Meredith & Harold



MAJOR SECTIONS: Figures | Articles | Links | Alph. Index | Search | Home

Figures in the Smooth Rhythms
Viennese Waltz
International Tango
American Tango
Two Step
Five Count
One Step
Figures in the Latin Rhythms
Cha Cha
Single Swing
West Coast Swing
Slow Two Step
Argentine Tango
Paso Doble
Dance Articles
Articles Home

Dance Figures

Dance Rhythms
Lead and Follow
Dance Styling
Fred Astaire Album
Other Sections
Dance Links
Music Clips For Each Rhythm
Search Site/Web
Contact Me

Dancing the Tango

by Wayne & Barbara Blackford

Tango is a very exciting and fun rhythm. It has been described as romantic, exotic, dramatic, and sophisticated. It may appear to be a difficult rhythm to learn, but in essence it can be learned more easily than foxtrot, mainly because there is no rise and fall or sway. The tango was developed by the Argentine cave men. The ceilings of the caves were very low so the cave men had to dance with soft knees so as not to "hit the roof" of the cave. Therefore, no rise and fall. The caves were small and round so the cave men had to develop a compact hold and a walking step that caused them to curve so that they would not run into the walls. Because the floors of the caves were usually wet and muddy, the steps had to be created with a picking up of the foot, not allowing it to glide across the floor. Because the caves were dark, and they had to check their surroundings often, they also had to create a stopping movement.

Six characteristics of tango making it remarkably different from other rhythms:
  • No rise and fall
  • No sway
  • Soft knees
  • Compact hold
  • Walking steps that curve left
  • Picking up the foot to step rather than gliding across the floor
  • Distinct stopping and starting rather than smooth flow

Tango Hold --
The tango hold is similar to the hold in our other dancing except that it is more compact. The woman is slightly more to the right side of the man. This will cause the man's right arm to reach further around the woman. The man's left hand should be held slightly in and a little lower with the palms looking in the direction he is going. The woman's left hand will hook under the man's upper arm, creating a bond that is much more secure than the normal dance position. We must also use more flexing in our legs, which will create body contact extending from the rib cage to approximately the knee. Sometimes these changes from normal dance position cause a slumping of the man's right side but we must continue to hold our upper bodies erect and the right sides forward (left side back) with the elbows up and extended away from the body. This allows each partner the maximum amount of space possible permitting him/her to dance with as much freedom as possible.

Tango Movement --
Remember, there is no rise and fall and no body flight or sway. Most of the tango action is created in the legs. Two of the three most important components of basic tango is the checking and rocking actions.

Tango Footwork --
The footwork in tango is different from other smooth rhythms, mainly because of the lack of rise and fall. The use of the inside edge of the foot is common. The "draw" of the Tango Close should be done slowly. The full length of the slow beat is used in bringing the feet together. The close in tango is different from the close in other rhythms. The right foot should close slightly back for both the man and the woman; keeping the knees flexed and slightly turned left.

Tango Timing --
Roundalab uses 4/4 timing for tango. There are basically three timings used in tango. They are SS; QQQQ; and QQS; using full measures.

Slow Slow are walking steps.
Quick Quick Quick Quick are usually rocking steps.
Quick Quick Slow is the Tango Draw action.

But many times the timing crosses measures and it then becomes SQQ; S or QQ. Don't let this intimidate you; it really is easier than it sounds.

Figures --
We can relate many of the tango figures to those we use in waltz. But remember the terminology changes, and that's what usually "scares" us. Take a look below at the figures we already use in waltz and see what they are called in tango.

Waltz Figures Tango Figures
2 Left Turns Reverse Turn / Closed Finish
Back Turning Rock 3; Box Finish Rock Turn
From SCP, Forward & Feather to BJO Open Promenade
From SCP, Forward Pickup Touch Promenade Link
Sailor Shuffle Quarter Beats
Thru Tap Promenade Tap

Remember, tango is just something you haven't learned yet.

Further Notes

Getting the body right and understanding the basic elements makes tango look like tango. Monkeys can learn steps -- people use their intelligence and understanding in what they are doing. (We are not saying that you dance like monkeys :-) only that we do want to go beyond the steps of any dance.)

Movement --
Tango is totally different from all the other dances in the "smooth" rhythms -- as far as movement and hold is concerned. Consider how the body works:
  • Swinging Dances -- we take our body/weight and move it across our foot/feet creating movement, flight, and sway.
  • Tango -- does not have that. There is no rise; no fall; no body flight; no swing.
  • Tango -- does have compact hold, woman further around the man's right side, legs flexed.
  • Waltz -- The hip weight moves outside the boundaries of the feet.
  • Tango -- The hips and body stay between the feet. This makes swivels easy -- speed without effort.
Therefore, tango is danced more compact and small and reduces the stride -- no big steps. The choreography moves the dance, not the steps.

Understand the Body --
With open hands and open feet, chop your hands at the hip joint to bend just a little, flex the knees -- you'll notice the body will bend quite easily at these points. Then rotate from side to side. The torso then flows into the joint. There is a separation of the action that is occurring below the hip and what is occurring above the hip. We want to have this separation!

From the hip joints down -- this is the engine that creates propulsion. From the hip joints up is the body of weight that is stacked over the engine. Stack your blocks like the blocks of a kid on a skateboard.
  • The wheels are our feet.
  • The first block is our hips.
  • The second block is our chest/rib cage.
  • The third block is our shoulders.
  • The fourth block is our head.
Now move the "skateboard" without disturbing the alignment of the "blocks." Almost everyone would go directly to the bottom, the skateboard, to move it. If  someone shifted one of the blocks, it would all fall over. Now let's put this metaphor to work and use it in our own body movement. Energize yourself from the base -- wheels/feet -- generate movement from the legs and feet -- our toned arms keep the alignment of our back.

Hold --
The tango hold is different -- everything happens between our feet, therefore a different hold is needed. In other "moderns/smooths" we have wider arms and a more open hold, and we swing our body. In tango we reduce everything and send the lady more to her left side. That changes her arm position from the top to underneath his arm for comfort. He brings his left arm in close to his ear and brings his hand in slightly more, palm facing where you are going! Invite the lady to your right side. Everything is brought in and becomes more compact. "Cup the lady." Dance with a compact and compressed feel.
  • No bounce.
  • Staccato means stepping on the beat.
  • But peel the foot off the floor. Hold the foot back until it's time to move onto the foot. In SCP it is very obvious.
  • The man creates the space for the woman to dance in.
  • The man does not put the woman onto her feet -- that's flight.
  • The woman does not pull away from the man.
  • The woman fills her space.
  • We have a contra check feel when his knee comes across his own leg.
  • The man has the woman well between his knees.

From notes prepared for a RAL Minilab, October 2016, reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, June 2023.


Alphabetical Index to
and Technique
Online since 2001 İHarold and Meredith Sears, Boulder, CO, All rights reserved.