Glossary   Leave a comment

We hope you will enjoy and make good use of the opportunity to comment and discuss the many aspects of the best seller book Gotta Tango.You may ask questions, seek clarifications, and share your experiences. You simply do that by using the Comments box at the bottom of the page.

We reluctantly retain the right to delete inflammatory, false, irrelevant, or hateful content. We expect you to know that swearing doesn’t belong in the world of the tango.

Just try to be excellent to each other, stay on topic, and remember that passions can run high when people are talking about important issues.

Your honest and sincere feedback is appreciated very much, along with any questions, suggestions and even critiques of our work.


abrazo—Embrace. The tango hug.

aguja—Needle. An adornment for the man. It is done with the free foot vertical and the toe into the floor while pivoting on the support leg.

amague—From amagar. A deceptive motion such as stepping in one direction and immediately going in the opposite direction. The man uses it to mark a lady’s boleo.

apilado—Piled on. A form of embracing that resembles the way a jockey is “piled” on top of his horse when racing—hugging the neck.

arrastre—From arrastrar, to drag.

arrepentida—A change of mind. Evasive actions that allow a couple to back away from a collision or traffic jam in a minimal amount of space and on short notice.


¿bailamos?—Informal for “Shall we dance?”

bailar—To dance.

bailarin—A dedicated dancer.

bailemos— “Let’s dance.”

bailongo—A tango slang word to describe a place where people dance (a milonga).

bandoneón—A concertina looking reed musical instrument originally created as a portable pipe organ for music for outdoor religious activities in Germany. It has the appearance of a box with bellows with two sets of buttons, one for each hand. It first appeared in Buenos Aires toward the last decade of the 19th century and gradually began to replace the flute and clarinet in tango trios, becoming the lead instrument of choice for expressing the sound of the Argentine tango.

barrida—A sweep. A sweeping motion in which the dancers’ feet travel together during the opening that follows a back step of the person whose foot is being “swept.” It is an illusion, and feet don’t actually push each other. They follow the action of the upper bodies.

base—A figure that consists of the three unique steps each leg can execute: a lateral (opening), a forward, and a back with either leg. When done in the dancing position, it renders a parallelogram pattern similar to the baldosa.

boleo—The action of interrupting an outside cross, converting it to an inside cross, or vice versa.


cabeceo—A nod of the head signifying “Shall we dance?” prevalent at the traditional dance halls of Buenos Aires. The gesture is used by the man to invite a lady to dance from a distance when the lady allows eye contact to be made. A lady’s nodding of the head, or any other barely perceptible facial movement, indicates “Yes, you may dance with me.”

cadena—Chain. A series of sequences linked to each other and repeated several times.

cadencia—A swaying motion of the body following the cadence of the music.

calesita—Carousel. A figure in which the man walks around the woman, keeping her centered over, and pivoting on, axis.

cambio—Change. Cambio de frente, or change of front; cambio de dirección, or change of direction; and cambio de parejas, change of partners.

caminada—A sequence of three or four steps that results in the displacement of the couple along the line of dance.

caminar—To walk.

canyengue—A certain attitude displayed by young men indicating lack of interest for formalities and authorities circa 1900. A way to dance the tango mimicking the gait and posture of the canyengue demeanor of some youth. A rhythmic effect created by hitting the strings of the upright bass with the hand or the arch of the bow.

carpa—Tent. A figure created when the man keeps the lady on one foot and then steps back away from her, causing her body to rest at a soft V-shaped angle on the right side of his body. Sometimes affectionately known as adormecida, as the man “puts her to sleep, calming her down,” before continuing to dance.

chiche—Toy. An embellishment done in place with the feet close together in time with the beat.

club style—A way to dance in the crowded clubs in the center of Buenos Aires.

codigo—Code of The Tango. A repetitive and predictable way for the woman to dance around the man.

codigos—Codes. The set of demanding codes of conduct and courtesy that prevail in the milongas in Buenos Aires.

colgada—From colgar, to hang. A turn on a shared axis resulting in an inverted cone shape as the dancers hang away from each other.

compás—Beat. The main pulse that defines the tempo of the music.

contrapaso—Skip. Stepping twice with the same foot by changing weight when the feet come together.

corrida—From correr, to run. Also corridita, little run. A short sequence, usually done in groups of three quick steps.

corte—Cut. An interruption of movement, such as at the end of a salida, or thenthird step of the resolution when both feet come together for a change of weight in place.

cortina—Curtain. A brief musical interlude of a totally different genre between tandas.

