The Tangos -- Argentine,
International, and American Styles
by Jack & Judy
name "Tango" includes many different ideas and feelings
of very stylistic dancing. In Round Dancing, there is the
International (English), the American, and the Argentine styles. The
Argentine is truly the father of both the International and American
styles but includes many movements and positions not found in the
other styles. Though there are many different stories about the
origin of Argentine tango, all of these identify that the Argentine
style of tango was born in working-class neighborhoods and port areas
of Buenos Aires in the late 19th century. It was an expression of the
criminal sub-culture and working class who thought of it as much more
than a dance. The Argentine music and dance is an expression of
emotion, soul, and culture. With over 100 years of tango, these roots
remain very strong.
All tangos use some of the same movements as other walking dances,
such as foxtrot, paso doble, and quickstep, though often with
differences in timing or execution. The walking action is done with
virtually no rise and fall but does have the same passing-of-the-feet
action found in other moderns. In the Argentine style of tango,
walking should make you feel like a "great jungle cat."
This is done by stepping forward onto the balls of the feet instead
of the heels, as you do in other rhythms. Argentine has a small
amount of rise and fall, unlike the other two types of tango,
International and American. In Round Dancing, we use all three of the
tango styles, but when you're working on aspects or actions of the
Argentine style, try to keep this "jungle cat" image in
mind. The best Argentine dancers value creativity and improvisation
and have strong feelings about those who copy others' movements or
patterns. In Round Dancing, the basic movements require correct
footwork and execution, but we can use some of this creativity to
personalize the actions.
As they did with many other dances, the Europeans (most notably the
English) adopted the tango they found in South America and made it
their own. A very powerful dance was the result, with big movements,
dramatic gestures, and quick snaps of the head from one position to
another. Unlike the Argentine, the International uses strong heel
lead steps with all the rise and fall being absorbed by the legs and
ankles. The correctness of basic patterns or movements is strongly
emphasized and judged in competitions. Grouped together in
competitive events with the smooth ballroom dances, the International
tango incorporated many of the patterns and characteristics of waltz
and foxtrot. But it still maintains a unique character, which sets it
apart from all of the other ballroom dances.
The American tango also developed with strong influence from the
Argentine tango. It however developed more as a social dance, which
then worked its way in to competitions. The American tango also
incorporated many of the patterns and characteristics of waltz and
foxtrot, with the heel leads but also uses very little rise and fall
like the International. Each of these styles have movements that are
unique but share many others.
Among the strongest characteristics of any tango is the way the
dancer moves and relates to his partner. No other type of dance
connects two people more closely than the tango. Part of the reason
is the consistently strong closed dance position used. With Argentine
tango, this connection is both a physical and an emotional bond.
Argentine styling requires keeping the upper body straight and
shifting the weight onto the balls of the feet. This will bring you
and your partner very tightly together, helping to meld you into a
couple, while allowing occasional glances at your partner to express
the emotion of the music. This emotion could be tenderness, passion,
sadness, or any other emotion you feel from the music, even
silliness, as Argentine tango does not have to be somber.
With Argentine tango, the ladies commonly place their left hand on
their partner's upper shoulder with a very slight pressure against
his shoulder. From this basic position any variety of movements may
be executed. Many of these movements will cause an extension of the
basic frame to positions that are well outside of boundaries used in
other rhythms, including the International and American tangos. The
different positions used in Argentine are completely necessary for
comfortable execution of many of the movements or actions; they must
be used when required. These positions vary from the basic closed or
semi-closed, often called "dancing inside," to the more
familiar sidecar or banjo that can be done very close or very loose,
often called "dancing outside." They also include positions
that are almost side by side, often called "dancing beside,"
though a very poor technique in other rhythms, they are essential for
many actions in Argentine tango.
Many of the Argentine actions seem to have very difficult names to
recognize, but with some basic definitions they can become very
understandable. Though there are many actions or patterns used in
Argentine tango, we feel the following movements are critical for
getting the feel of the Argentine style.
