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Talking Tango

by Wayne & Barbara Blackford

We have heard many round dancers say they feel that Tango is a very difficult dance. We used to feel the same way, and we are not going to say that dancing Tango is easy. It is, however, easier than dancing Waltz or Foxtrot. Tango is a dance with no rise and fall, no sway, and it is not considered a moving dance. By that we mean it has no flight. In Waltz and Foxtrot, the individual steps move you and we swing the body outside the feet. In Tango, the body remains between the feet (more of a natural walking action with a "flat foot" versus heel to toe), and the choreography moves you, not the steps.

A basic understanding of the body and the characteristics of the rhythm will greatly increase your comfort and pleasure in dancing the Tango.

Tango Hold

The tango hold (dance position) 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, tucked around behind and under the man's upper arm, will create 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. We must continue to hold our upper bodies erect and the right sides back (left sides forward) 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

Tango movement is different than in Waltz and Foxtrot. There is no rise and fall or body flight. The International Style of Tango is a kind of staccato movement -- you move and hold like a cat stalking a mouse. The American Style of Tango is more of a deliberate glide. There is no body sway in the basic tango figures because there is no rise and fall. The shoulders should be kept level at all times. Most of the tango action is created in the legs. The upper body is quiet.


The footwork in Tango is very different, mainly because of the lack of rise and fall. The use of the inside edge of the foot is very common, especially in making a turn. The DRAW of the Tango Close should be done slowly. The full length of the slow beat is used to bring the feet together. Then move quickly into the next figure. The CLOSE in Tango is different from the close in other rhythms. The foot should close slightly back for the man; and slightly forward for the woman, keeping the knees flexed and slightly turned left. The feet are picked up from the floor and placed -- there is no flow as in Foxtrot and Waltz.

As walking steps are taken toward line of dance, the man's feet and body will be facing toward line and center. On the forward steps, he will lead with his right hip and shoulder. On backing steps, he will lead backward with his right hip and shoulder. This action causes the upper legs actually to cross and will make the walk curve to the left.


Tango is written in 2/4 or 4/4 time. Roundalab uses 4/4 time in their figure descriptions. The Basic Step consists of two slow steps and a break step (sometimes called a Tango Close, Tango Draw, Touch, Arch. Roundalab uses Tango Draw). This takes two bars of 4/4 time. The Tango Draw timing is QQS. The last slow count finishes by placing one foot beside the arch of the supporting foot without weight (touch).

Get Up and Dance

If you haven't been dancing Tango, it may seem exotic. But some of the unfamiliar figure names correspond to figures that we know:

Tango Waltz/Foxtrot

Reverse Turns 2 Left Turns

Rock Turn Back Turning Rock 3; Back Half Box

Open Promenade From SCP Feather to BJO

Progressive Link Traveling Contra Check

Promenade Link From SCP Forward Pickup Touch

Tango is wonderfully danceable. Add this rhythm to your repertoire, and it will only increase your dancing enjoyment.

Originally published in the Roundalab Journal, Winter 1993-94; published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, May 2011.


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