Thursday, October 22, 2020

Tango terminology

A guide to some of the most common vocabulary used in Argentine tango. This list is an ongoing work-in-progress. Feel free to send me questions, corrections or suggestions.
 

Abrazo.
Hug. The tango embrace or arm position and hold. Dancers can use an abrazo abierto, or open embrace, maintaining some distance between the upper bodies, or an abrazo cerrado, or close embrace, with contact between the partners' torsos. Close-embrace dancing is more difficult to master for most, but also tends to be the preferred choice for high-level social dancers.

Adelante. Forward.

Adorno. Adornment, embellishment or decoration. Footwork or flair added by either partner during paradas and pauses or between actions.

Apertura. Aperture or opening. Used to describe a salida to the side, specifically to the leader's left. See Salida.

Argentine tango. Synonymous with tango, the music and accompanying dance that originated in Río de la Plata, the port cities of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, Uruguay, more than a century ago. We specify Argentine tango to differentiate it from the tango danced in ballroom dancing, which has been drastically transformed into something very stylized and showy as well as regulated for competition. 
Click here to see an example of ballroom tango.

Arrastre. Drag. See Barrida.

Atrás. Backward.

Balanceo. Rock step. Useful for avoiding collisions, playing with rhythm and making direction changes in small spaces. May also refer to a subtle shifting of weight from foot to foot in place and in time with the music at the beginning of a dance. Also called Cadencia.

Baldosa. Tile. See Cuadrado.

Barrida. Sweep. One partner’s foot makes contact with the other’s foot then moves it to a new position on the floor without losing contact. Also called arrastre, or drag.

Basic step. See Paso básico.

Boleo. Sometimes spelled voleo. A move where the free leg does a backward, forward or wrapping projection or kick, usually in response to a change of energy or direction, most often a change of pivot. The word probably comes from boleadoras, a type of throwing weapon made of weights on the ends of cords, once used by gauchos to capture animals by entangling their legs and now used as a percussive instrument in a type of Argentine folkloric dance. Some argue that voleo is the correct spelling, deriving from the word volear, to throw or "volley" as with a ball. Note that it is never spelled (or pronounced) “bolero,” which can refer either to an entirely different genre of Latin music and dance or to a short jacket modelled after those worn by Spanish bullfighters.

Cabeceo. Nod. From the word cabeza, meaning head. It refers to the traditional, non-verbal look-and-nod technique for selecting dance partners from a distance in milongas. Also see Mirada. For more on the cabeceo, read my post about milonga codes and etiquette.

Cadencia. See Balanceo.

Calesita. Carousel. A figure in which the leader walks around his partner while keeping her pivoting on her supporting leg.

Candombe. A type of dance originally danced by the descendants of black slaves in the Río de la Plata region and still performed in Montevideo, Uruguay. Music of African origin with a marked rhythm played on a kind of drum called a "tamboril.” It survives today as a rhythmic background to certain milongas. See a musical performance of the modern-day candombe, "Tango Negro."

Canyengue. An old style of tango from the very beginning of the 20th century. The music from this period had a faster or peppier 2/4 tempo so the dance had a rhythmic flavour similar to that of modern milonga. A very close embrace was used as well as some unique posture, embrace and footwork elements. Watch an example of canyengue dancing here.

Caminata. Walk. Generally considered the true basic step of Argentine tango. Great dancers are appreciated for the quality of their tango walk above all.

Colgada. Literally, it means hanging or dangling. In tango, it is a type of off-axis movement in a "V" position, where the couple's feet stay close and the upper bodies move away. The balance of the two dancers is based on counterweight, which they exert together in opposing directions.

Cortina. Literally, it means curtain, but it describes the 30-to 60-second clip of non-tango music used to break up musical tandas or sets.

Cruce. Cross. Refers to the basic crossed position used most often by the follower, in which the left leg crosses in front of the right. Not to be confused with Cross system.

Cuadrado. Square or box step. Sometimes called baldosa, or tile. A basic, six-count sequence made up of forward, backward and side steps.

Enganche. Any leg-around-leg hooking action. Similar to and often interchangeable with gancho. Also see Gancho.

Enrosque. Screw. An adorno in which one pivots in place while the feet are crossed. Often done by skilled leaders during giros.

Follower. The partner dancing what was traditionally the woman’s role. Today we find non-traditional couples on most dance floors, so in the interest of inclusiveness and political correctness as well as to simply reflect modern realities, there has been a general movement to stop using the terms "man" and "woman" altogether within the context of tango dancing roles and to always use the gender-neutral "leader" and "follower." The problem is, these limited words are pretty faulty descriptions of what the two roles are all about. They make it sound like the leader is the dominant partner and the follower is passive, even submissive. The terms really do not describe what truly happens between the two partners. The much more complex process goes something like this: The "leader" invites the "follower" to execute a movement; the "follower" executes the movement he or she felt and the "leader" follows his or her partner through the completion of that movement – whether or not it was the movement he or she intended – and the whole process starts again. An experienced follower can even influence the leader's choices by adding adornos and her own musical interpretation. Some go so far as to argue that the follower is in fact the real leader, because regardless of the leader’s original intention, he (or she) has to follow through on his partner’s actual interpretation and execution of the lead. Also see Leader.

Gancho. Hook. A move wherein you hook or catch your partner’s leg with your own. Note that it’s a “gancho” and not a “gaucho.” A gaucho is an Argentinian cowboy.

Giro. Turn. One partner, usually the leader, turns more or less on the spot while the follower does a molinete, or grapevine, sequence around him (or her). Also see Molinete.

Lápiz. Pencil. Circular embellishments “drawn” on the floor by either partner.

Leader. The partner dancing what was traditionally the man’s role. There has been a general movement to stop using the terms "man" and "woman" altogether within the context of tango dancing roles and to always use the gender-neutral "leader" and "follower." The problem is, the terms really do not describe what truly happens between the two partners. The much more complex process goes something like this: the "leader" invites the "follower" to execute a movement; the "follower" executes the movement he or she felt and the "leader" follows his or her partner through the completion of that movement – whether or not it was the movement he or she intended – and the whole process begins again with the next action. Interestingly, the terms "leader" and "follower" are not really used in Spanish. When referring to the partners, much of the time Spanish-speaking teachers stick to "hombre" (man) and "mujer" (woman), which, while not gender-neutral, don't restrict the partners to one active and one passive role. When referring to the action of the man or leader they say "marcar," which means to mark or indicate, not lead. The woman or follower "acompaña" (accompanies) or "se deja llevar" (lets herself be led), which implies that it is her choice and has a less passive implication. Also remember that at the beginning of the 20th century, when there were many more men than women in Argentina, men learned tango together, practicing and mastering both roles before having the privilege of dancing with a woman. Also see Follower. 

Marca. Mark. The lead.

Milonga. Because this word has a triple meaning, it can be confusing for novices.
  1. One of the three musical genres that make up Argentine tango: tango, milonga and vals (waltz). Milonga music is in 2/4 time. (Tango music can be in 2/4 or 4/4 and vals is in 3/4.) Milonga has a very rhythmic, strongly accented beat, often contains an underlying "habanera" rhythm and is generally faster and more joyful than tango music. It has its own dancing style to go with it, in which dancers avoid pausing, mostly stay in parallel system and often use double-time steps, referred to as milonga traspié. Milonga dancing uses the same basic elements as tango, with a strong emphasis on the rhythm, and figures that tend to be less complex than many of those used in tango. 
  2. The name given to any venue dedicated to Argentine tango, usually a dance school that also holds such dancing events as prácticas and milongas.
  3. The name given to Argentine tango social dancing events.
So you get all dressed up to go dancing at a milonga, where you will hear and dance to milonga.
Click to watch my partner and I perform a milonga at our milonga.

Milonguero/Milonguera. A dancer who frequents milongas (as opposed to a stage dancer, for example). Generally this label is reserved for dancers of a certain level. Milonguero can also refer to an old style of tango dancing wherein the couple held such a close embrace that the follower couldn't really turn her hips, which gave birth to figures in which pivoted ochos are replaced by crosses, such as the ocho cortado and ocho milonguero.

Mirada. Look. Paired with the cabeceo it completes the traditional look-and-nod system for selecting dance partners in the milonga. Also see Cabeceo. For more on the cabeceo and mirada, read my post about milonga codes and etiquette.

Molinete. Literally, it means windmill, but in dance it translates as grapevine. Made of the step sequence forward-side-backward-side (or sometimes forward-together-backward-together), it is most often danced in a circle by the follower around the leader to make a giro. Also see Giro.

Ocho. Eight or figure-eight. A combination of pivots with either forward or back steps, which, when done in pairs, draw a figure-eight shape on the floor. There are several variations of ochos:
  • Ocho adelante. Forward figure-eight.
  • Ocho atrás. Backward figure-eight.
  • Ocho cortado. Cut figure-eight. The forward pivot is interrupted to produce an abrupt sideways rock step followed by a direct return to the cross.
Parada. Stop. The leader halts the follower's action, simultaneously placing his foot against hers. Often used in combinations with the sandwich. Also see Sandwich.

Paso básico.
Basic step. While the real basic step in Argentine tango is generally considered to be the walk, this eight-count structure has been used as a basic teaching sequence for decades. It is a remarkably controversial little sequence. Still used by many instructors, it is shunned by others. Supporters believe it is a useful pedagogical tool that contains essential elements including forward, back and side steps as well as the cross; detractors say it is pointless to teach a “basic step” that dancers will either not use as-is in real-life social dancing or upon which they might become dependent, thus never learning to improvise properly.

Práctica. Practice. A tango-dancing event that is much less formal than a milonga. Floorcraft and following the ronda are generally less strictly adhered to or enforced during prácticas, so dancers can work on their moves and technique, and talking while dancing is tolerated. It is usually suggested that tango students attend prácticas for a while before moving on to milongas. During a práctica, teachers may or may not be present and may or may not lead the practice by suggesting or teaching exercises or figures.

Rebote. Rebound. A rock step wherein the dancers rewind a step by pushing against the floor to go back to the previous position.

Ronda. Literally, it means round. In tango, it is what we usually call the “line of dance” in English. The ronda in tango always circulates in a counter-clockwise direction around the dance floor. Couples are expected to follow the general flow of the dancers ahead of them, resisting the urge to cut ahead of slower-moving dancers or to stay in one spot blocking traffic while the others keep moving forward. On larger dance floors there can be several rondas at a time, one at the outer edge of the floor, generally reserved for more experienced and disciplined dancers, and up to three more smaller rounds inside, like lanes on a racetrack. It is bad form to zigzag haphazardly from one ronda to the next; lane changes should be made sparingly and with caution. For more about the ronda, read my post about milonga codes and etiquette.

Sacada. From the verb "sacar," which means to remove. In tango, one partner steps right into his or her partner’s space, seemingly forcing the partner to switch places and sometimes provoking an embellishment by the other person if there was contact with the recipient's free leg.

Salida. Literally it means exit, but it actually refers to the opening step of a dance or a sequence. 

Sandwich. Also referred to as the sanguche, sanguchito or mordida (bite). During a parada, one partner sandwiches the other’s foot between his or her own. See Parada.

Sistema cruzado. Cross system. Refers to the walking relationship between the two partners. When the leader walks in line with his partner, we call it "parallel system" – basically just the normal walking system with the partners in step with each other, but on opposite legs: leader's left to follower's right or vice-versa. In cross system, the two partners are in fact stepping with the same leg – left to left or right to right. At least 50 percent of figures use the cross system. Ochos, for example, most often take place in cross system. Also see Sistema paralelo.
Sistema paralelo. Parallel system. Refers to the walking relationship between the two partners. When the leader walks in line with his partner, we call it "parallel system" – basically just the normal walking system with the partners walking in step with each other, but on opposite legs: leader's left to follower's right or vice-versa. In parallel system, each partner is the mirror image of the other. Also see Sistema cruzado.

Tanda. A set of songs for dancing. Generally, tandas are three or four songs long. (They used to sometimes be as long as five, but that is rare these days.) They will be of one particular genre (tango, milonga or vals) and are most often all by the same orchestra from the same decade (or even the same year) and perhaps even with the same singer. Tandas can also be compiled of songs by different orchestras with a similar sound and feel. In a milonga, the format is generally as follows: two tandas of tango, one tanda of vals, two tandas of tango, one tanda of milonga and repeat.

Tango. The music and accompanying dance that originated in Río de la Plata more than a century ago. Also see Argentine tango. 

Tanguero/tanguera. A tango dancer, tanguero for a man, tanguera for a woman.

Vals. One of the three musical genres that make up Argentine tango: tango, milonga and vals (waltz). Vals music is played in 3/4 time. (Milonga is in 2/4, while tango music can be in 2/4 or 4/4.) Dancers use the same steps and technique in vals as in tango, but tend to select quicker, more rhythmic figures that flow, rock and turn in order to express both the feeling and rhythmic structure of the music. They use the first beat in the measure as their basic walking beat, adding accelerated steps or adornos on the second and/or third beats as they wish. See an example of vals dancing here.

Volcada. Literally, it means overturned or tipped over. In tango, it is an off-axis move in which the follower leans forward, supported by the leader's torso or arms. Usually the forward “fall” is accompanied by a sweeping adorno of the follower’s free leg.

Voleo. See Boleo.

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