cross-feet system—The couple steps together using the same foot instead of the opposite as in parallel system.

cruzada—From cruzar, to cross. The action of crossing the legs.

cunita—Cradle. A sequence of forward and backward rocking steps.


eight-count giro—A turning sequence consisting of eight body positions and displacements.

enrosque—From enroscar, to coil or twist the legs.

espejo—Mirror. Mirroring the body position of one’s partner.


firulete—Adornment; decoration; embellishment. A drawing or writing on the floor with the free foot.

freno—Stop and hold; brake.


gancho—Leg hook.



la marca—The indication used by the man of when, where, and how the woman moves into the space he creates.

lapiz—Pencil. An embellishment that looks like a number 6 drawn on the floor using the free foot as if it was a pencil.


llevada—From llevar, to carry. A displacement provoked by moving into the woman’s free leg that carries her leg to the next step.


media luna—Half moon. One of the oldest figures in the tango.

media vuelta—Half turn.

milonga—May refer to the music, written in 6/8 time, or to the dance itself, or to the dance salon where people go to dance tango, or to a tango dance party.

milonguero (masculine; feminine milonguera)—Refers to those frequenting the milongas and whose lifestyle revolves around dancing tango and the philosophy of tango.

milonguita—A diminutive word for a short tango dance party. Also a name given to a young woman who worked the cabarets in search of a rich man to take

care of her.

molinete—Windmill. An old turning figure in which the lady dances around the man who serves as an anchor or center axis for her rotation.

mordida—To bite. The woman’s action of clearing the man’s foot if he places it on the outside of her foot instead of the inside, in giro 6 to the left or to the right.




ocho—Eight. Figure eight. The ocho, forward or back, is a direction change to the man’s left and right (or vice versa), provoked while the woman takes either a forward or a back step.

orquesta—Orchestra. An 11-piece tango ensemble.


palanca—Lever; leverage. Describes the subtle assisting of the woman by the man during jumps or lifts in tango fantasia (stage tango).

parada—Stop. The man stops the woman, usually as she crosses back.

parallel system—When the dancers step with opposite feet. His left, her right, and so on.

pareja—Couple. The two partners in a tango.

pasada—Passing over.


patada—Kick. pausa—Pause; wait. Holding a position or pose for two or more beats of music.




pinta—Appearance; presentation. Includes clothes, grooming, posture, expression, and manner of speaking and relating to the world.


pista—Dance floor.


porteño (feminine porteña)—An inhabitant of the port city of Buenos Aires.


práctica—An informal practice session for tango dancers.


quebrada—Break; broken. A posture in which the body breaks at the waist and uses a deep bend of the knees.


rabona—A lock step produced by crossing a foot behind the other with the intentof kicking.

resolución—Resolution; tango close.



ronda—The imaginary line of dance. Etiquette requires the dance couple to move around in a counterclockwise direction using diagonals in concentric lanes to facilitate navigation in proximity with other couples.

rulo—A curl drawn on the floor with the free foot.


sacada— From sacar. Displacement.

salida—From salir, to exit; to go out. Derived from “¿Salimos a bailar?” [Shall we (go out to the dance floor) and dance?]. Also a four-step figure done on a

diagonal to the man’s left side ending at the woman’s cruzada position.

seguidillas—Tiny quick steps used in a corrida.

sentada—From sentar, to sit. A sitting action. A family of figures in which the woman creates the illusion of sitting on, or actually mounting, the man’s leg.

suave—Smooth, steady, and gentle. Soft, stylish, and dense.

syncopation—The action of doing the unexpected, such as stepping when it is not expected or not stepping when it is expected.


tanda—A set of dance music, usually three or four songs of the same dance in similar style and often by the same orchestra or another orchestra in the same mode.

tanguero (feminine tanguera)—Refers to anyone who has a significant interest in any or all aspects of the tango, including the dance, the music, the poetry, the history, and the plastic arts.

trabada—Lock. A locked step as in the cruzada or the rabona.

traspie—Contrapaso. Stepping twice with the same foot. Usually used to change to and from the cross-feet system. As a matter of choice, the traspie can be

executed on a slow or quick step.


vaiven—As in va (go) y (and) ven (come). A change of front using a rock step.

vals—Argentine waltz. The music is referred to as vals criollo, and the dance as vals cruzado.

volcada—From volcar, to lean forward. The action of tilting the lady’s axis.


zarandeo—Swing. A quick sequence of hip pivots with both thighs together, resulting in small swivels of the feet in place.

Posted February 10, 2010 by Alberto & Valorie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: