What is Argentine Tango?

Argentine Tango consists of a variety of styles that developed in different regions and eras, and in response to the crowding of the venue and even the fashions in clothing. Even though they all developed in Argentina and Uruguay, they were also exposed to influences reimported from Europe and North America. Consequently there is a good deal of confusion and overlap between the styles as they are now danced - and fusions continue to evolve.

In sharp contrast to ballroom tango, Argentine Tango relies heavily on improvisation, and in theory, every tango is improvised. Although there are many steps and sequences of steps that a tango dancer learns, every dancer is free to modify them.

Argentine Tango is danced counterclockwise around the outside of the dance floor (the so-called "line of dance"); cutting across the middle of the floor is frowned on. It can be acceptable to stop briefly in the line of dance to perform stationary figures, as long as the other dancers are not unduly impeded. (There is a saying about this: "If you look down the line of dance and there is space for you -- you are probably keeping everyone else waiting behind you.") Dancers are expected to respect the other couples on the floor; colliding with, or stepping on the feet of another couple is to be strenuously avoided. There are two sides to this: on one hand it is bad etiquette towards the other dancers (and shows your "incompetence" from a strict honor based judgment) - but even more so the leader wants to protect his lady and give her a most memorable time while dancing with him, any collision would just disturb that.

Differences from Ballroom Tango

Argentine Tango is danced in a relatively close embrace, with many dancers choosing to remain in chest-to-chest (and sometimes head-to-head) contact, whereas the feet are apart. The couple therefore looks like a "V" on the reverse. The walk is one of the most important elements, and dancers prefer to keep their feet in close contact with the floor at nearly all times, the ankles and knees brushing as one leg passes the other. A striking difference between Argentine tango and ballroom tango is that the follower remains upright on her axis, or may even lean toward the leader (and in a close embrace dances "chest-to-chest" with the leader). In ballroom tango this posture is unheard of. In fact, in ballroom tango the follower shyly pulls her upper body away from the leader whenever he draws her toward him. But ballroom tango dancers dance close, too, only in a different way. In ballroom tango, experienced followers are not shy about thrusting their hips and upper thighs toward the leader.

Another interesting difference is that in Argentine tango, the leader may freely step with his left foot when the follower steps with her left foot. In English, this is sometimes referred to as a "crossed" or "uneven" walk or a "crossed system." In ballroom tango this is unheard of and considered incorrect (unless the leader and follower are facing the same direction).

A third difference is that Argentine tango music is much more varied than ballroom tango music, allowing Argentine tango dancers to spend the whole night dancing only Argentine tango. There is a great variety of music. Tne tango orchestra of Francisco Canaro alone produced more than 4000 titles.

Unlike the social version of ballroom tango which has been standardized and thus been relatively fixed in style for many decades, Argentine tango is a constantly evolving dance (even on the social dance level) and musical form, with continual innovation in Argentina and in major tango centers elsewhere in the world.

These innovations may offend some traditionalists (there are quite many discussions about what still can be considered tango), but they make sure that it remains a relevant to contemporary culture and society. Some teachers trained in the ballroom style are now trying to standardize Argentine tango and even use ballroom terms like Gold, Silver, and Bronze when describing their course of study. This attempt at standardization is offensive to those who value the evolving nature of Argentine tango. So on one hand the traditionalists are offended that Argentine tango is evolving while others are offended that others are trying to standardize it.


While Argentine tango does not teach amalgamations of steps like swing, salsa, or ballroom dances do, there are some recurring figures that are taught. Here is a fairly typical order of steps that may be taught in a beginner to intermediate class.

  • Walks - a couple, in embrace, walks in unison
  • Cruzada - follower crosses her legs during a walk
  • Lapiz - "the pencil" - figures traced by the toe as an adornment
  • Salida Cruzada, or "eight-step basic" - salida as "the way out" onto the dance floor
  • Ocho - a figure-8 traced by the follower's feet. There are front and back ochos.
  • Molinete - "pinwheel" a spinning figure from the follower's grapevining around the leader
  • Giro - a left-hand turn. sometimes refers to the leader's part of the molinete.
  • Sacada - the lead "blocks" the follower's leg to force a transfer of weight
  • Gancho - one dancer hooks their leg around their partner's leg

Related Dances

Argentine Tango dancers usually enjoy two other related dances: Vals (waltz) and Milonga.

Tango dancers dance the Vals much like they do tango only with a waltz rhythm that has one beat per measure. This produces a rather relaxed, smooth flowing dancing style in contrast to Viennese Waltz where the dancers often take 3 steps per measure and turn almost constantly.

Milonga is a fast dance with steps similar to tango, but somewhat simplified because of the constant movement of the feet and lack of pauses as in Argentine tango. Although Milonga uses the same basic elements as Tango, it is much nearer to the African roots, especially in that it requires a greater relaxation of legs and body. Movement is normally faster, and pauses are not made; as the beat goes on, dancers continue setting their feet. It is rather a kind of rhythmic walking without complicated figures, with a much more "rustic" style than Tango.

Milonga is also the name given to tango dance parties. This double meaning of the word milonga can be confusing unless one knows the context in which the word "milonga" is used. People who dance at milongas are known as milongueros.