Tango Glossary

Some terminology you will hear in Tango.

Tango originated in South America. Most say it originated and evolved from the working class dance halls of Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay (just across the river from Buenos Aires).

Therefore, many of the terms are in Spanish. Some terms have common English translations, and some don't. So here is a short guide to some of the most common terms you'll hear in Tango.

"Argentine bandoneon player Gustavo Reynoso" by Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


A musical instrument like an accordion or concertina. It's often heard in Tango music, and considered the "soul" or "heart" of Tango.

Cabeceo / mirada

A look of invitation to dance. During the cortina, dancers are looking around the room for their next partner. When you find someone looking back at you and maintaining eye contact, that is interest in you as a partner. If you maintain eye contact or smile or nod, etc, that is considered an acceptance for the next tanda. You can always confirm verbally when you are close enough to speak, if you have doubts.

On the other hand, if someone meets your eyes but looks away, that is considered a rejection. The cabeceo is a way for partners to find others with whom they want to dance, but without the possible loss of face from a verbal rejection.

Some communities use the cabeceo more than others. It's always fine just to walk up to someone and ask politely if they would like to dance.


Spanish for "curtain." It refers to a 15-30 second piece of non-tango music played to clearly indicate the close of one tanda and the beginning of another. Most people will switch partners during every cortina.


One of the skills a leader must learn is floorcraft: how to navigate among other dancing couples at a milonga. Couples move around the floor "in the line of dance." If the couple in front of you is busy doing turns, you will have to pause and improvise some "waiting" steps, or else carefully pass the stationary couple. It's a bit like learning to drive. A thoughtful follower can act like a rear-view mirror for the leader's blind spots—firm pressure to the leader's back means "Danger, don't lead me in that direction."

Minor collisions do happen. If you're in a fender-bender, just apologize graciously (even if it's not necessarily your fault) and keep moving.

Line of dance

In Tango, as in skating, we move counter-clockwise around the dance floor, staying "in the line of dance." At a practica, you will want to stay in the center of the dance floor or in a corner when practicing a new figure, so as to be outside the line of dance.


  • A Tango dance party. People dress up a little or a lot, and folks spend most of their time dancing. At these events, you will usually dance a complete tanda with one partner, then change partners. You won't be stopping to work on steps, and you won't offer critique as you would at a practica.

  • A particular style of tango akin to a polka. Milonga is a lively, fun, informal dance in a 2/4 march-like rhythm. It's one of the three main styles of tango (the other two being plain "Tango" and Tango vals / waltz.)

  • A Tango dance venue, in cities where there are such dedicated places (as in Argentina).


In Spanish, a man who spends a lot of time at milongas, implying both a skill and a lifestyle. But it also refers to the close embrace style of tango, as practiced by milongueros.


A tango practice. These are informal and can be structured or not. It's common to stop and start, work on steps, ask for and give feedback, and trade tango tips.


A tango practice with a mini-milonga at the end.


A set of 3-4 tango songs that are related by style (tango or waltz or milonga) and/or by composer, or by era, or by some other relationship. You will know the tanda is over when you hear a cortina.

Tango Nuevo

Modern tango music with an electronic or drum beat, The mood or style can vary from rap to experimental to ballad and more. (Traditional tango music never has drums or a drumbeat.) Nuevo is a useful style for beginners because the beat is easy to hear and there are so many moods to choose from.


Tango DJ. Putting together a good tanda, and then making a great playlist of tandas takes study and effort. So it's nice to show some appreciation for their talents and efforts with the acronym of TDJ.


Tango waltz, one of the 3 main styles of tango. It has a 1-2-3 rhythm, with main steps on the 1-count. The style is very flowing, has fewer pauses, and has a lot of circular figures.