The first of the common Argentine actions is the Basic or Argentine
Basic. Although a fairly simple action, there are some things to
remember when executing this movement. The basic figure may stay
facing the same direction or rotate to the left a quarter and can
start with either foot. This action requires a passing of the feet in
a very Argentine or "jungle-cat-like" manner with the upper
body rotating to the left to finish the action. This rotation leaves
the lady in a crossed-feet position requiring the man to release her
before moving backwards out of this move. The releasing is done with
a small but sharp left-face rotation prior to the man stepping back
for the next move. The lady may find that this release gives them an
opportunity to add an "Adorno" or an adornment used between
steps. In the Basic action, the Adorno is often a flicking back
action of the released foot. A common timing used with the Basic is a
slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. This is a common Argentine timing
found in many moves.
A second common action found with the Argentine style is the Gancho
or "hook." This action requires a "dancing beside"
position to be executed comfortably. It is done by a slight lift of
the whole leg off the floor and then rotating the heel to generate
the hooking action and not by wrapping the free leg around the
partner's supporting leg. The Gancho can be done moving forward or
backward any number of times.
A third action often used in Round Dancing is called Ochos or "figure
8s." Ochos may be done by the lady, the man, or both and may be
done either forward or backward. The term "Slow Ochos"
refers to forward Ochos for the lady while the man remains in an
extended position during the duration of two measures for each figure
8. Other types of Ochos include, but are not limited to, Back Ochos
and Double Ochos. Again the position can vary for each move but
always require extending beyond the normal position, allowing the
move to become more comfortable.
There are other common Argentine tango actions, such as La Cobra,
Grandes, Sentadas, and La Vids that we find in Round Dancing. These
actions, and many more not so commonly found, use much of the same
styling and feelings as the actions listed above.
In the American tango, we use many other tango actions. These include
Tango Draws, Tango Closes, Outside Swivels, Cortes, Doble Cruz (or
Double Cross), and other standard movements. As this style was
started with the idea of social dancing, these actions can be done
with a more standard modern closed position. One thing that is only
found in American tango and isn't used in the other styles of tango
is open work. Open work consists of side-by-side dancing that is
independent of the partner. The footwork and routines are usually,
but not always, the same for both partners. These movements are done
in a shadow or a side-by-side position. In Round Dancing, we often
mix tango styles, so American open work can be found in Argentine and
International tangos. In Round Dancing, we mix figures from the
different types of tango, and many of these movements can also be
done with Argentine styling and possibly an "Adorno" or an
adornment used between steps, such as a leg lift between movements.
In the International tango, many movements display the strong walking
steps and quick head movements associated with this style. The close
dance position used is one of the strongest of any modern position
with the body having more right rotation locking the ladies into a
tighter frame. One of the characteristics of this strong frame is the
ladies placing her left arm behind the man's arm. This allows ladies
to follow quick actions of body changes that are used in many
movements, most notably in Head Flicks. Unlike the Argentine, this
strong upper frame means that the partners never glance at each other
but only have brief eye contact as the ladies change positions.
The first of the common International figures is the Promenade. This
movement has many variations such as the Closed Promenade, Open
Promenade, and the Back Open Promenade. The standard timing used with
the Promenades is slow, quick, quick, slow. Changes to this basic can
be found in Double Promenades in which the timing is changed to slow,
quick, quick, quick, quick, slow.
The second of the common International figures is the Five Step and
its related figure the Four Step. Even though both figures have four
weight changes, the timing and execution are very different. Again,
these actions display deliberate walking steps and quick changes of
A third family of actions found in the International tango are the
Progressive Side Steps and Links. These may include brush and tap
actions and head-flick position changes. There are many variations of
these such as Progressive Links and Progressive Side Brush Tap.
Linking actions are also used to go from promenade position to closed
position and visa versa.
In addition, there are figures used in Round Dancing that are common
to all three styles of tango, such as Reverse Turns, Contra Checks,
Reverse Fallaway with Slip, Viennese Turns, and very many others.
Many of these movements came from other modern rhythms and are done
with changes in execution to maintain the tango styling. This
includes heel turns being done with no rise by placing the free foot
to the desired direction and bringing the other foot to it as the
We can blend each of the styles and movement characteristics to
achieve a personal style of dancing tango that is both comfortable
and preferred. Movements of each style can be combined into a single
flowing dance as the music dictates. The combination of styles,
movements, and actions make the tango we find in Round Dancing a more
personalized but still emotional rhythm. This allows the dancers a
certain amount of freedom to express their own personal styling as
they feel it in the music.
From clinic notes for a
Teachers Seminar, 2007 and
reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, June 2014.