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Both spanish and english words are listed here , as well as some ‘spanglish’ words or terms commonly used in teaching tango. The meanings given here are generally those in common use in Tango. A few other meanings are included for interest, but please note that many of the words here have different meanings in other contexts.
Accents not included.
A – to
Abajo – adverb, down, downwards
Adelante – adverb, forward ( opposite of Atras / backward ).
Adorno – noun m, embellishment, decoration, detail.
Aguja – noun f, needle, point. A turn executed apparently on the point of the toe. However this is definitely not ‘en pointe’ as in ballet. Typically
done in conjunction with an enrosque. For example, if one crosses right over left foot so that the right big toe is touching the floor and pointing straight down ( aguja ), and the right heel is up. Then pivot on both feet in an anticlockwise direction. At first most of the dancers weight is on the ball of the left foot. By the time a half turn has been done the feet are parallel and weight is on the balls of both feet. Continuing the turn weight goes on to the ball of the right, and the left foot could ( but not necessarily ) end up in the aguja position. There are various permutations and directions possible.
One that could be done more typically by the follower is a ‘Spiral Ocho’ ( Ocho espiral ). In a close embrace the leader invites the follower to take a small step forward with the right foot, just slightly to the leaders right side. The follower collects and pivots clockwise on the right foot. Then passes the left foot over the right foot and touches the floor with the point of the left foot ( aguja ) . As the follower transfers weight on to the left foot it is lowered to a normal pivoting position. The follower pivots ( ie, is
pivoted slightly by the leader ) into a ‘cross’. When the followers weight is fully on the left foot the couple could for example just walk out as in ‘basic
salida’. This is in effect a very miniature forward ocho, and the aguja component more likely to be the follower’s discretionary decoration, but it works well in close embrace.
Al lado – to the side
Americana – Used as a Noun (f), Adverb, or Adjective in tango to describe a step where the leader pivots the follower to step through between the couple with the followers left leg, and the leader pivots and steps through with the right leg. At that moment the couple are in an ‘espejo’ ( mirror ) position.
Amagar – verb, to threaten.In sport and tango, to feint
or to do a dummy move.
Amago, Amague- noun m, threat. In tango a feint or dummy. See
also Rebote, a bounce or rebound.
Andante – adj, walking, at walking speed.
Andar – verb, to walk.
Apertura – noun f, opening. In tango an opening movement, often to the leaders left side.
Arrastrar – verb, to drag. Arrastre – noun m, drag. cf Barrida : sweep.
Arriba – adverb, up, upwards.
Atras – adverb, backward, backwards.
Año – year.
Balancear – verb, to balance, move to and fro, rock.
Balanceo – noun m, a rocking movement to and fro or side to side.
Baldosa – noun f, paving stone, tombstone. In tango a rectangular sequence of 6 steps.
Barrer – verb, to sweep.
Barrida – noun f, sweep. In tango the movement of one’s foot sweeping the partners foot. This can be linear or circular/curved. cf Arrastre : drag.
Basic, or Basic Salida – ( See Salida below ) In tango a particular sequence of 8 steps.
Boleo ( Voleo ) – In spanish the letters b and v are sometimes interchangeable, and this word can be spelt either way. Volar (verb) means to fly, so voleo could be ‘let fly’ . Bolas are a hunting instrument used by some indigenous South Americans and gauchos. They comprise three short light ropes tied together at one end, then with stones tied to the free end of each rope. They are twirled then thrown so that they fly like helicopter blades. When they come in contact with the legs of an animal such as a rhea (S. Am flightless bird ) they wrap around the legs and the animal can be easily caught.
In tango a boleo/voleo is a whip like movement of the lower free leg caused by a sudden change of direction of the follower pivoting on
the supporting leg. May be led by changing the direction of the follower’s ocho from back to forward or vice versa. Hence voleo atras/back voleo or voleo adelante/front voleo.
