Dancing the Tango
& 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
- 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
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.
| 2 Left Turns
||Reverse Turn / Closed
|Back Turning Rock 3; Box
|From SCP, Forward &
Feather to BJO
|From SCP, Forward Pickup
Remember, tango is just something you haven't learned yet.
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.)
Tango is totally different from all the other dances in the "smooth"
rhythms -- as far as movement and hold is concerned. Consider how the
Therefore, tango is danced more compact and small and reduces the
stride -- no big steps. The choreography moves the dance, not the steps.
- 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
- Tango -- The hips and body stay between the feet. This
makes swivels easy -- speed without effort.
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.
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.
- 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.
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
- 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
- The man has the woman well between his knees.
prepared for a RAL Minilab, October 2016, reprinted
in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)
Newsletter, June 2023.