Teaching styles may vary from class to class, but the terminology and the names for all the steps and techniques always seem to be in Spanish. There is no need to learn all these, but we felt that a glossary of some of the most common terms you might encounter would be useful.
This is not an exhaustive list, so if you hear something in a class or elsewhere that you would like us to add, then let us know.
abrazo: The dance hold (embrace).
apilado: The lean towards each other that characterises the tango embrace (from 'stacked').
axis: The centre vertical line around which one's balance is maintained.
barrida: When one partner's foot appears to sweep or push the other's foot out of the way, although this is frequently an illusion as the lead still comes from the chest connection (from 'to sweep'). see llevada
boleo: A flick of the leg in a whip-like motion as an accent to the dance, usually behind or around the dancer's own other leg (from 'to throw'). Also known as a voleo (from 'to fly').
cabeceo: A technique used by a leader to signal across a dance floor that they want to dance with a particular follower, without having to get up and talk to her. See mirada.
cadencia: The phrasing of the music, and how you interpret it in the dance ('cadence'). This is often used to refer to the rise and fall of musical emphasis, and the corresponding rise and fall in height, pace, or anything else in the dance itself.
calesita: A rotation where the follower is led to pivot on the spot by the leader walking around them in a close circle (carousel). This can be with the follower on or off axis.
caminar: The 'tango walk' (from 'to walk').
change of weight: To move your weight from one foot to the other, changing which is the free foot and which is the standing foot.
codigos: A series of rules and regulations used in 'traditional' tango venues intended to suck all the joy out of dancing. These rules are rarely published anywhere, but dancers found to be in breach of them may find they never get to dance or may even be asked to leave the establishment.
colgada: An off-axis move where the follower's axis is displaced away from the leader, hanging their weight off the leader's frame (from 'suspended' or 'hung'). See volcada.
collect: To bring the feet together without changing weight or splitting the weight between the feet.
corte: This can refer to a break or pause in the dance, either by syncopation or by holding still for a period (from 'to cut').
cruzada: Where one foot is crossed in front of the other in a collected position ('cross'). This term is rarely used outside of traditional classes, and has largely been replaced by the English term 'the cross'.
desplazmiento: Displacing the partner's foot or leg, using one's own foot or leg ('displacement'). Also see sacada.
dibujo: A decoration that involves moving the toe of the free foot in circles or other small movements on the floor (from 'drawing' or 'sketch').
enganche: Occurs when one dancer hooks or wraps their leg around their partner's leg (from 'to hook' or 'to couple'). Also known as a gancho.
enrosque: To wrap one leg around the other whilst entering or exiting a pivot (to coil or twist). This can be done by the leader or the follower. It may include a change of weight, or the weight may stay on one foot throughout the move.
escenario: A style of tango primarily intended for stage performances and demonstrations. It uses more flamboyant and showy moves than salon tango, and may not confine itself to progression around the ronda.
fantasia: See escenario
free foot (or leg): The foot (or leg) that is not supporting any of the dancer's weight and so is free to move disturbing the dancer's balance or axis. See standing foot
gancho: See enganche (hook).
giro: Any turn or rotation with the follower proceding around the leader (see calesita). The basic version starts with the leader pivoting in the centre and the follower performing a molinette around the outside, but many other variations are used. Pronunciation: like 'hero' (from 'to turn').
llevada: A barrida that includes a height change, usually by lifting the partner's foot away from the floor (from 'to transport').
milonga (1): A form of dance that historically preceded the tango. The music for milonga is often written in 2/4 time and is significantly faster than tango, which results in the steps used being more compact and repetitive. This gives the dance a more bouncy nature than tango, and some people see it as 'the tango party dance'.
milonga (2): A social dance or event where people go to dance tango. 'Traditional' milongas may follow the tango codigos, whereas more modern milongas will adopt a far more relaxed approach to dancing.
milonguero: One who frequents the milongas. Also a style of dancing tango that involves a much closer and less flexible hold than other styles.
mirada: The 'look' that precedes a cabeceo that initiates the non-verbal communication between a leader and follower resulting in an invitation - and potentially an acceptance - to dance.
molinette: A sequence of forward and back half-ochos separated by side-steps done in a circle (little windmill or fan).
neolonga: A milonga (dance event) where modern or alternative music is played instead of traditional tango music.
neotango: A mix of tango styles, including salon and tango escenario, usually danced to modern or non-traditional music. It is led and followed in exactly the same way as traditional tango, but usually exhibits a wider variety of moves than traditional, including the option to break and re-establish connection with your partner at times, and use moves or steps inherited from other dances.
nuevo tango: Not a separate dance style, as many believe, but an approach to teaching and understanding tango (any style) that uses the study and understanding of the movement and connection between the two partners (kinesiology) rather than simple repetition.
ocho atras: Backward ochos.
ocho cortado: An attenuated ocho resulting in the follower ending in a cross (cruzada). This is a rhythmic step often used in milonga.
ochos: Pivoting forward or backward, with the feet together during the pivot, in a figure-eight pattern (hence the name).
parada: To move and block a partner's foot by placing your own foot in the way, and in contact with their standing foot (from 'to stop').
pasada: To step over a pasada or block (from 'to pass').
pista: Dance floor.
promenade: A step where the follower and leader walk in unfolded embrace so they are both facing in the same direction.
quebrada: A sudden stop in the dancing used to accent the rhythm or create dynamism (a break).
ronda: An anti-clockwise route around the outer edge of the dance floor or danceable area where tango dancers progress. As tango is a traveling dance, this allows everyone on the floor to be able to move without collisions.
sacada: Literally to 'take away space' from your partner, where your leg moves or displaces your partner's leg, usually during a step (from 'to take away').
salÃ³n: A style of dancing for the milonga or small club, as opposed to stage tango or Fantasia.
sandwich: Where one partner's feet 'sandwich' the other partner's foot by having one foot either side of theirs, overlapping slightly with the heels touching. Also known as the sanguichito.
sanguichito: The traditional term for the sandwich.
seguir: To follow.
sentada: A sitting action.
soltada: A solo move, where the leader breaks the connection for a moment to allow one or other partner (or occasionally both) to do something on their own.
split weight: When a dancer's weight is distributed across both feet, either evenly or with most supported by one foot and some supported by the other. In tango the usual position (esp. for the follower) is for the weight to be 100% on one foot and the other foot unweighted.
standing foot (or leg): The foot (or leg) that is supporting 100% of the dancer's weight. See free leg
syncopation: To modify rhythm by a shift of accents on a beat.
trabada: A lock step (from 'fastened').
vals: A waltz done to tango music in waltz time.
volcada: An off-axis move where the follower's axis is displaced towards the leader, 'spilling' their weight into the leader's frame (literally 'to spill'). See colgada.
voleo: See boleo.