Cadena – noun f, chain. In tango, any short sequence that is repeated where the leader and follower go round each other and advance slightly. Cadenas typically involve a sacada by one ( eg leader ) followed by a similar sacada by the other ( eg follower ) , joined with a few steps involving pivots or turns. So the whole effect is like a series of links of a chain.
Calesita – noun m, carousel, merry-go-round. Hold the follower balanced on the front of one foot. Keep a suitable embrace with each other so that the follower is always facing the leader. The leader can then walk around the follower, turning/pivoting the follower on one foot, and being careful to allow the follower to maintain her/his axis. This can also be used as a way to deliberately take the follower off axis, for example to lead a volcada.
Cambio de frente – literally ‘Change of front’. In tango it usually means a move where the
leader holds the follower in one spot, probably pivoting the follower on the supporting leg, and the leader moves around the follower so that they have changed direction. For example, from facing the line of dance to facing against the line of dance. The leader
may at the same time start with a parada using one foot and finish with a parada with
the other foot.
Caminar – verb, to walk.
Caminata – noun f, a walk.
Camino – noun m, road, track, path.
Caminito – noun m, little or familiar road, path.
Caricia – noun f, caress.
Carrusel – ( See Calesita above ).
Codigo – noun m, code; pleural codigos, rules.
Codigos de tango, may vary from milonga to milonga, place to place, and time to time. Someone could write a whole section about this – any volunteers ? See also Etiqueta de
tango/tango etiquette. For example; The general direction or flow or line of dance is anticlockwise around the room.
Colgar – Verb , to hang, suspend.
Colgada – Noun f, in tango an ‘out of axis’ move where the dancers hang back or lean back away from each other counterbalanced on a shared axis. Compare to Volcada.
Correr – Verb, to run.
Corrida – Noun f, run. In tango typically refers to a run or double time walk. Corridita – a little run. Corrida de toros, bullfight.
Cortar – Verb, to cut. eg in tango ‘Ocho cortado’,
a cut ocho.
(El) Corte – Noun Masculine, cut. In tango a sharp
stop or change of direction.
(La) Corte – Noun Feminine, court (royal, law).
Cosida – Teresa asks what is this ? Coser – verb, to sew. Cosido – noun m, needlework. So we think ‘Cosida’ (nf) could mean something like fancy needlework, and in Tango could mean intricate, delicate, careful and creative leg interaction . ( If anyone has a different answer please let us know . ) Have a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSJDRz3UlR4
Cruzar – verb, to cross. Cruz – noun, f, cross. In tango to cross you feet.
Cuna – noun f, cradle. Cunita – little cradle. In tango a rocking movement.
Cunear – verb, to rock, cradle. Cuneado – a rocking movement, to and fro. See also ‘va y ven’.
Decoracion – noun f, decoration. See also lapiz, rulo, rizo.
Derecha – noun f, right ( hand ) side.
Derecho – adj, right, straight, honest.
Disociacion – Noun f, dissociation, disassociation, disconnection. In tango usually refers to moving one part of the body independently of other parts. Most frequently refers to rotating chest (upper body) in a different direction to the hips (lower body), whilst maintaining a clear vertical axis.
Elegancia – Noun f, elegance.
Elegante – Adj, elegant.
Enroscar – Verb to twist or screw in.
Enrosque – In tango a twisting or corkscrew movement around one’s vertical axis. Shoulders and hips remain parallel to the floor.
Enganchar – Verb, to hook, connect, mechanically engage.
Enganche – Noun m, act of hooking up, hook, mechanical connection. See ‘Gancho’. In tango
enganche usually refers to crossing one leg behind or in front of the other without turning hips, engaging the knees, displacing one leg with the other and changing weight.
Espejo – Noun m, mirror. In Tango and in partner dance generally, any position where the two people in the couple mirror each other. For example in the ‘Americana’ the leader pivots the follower to step through between the couple with the followers left leg, and the leader pivots and steps through with the right leg.
