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Tango Helps & Figures

© by Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid 

Tango belongs to the "modern" type of dancing, as versus the "Latin American," so it is in the same category with waltz, foxtrot, and quickstep. It is different from all other types of dancing, and it has its own complete character in both style and atmosphere. While this sometimes is a little "scary" to some people, in reality the Tango is one of the easiest rhythms to learn. It consists mostly of walking steps; there is no rise and fall, and very little sway in the dance. 

First a little bit about the stance and hold. The Tango has a close hold that is different from both the modern and the Latin closed position. The knees are kept slightly bent or flexed throughout the dance, both as a step is being taken, and at the completion of the step, when full weight is placed onto the moving foot. This is done by keeping the muscles tensed, so that there is neither a lift nor a drop or softness in the body position. 

As the couple stands in closed position, line of dance, both the man's and the lady's right foot will be slightly behind the left foot, so that the toes of the right foot are approximately even with the instep of the left foot. While we say the feet are closed, they are not tightly closed, but about 2-3 cm. apart. The knees are bent, and veer slightly inwards; in fact, the right knee should be tucked in slightly behind the left knee. The man's body will be facing diagonal line and center, with his feet also pointing DLC, while his steps will be (slightly sideways - left edge of foot) down line of dance. Therefore the steps will be a different direction than the facing body and foot direction. 

The Tango hold is more compact and the woman is more to the man's right side than in the other modern dances. Because of this, the man's right hand will be further around the woman's back; usually, the tips of his fingers will be touching the middle of her back about where her backbone is. The lady's left arm will then be placed under the man's arm, palm down with pressure on the inside of her wrist on the man's back, just under his armpit. The lead hands will be held closer towards the body than in the other modern dances. 

The feet are picked up and placed instead of drawn along the floor. In the forward steps, most steps will be taken on the left edge of each foot and you will have a right side lead; in contrast, in the backward steps, most steps will be taken on the right edge of each foot, and the side lead will be a left side lead. This will cause the walking steps to have a slight curve to the left. As a step is taken forward with the left foot, because of the body position and the right shoulder lead, the step will, in effect, be taken across the body (contra body) and the legs will be together above the knees. As a forward step is taken with the right foot, the legs will "unlock." Again, both forward steps will be taken on the left side of the foot, so for the left foot this will be the outside edge, and the for right foot it will be the inside edge. Just the opposite is true for the backwards steps (mostly done by the woman). 

Tango is nice and easy - you don't have to worry about —

  • rise and fall
  • body flight, swing
  • sway
  • most steps are walking steps

Hold, stance, side lead —

  • you are close, W more to M's R side 
  • M's R hand further around W's back (fingers together; no basketball hands)
  • W's L hand further around M (so, under his arm, palm down, fingers together — stable but don't pull/push)
  • lead hands further in towards body
  • man R side lead (or person going forward)
  • woman L side lead (or person going backward)
  • man use left side of both feet (or person going forward)
  • woman use right side of both feet (or person going backward) 

Foot placement —

  • R foot in back, close, but not quite touching (M stand facing wall, feet together, turn on both heels LF to face LOD; W stand facing COH, do same) 

Knees —

  • Knees bent (veer inward, lift heel slightly to keep knees together) 

GENERAL FIGURES — 

WALK - SS; lead foot free

  • step from the hip
  • "push" yourself forward from the supporting foot
  • keep it snappy
  • flat foot and remember which side of foot & which side leads - because of this the steps will make slight curve to left 

TANGO DRAW - QQS; lead foot free

  • fwd, sd, draw (no weight) 

PROGRESSIVE SIDE STEP - QQ, lead foot free

  • quick walk - fwd, sd 

BRUSH TAP - QQ&S; lead foot free

  • fwd, sd, & tap (like a prog. side step, then add "& tap" - you can also have just "& tap" 

LINKS — 

  • Links take you from one position to another, so CP to SCP or SCP to CP (linking one position to another)
  • Links usually start with the lead foot 

PROGRESSIVE LINK - QQ (CP to SCP), lead foot free

  • prog. side step turning to SCP
  • Men bring R side of body back
  • M trn body towards woman; W trn self to SCP 

PROMENADE FIGURES — 

CLOSED PROMENADE - SQQS, lead foot free

  • in SCP step fwd, -, thru, fwd & sd to CP; cl, -, 

OPEN PROMENADE - SQQS, lead foot free

  • in SCP step fwd, -, thru, sd & fwd; fwd, -, (same as closed prom, but stepping fwd to end Bjo

BACK OPEN PROMENADE - SQQS, lead foot free

  • in SCP M stps fwd, -, "manuv", sd; "check" back, -, (W stps fwd, -, fwd, fwd; fwd, -,) 

TURNS — 

ROCK TURN - QQS; QQS; lead foot free

  • in CP or BJO rk bk, rec, rk bk, (trns RF), closed finish (trns LF) 

CLOSED FINISH - QQS; trail foot free

  • back box trng ± 1/4 LF (so like a "box finish")
  • bk R, sd L, cl R – after a reverse turn you will normally end CP/DLW
  • (also cued sometimes as a "back corte," but a real back corte starts in CP/DLW, lead ft - SQQS - bk, bk, sd, cl) 

OPEN FINISH - QQS; trail foot free

  • like a "feather finish"
  • bk R, sd L, fwd R to CBMP (BJO) 

REVERSE TURN - QQS; lead foot free

  • in CP/DLC (like most LF turns) step fwd L, sd R, bk L to CP/RLOD
  • an Open Rev Trn ends in BJO/RLOD in CBMP (this is, in our opinion, more often danced then a rev trn to CP) 

NATURAL TWIST TURN - SQQ; SQQ;  (SQQ; QQS;) lead foot free

  • a natural turn, so RF
  • in SCP M stp fwd, -, fwd, sd (backing LOD); XIB, -, unwind, & change weight; (W stp fwd, -, fwd, fwd to CP; fwd (starting around M, -, fwd (to wall), swivel on R & close L;)


For a round world, Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid


this article was published in the
Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, February 2010



If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.

If you are not a member of DRDC, do consider joining. The group sponsors quarterly weekends with great dancing and teaching, and the newsletter is one of the most informative available.

Past DRDC Educational Articles by
Jim & Barbara German, ca. 2000-2001
Chris & Terri Cantrell, 2001-2005
Harold & Meredith Sears, 2005-present

Some articles and dance helps by
Sandi & Dan Finch
Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid


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