Tango dance steps are hot, passionate, and precise. They are also one of the most popular social dances around. In spite of its reputation, the basic dance steps for a tango are quite easy to break down.
Before You Dance, the Frame
One of the more important aspects of the tango is the frame, or the way the dancers hold their bodies with each other. The dance position is "closed," that is, with the lead's right hand on the follow's left shoulder blade and left hand extended to the side, grasping the follow's right hand. The follow's left hand is placed midway down the lead's right arm. While this gives the appearance of the arm resting, no actual weight should be placed on the lead's arm.
The lead and follow should look to the side, towards the left and right, respectively, with spines very straight and a slight tilt back to the follow's head. Occasionally there will be tango dance steps that require them to snap their heads around and look at each other (often with a smoldering look) but their heads should always go back to the rest of the frame.
That frame is held through many of the steps, with only the tilt of the bodies changing (for example, in the corte). While this may seem like it makes the dance too rigid for some, in reality the stability of the dance frame makes all the rest of the tango dance steps more elegant.
Tango Dance Steps: The Basic
The easiest way to remember the basic tango dance step is to think of the acronym T-A-N-G-O, since there are five parts to the basic. At the same time, the steps have a rhythm and duration that goes as follows: "Slow…slow…quick-quick-slow…"
Like many ballroom dances, the lead and follow mirror each others steps in the basic. Many of the more complicated tango dance steps give each part their own specific roles to play. The lead also always begins with the left foot, the follow with the right, and the lead steps are "heel leads" - that is, the heel of the foot comes down first, not the toe.
- T (slow): the lead steps forward with the left foot, the follow mirrors by stepping back with the right.
- A (slow): the lead steps forward with the right foot, mirrored again by the follow's right.
- N (quick): the lead steps forward again with the left, a slightly smaller step, preparing to step to the side with the right.
- G (quick): the lead steps to the right with the right foot, using a technique known as "collecting" the foot. This simply means that the right foot comes up alongside the left before stepping to the right, and doesn't move in the diagonal.
- O (slow): probably the most sultry step in the basic, this is a slow almost-drag of the left foot towards the right, ready to begin the basic again. For the follow, it's the joining of the right foot to the left with a slow, deliberate motion.
Other Simple Tango Steps
One of the more flashy, dramatic, and very simple tango dance steps is the corte. It has a practical use when used on a crowded dance floor. It starts, not with a step forward, but rather with the lead taking a step back with the left foot, the follow forward on the right. This puts both dancers into a bit of a lunge, with the lead's right leg and the follow's left held straight.
The key to the corte lies in the dance frames, though, which are held firm while the torsos rotate towards the lead's left and both bodies tilt towards the straight leg. This position is held for the first two slow beats ( T…A…) and then both dancers draw their bent legs back up to finish the "N-G-O" in the same way that the basic is finished.
There are many other dance steps and variations, such as the promenade, the open fan, the corte-to-fan, the apache throw-out, leg hooks, just to name a few. The best way to learn them is through actual dance instructors at studios. While some steps can be learned through online resources and videos, nothing substitutes for a real live teacher, and even better, they're more fun!