Flecha – Noun f, arrow. In tango means make a shape like an arrow head with one’s feet, eg by crossing the legs in such a way that the toes are turned in towards each other and almost touching, but the heels are quite wide apart. In combination with an enrosque movement a leader can lead a tight and smart giro of the follower. For example, as the leader invites the follower to take a ‘forward’ step starting a clockwise giro he could twist his hips slightly in the opposite direction to his chest lead and cross his right foot over his left foot forming a neat ‘flecha’. He pivots 90 degrees on the ball of his right foot, uncrosses his left foot, and is then with his feet together facing the follower in a normal standing position as the follower takes her ‘side’ step. Then as he leads her ‘back’ step continuing her giro, he neatly crosses his right foot behind his left foot creating another ‘flecha’. In other words, the leader is doing the same steps as the follower, but in miniature by doing ‘flechas’ and assisting the movement with appropriate enrosque movements (disassociation) using his hips.
Gancho – Noun m , hook.In tango refers to hooking ones lower leg around ones partner; usually around their leg. A double gancho is where both hook on each other simultaneously. A ‘Leg wrap’
is a bigger movement involving wrapping the whole or most of the leg around the partner’s leg or body.
Girar – Verb, to turn.
Giro – Noun m, turn. ( ‘Hacer un giro’ – to make a turn ). In tango ‘giro’ usually means to take a turn round one’s partner. The expression ‘giro pattern’ typically means these four steps: ‘Forward’, ‘Side’, ‘Back’, ‘Side’, so that the follower travels around the leader in four even, equal, precise steps that form an even square or circle around the leader. The ‘Giro’, or journey round one’s partner can be started with any of these steps , but once a giro is clearly indicated and led the follower will continue with the giro pattern until led to do something different ( eg, speed up , slow down, stop, change direction ).
We could describe the four steps of a clockwise giro pattern for a follower thus : [ Note that all of the movements are led by a clear invitation by the leader to move. The follower does not do any of this without being led. ] 1) Forward. The follower is invited to place her/his weight on the front of her/his left foot. She/he then is led to pivot her hips anticlockwise 45 degrees on the ball of her left foot. She is then led to step forward with her right foot around the leader, to her left ( around his right side ). She should try to step one quarter of the way round him. She should try to maintain the same distance from the leader, and not gradually move out and away from the leader ,or get closer, unless led to do so. The idea of this is not complicated , but the precision of leading and following it well takes much practice. Once she has stepped clearly into the right place with her right foot, she then will transfer her weight on to that (right) foot. Then she brings her left foot neatly up to her right foot ( she ‘collects’ her feet together ). She does not change weight, but keeps her weight all this time on the ball of her right foot. She is on an axis which runs vertically through her centre of gravity and her supporting foot. So she can be pivoted ( clockwise, 180 degrees ) on that axis. 2) Side. At the end of the forward step the follower has been led to collect, and is now pivoted so that she can take a side step with her left foot. As she takes the side step her hips, body and head should be facing her partner. As with the forward step, the side step must be around the leader, being careful not to get closer or further away. After the follower has transferred weight onto her left foot, she then collects, and is ready to pivot back clockwise. 3/Back. This is the hardest part, pivoting the follower back so that she can take an even backstep that is equal in length to the other steps and continuing clockwise. The follower’s hips are almost expected to do a three-quarters turn or 270 degrees, but the pivot on the ball of her left foot is in fact only about 180 degrees if she has correctly stepped sideways on the ‘side’ step. So one of the things to check to make that ‘back’ step easier is to make sure the ‘side’ step is done properly, and the follower is not cheating by doing a sloppy mixed side/forward step. 4) Side. At the end of the back step the follower has been led to collect, and should not need to pivot very much, so that she can take a side step with her left foot. As she takes the side step her hips, body and head should be facing her partner. As before, the side step must be around the leader, being careful not to get closer or further away. After the follower has transferred weight onto her left foot, she then collects, and can be ready to continue with the next forward step, or not.
