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International Tango

by Wayne & Barbara Blackford

What we know as American and International styles of tango were developed from the bars, brothels, and streets of Buenos Aires. It arrived in Europe in the early 1900’s, and the Europeans fell in love with it. But, because they felt it was a bit vulgar, they removed many of the intricate leg movements in order to adapt it to the ballroom floor. International tango is considered a “smooth” dance (like waltz and foxtrot). There is no rise and fall even though the footwork involves using the heel (forward movements) and ball/toe (backward movements) of the foot. There is no body swing.

International Tango is danced with determination, and all steps are placed purposefully, using quicks and slows for contrast. It is very much a “macho” rhythm, meaning the steps are sharp. The foot should hit the floor and “stick”, never skim across the floor. There is no foot swivel. Put the foot down and then turn the body on that foot. Don’t rotate the foot after it hits the floor.

In other smooth rhythms, the body is always in motion, but in Tango the body doesn’t move past the foot. This form of tango demands that you not drag or shuffle your feet, but that you strike the floor with your feet fairly quickly, occasionally referred to as staccato. The foot and body move together and arrive together. When the foot stops the body stops. Let’s imagine two cars are approaching a red light. One driver hurries up to the light, stops abruptly, and waits. The other driver takes his foot off the gas and slows. The light turns green as he approaches; he then gently accelerates again. The first car is TANGO. The second is foxtrot, slowly arriving and continuing on without ever coming to a complete stop.

The most basic rhythm in tango is QQS, but tango has many variations of timing. An example is Closed Promenade (SQQS) and Progressive Link (QQ). These two figures make up two full measures of music. This sometimes creates problems when cueing. Be aware of the “split” measures. Stacking the cues will help enable you to cue on time, most of the time.

Here are some other timing variations in some advanced figures --

Phase V:

Five Step - QQQQ; S

Promenade Link - SQQ;

Stalking Walks - SS; SS;

Phase VI:

Chase - SQQ; QQ

Double Closed Promenade - SQQ; QQS;

Rumba Cross - QQS; S

The tango hold is quite different and more compact than in other rhythms. The man’s right hand is lower and placed further across the woman’s back, to her spine. There is a sense of “locking” yourselves together. There should be contact between partners from the hips to the knees. The tight hold and sharp, aggressive steps create a wonderful feel for the dance and its character.


From clinic notes prepared for the ROUNDALAB convention, 2011 and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)  Newsletter, May 2014.


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If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.



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