD and tape, Vol. 1. MusicMedia Productions. (salida in two steps, salida or basic step, cadence with woman's sweep, walking on the edge of the roof, the corkscrew, walk with sacada and boleo (role of the knee), walking on both sides of the woman, cadence with turn, "fan" with barrida sacada and boleo, enrosque with walk).
- Gavito, Carlos; Duran, Marcela (2000). Un tal Gavito (Someone called Gavito), Classes de tango, DVD and tape, Vol. 2. MusicMedia Productions. (tent salida, barrida with backwards sandwich, barrida with forward turn, boleo with traspie, back sacada, forward cross, natural cross, enrosque, sacada-sacada, escape with boleos).
- Gavito, Carlos; Duran, Marcela (2000). Un tal Gavito (Someone called Gavito), Classes de tango, DVD and tape, Vol. 3. MusicMedia Productions. (waiting, beauty and simplicity, veiled glances, subtle expressions, apíle o carpa, syncopated salida, sandwiches in turn, barrida from position 2, double cross, wheel with sandwich, induced barrida).
- Balmaceda, Julio; Rosa, Corina (2005). Tango giros, Vol. 2. DVD. Julio Balmaceda y Corina de la Rosa Producciones. (foundation of the circular movement, structure of the twist, double time in turn, showing medio tempo to the woman, twists with entradas (difference between sacada and entrada), twist with entrada to the right, twist with entrada to the left, twist with entrada both ways, exercises for lapiz, turn to the left with lapiz, exercises with the lapiz: woman, turn with entradas and lapiz to the right, turn with enrosques (twists), twist with entradas and sacadas, twist with entradas and sacada behind the man, La Bordona)
- Benzecry Saba, Gustavo (2010). New glossary of tango dance, key tango Argentino dance terms, prefaces by Juan Carlos Copes and Carlos Gavito, epilogue Miguel Angel Zotto. Abrazos. ISBN 978-987-24481-8-9.
- Benzecry Saba, Gustavo (2007). Embracing tango, techniques and metaphors between tango and life. Abrazos. ISBN 978-3-939871-03-3.
- Denniston, C. (2007). The meaning of tango; the story of the Argentinian dance. Portico. ISBN 978-1-906032-16-6.
- Turner, David (2004). A passion for tango. Dingley Press. ISBN 0-9547083-1-8.
- Paz, Alberto; Hart, Valorie. Gotta tango. Human Kinetics. ISBN 978-0-7360-5630-4.
- Gift, Virginia (2008). Tango: A history of obsession. ISBN 1-4392-1462-X. includes chapter "New Tango" by Gustavo Naveira