A useful exercise is for two people to face each other, and to hold each others elbows, left hand to right elbow and right hand to left elbow. Now walk around each other without letting go. Both do the same steps together at the same time : Forward, Side, Back, Side, Forward … etc. Make sure you step, collect and pivot without changing weight, and then step with the other foot. Now try in the other direction, anticlockwise. Now try leading and following this idea. Now try changing direction. The easiest is to turn a forward step into a full forward pivot step ( Forward ocho ), so you can change a clockwise giro into an anti-clockwise giro, or vice versa. Once you are comfortable with this exercise try changing the direction of the giro from the back step ( back ocho ). Also try speeding up or slowing down slightly. Try stopping on a side step, and then changing direction. Try stopping at any point ! You are now starting to play.
…ito/a – an ending placed on a word to make it little or familiar. See caminito.
Izquierda – noun, left ( hand ) side.
Izquierdo – adj, left.
Lapiz – Pencil.Plural,lapices. In tango a decoration drawing
a circle with the big toe of the free leg, like a small ‘ronde de jambe’ ballet movement but with tango posture.
Leg wrap – see Gancho.
Line of dance ( LOD ); The general direction or flow or line of dance is anticlockwise around the room.
Mano – noun f, hand.
Marcar – verb, to mark, to indicate, to lead. Marcar el compas – to keep or beat time. Marca – noun f. In tango may be used to mean the lead.
Media luna- Half moon, semicircle. In tango, a semicircle or half giro usually starting with a ‘back ocho’ step followed by a ‘side’
step, then a ‘forward ocho’ step; often finishing with a second
‘forward ocho’ step in the other direction.
Milonga – noun f. has two meanings in Argentine Tango. a) It is one of the principal forms of Argentine Tango dancing which include Milonga, Tango Vals and Tango. b) It is the word given to an Argentinian Tango dance function or party. As in ‘We are going to a Milonga’.
Molinete – noun derived from Molino. Action created by acting like a mill.
Molino – noun m, mill ;eg molino de cafe, coffee mill or coffee grinder. In tango balance
( usually ) follower clearly on ball of one foot and turn them by walking round.
If the person ( usually leader ) walking round gradually moves slightly away, the other person is taken ‘out of axis’. If this is exaggerated it is sometimes called a ‘puente’
or bridge [ hence ‘molino con puente’ ]. An exaggerated
puente may be uncomfortable for many people and is therefore avoided. A slight out of axis position, tipping the follower towards the leader, from a molino can be used to set up a ‘volcada’.
Morder – verb, to bite
Mordida – noun f, bite, in tango a sandwich. ( Could also be a bribe ).
O – Or
Ocho – Eight. In tango ‘a figure eight’, which
can be created by stepping forwards and pivoting ( ‘forward ocho’/ ‘ocho adelante’ ), or stepping backwards and pivoting( ‘back ocho’/ ‘ocho atras’ ).
Ocho cortado – ‘cut ocho’.
Ocho espiral – ‘spiral ocho’, using an aguja foot movement. See ‘aguja’.
Parada – noun f, a stop, the action of stopping, or a place where one stops, block, bus stop.
Parar – verb, to stop.
Patada – noun f, kick.
Pausa – noun f, a pause. In tango there is sometimes no difference, and at other times a subtle difference between a parada and a pausa. A pausa can imply the sort of pause that would happen by taking a breath, still imperceptibly moving, whilst anticipating the moment you both move together.
“Payada, a musical and poetic duel between two singers who also played the guitar ”
Quote from “Argentina’s White Lies, Myths and the Tango 1700-1900” , pages 46 and 47, by Rodreguez King-Dorset.
Payador, a gaucho minstrel..
Payar (verb, Argentina and Chile), to improvise songs to a guitar accompaniment.
Planear – Verb, to glide.
Planeo – In tango, a large sweeping circular movement of the free leg, gliding just above the floor, whilst pivoting on the supporting leg.
Postura – noun f, posture [ nothing to do with ‘Postre’- pudding, dessert.]
Presencia – noun f, presence.
Propiocepcion – noun m, proprioception. In relation to dance and movement refers to the body’s sense of where the various parts of the body are and how they are moving. For example you could raise your hand over your head and know exactly where it is without looking. So, taking this concept a little further in tango, one thing that we would like to develop is a greater sense of ‘propiocepcion’ (proprioception) of both people in the couple , so that we both know not only exactly where our own legs, feet, arms, and bodies are, but also exactly where our partner’s legs, feet, arms and bodies are.
Puente – noun m, bridge. See ‘Molino con puente’ for an example.
Quebrado/a – Adjective, broken.
Quebrar – Verb, to break.
Quebrada – Noun, a break, a gully or ravine. If you were
riding a horse straight across the pampa and you came to a quebrada, to cross it you would probably have to turn and go down the side at an angle.
Quebrada – In tango, ‘twist and bend and drop’. Sometimes referred to as a ‘dip’, but as done by gauchos and early tango dancers it is usually stronger or more forceful than a dip. It was even considered lewd or improper by some people, and some venues discouraged or prohibited quebradas.
Rapido – adjective, fast, quick.
– adverb, quickly.
– noun, fast train.
Rebote – noun m, bounce, rebound. See also ‘Amago’.
Rulo o (or) Rizo – noun m. Curl. In tango a decoration, or a small ‘lapiz’.
Salida, or Basic Salida – noun f. Exit, way out, opening, departure, opportunity, a military sortie. In tango refers to a useful sequence of 8 steps commonly taught as a way to start building tango skills and understanding.
Sacar – verb, to extract one thing from another, take out, take off (clothes), get, in tennis to serve.
Sacada -noun f. In tango, an invasion of the partners space between their feet and/or a displacement of the partner’s leg. There may be slight or gentle physical contact during a sacada, or none at all so there is just the illusion of contact.
Sandwich – noun m, sandwich, in tango describes situation where one’s foot is sandwiched by your partner. A double sandwich is also possible. ( See Mordida )
Sarandeo – see Zarandeo
Soltar – verb, to let go.
Soltada – noun f, in tango a move where the couple temporarily let go of each other. For
example allowing one to do a complete turn.
Tanguera(s)- noun f, Female tango dancer(s). Tanguero – noun m, Tango dancer ( any sex ). Tangueros – noun m, Tango dancers.
Tocar – verb, to touch. Toque – noun m, a touch, a musical beat ( eg a drum beat ).
Traspie – noun m, trip, stumble. In tango it is a ‘chasse’ step; typically step/close/step, or step/cross/step, and can be sideways, forwards or backwards. Usually ‘quick, quick, slow’ , but could be ‘quick, quick, quick’ sometimes in tango vals . It may also be possible to do several chasse steps in succession , eg side/close/side/close/side/close where appropriate, most obviously in milonga.
Va y ven, also Vaiven – Go and come, to and fro. See Cuneado. Va y ven is also sometimes used more specifically to mean a rocking movement where the rocking is done more by the hips/lower body and less by the whole body .
Vals -noun m, Waltz. Also Tango Vals and Vals Criollo.
Volcar – verb, to tip, tip over.
Volcada – noun f, in tango an ‘out of axis move’ where the follower is tipped towards the leader. The leader will counterbalance the move by slightly leaning towards the follower. Compare with Colgada.
Yeites – noun m, tricks
Zapato – noun m, shoe. Zapateo – noun m, rapid foot movements eg as in Chacarera or Tap dancing.
Zarandear – verb, to shake vigorously. Zarandeo – noun m, ( in dance ) a shaking or swaying of skirts and petticoats, eg as done in a Chacarera.