Twisted Body Dance Theory of Argentine Tango

by Igor Polk, June 5, 2016 - May 19, 2014

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Book:  Dance Theory of Argentine Tango
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A Saw. Feet Together Positions

A free leg extends naturally when a torso takes a certain pose. The more the torso is charged, the more the leg extends. When the charge is decreased, the leg extends less bringing itself to the standing leg. This is the way to lead and perform various degrees of "feet brought together" which are led. Once a dancer continuously amplifies and decreases the pose, it results in a saw-like movement of the leg outside-inside, hence the term. It is an actual Tango figure. Let me introduce some useful terms:

In-Saw is a decrease of a pose bringing the free foot to the standing foot.
Out-Saw is an increase, amplification of a pose resulting in extension of a free foot away from the standing foot.

During In-Saw phase, the standing leg might straighten a little, the body may go up. It is good when the goal is to bring feet together. During Out-Saw phase - body may go down, the standing leg might bend more in the knee.

Good performance of the saw when it actually is controlled by a dancer's torso twist is important.

A man can not stand on one leg while another foot is near it without a pose or a tilt in the body. It is required to maintain balance. In tango dance certain tilt of the body is not acceptable. It is when a foot comes from a side. It is a wrong thing to do. I am not able to say more about it now. Hence, a minimal pose is still required when a free foot is near the standing foot and it is not a side pose. Hence, there are several ways to keep feet together when one foot is free: when it is in a minimal pose, like on the picture. But not a side one. It can be a minimal Parada or, more often, minimal Liberty.


Barrida is an element of Argentine Tango. The word "barrido" means a "sweep". During Barrida, a foot "sweeps" the floor by sweeping it with the ball of the free foot. Also, during a performance of this element, a man and a woman are often making barrida together in contrary direction with their free feet in touch, and therefore, free feet does not necessarily go to a standing foot. That is sometimes called Arrastre, "dragging".

Let us call a change of pose with two saws a Barrida for convenience. Since in tango, a foot should always try to stay in touch with the floor, it does look as sweeping. As a default, a foot goes to the foot and brushes near it going to a new position and a knee goes to the knee and brushes passing it. So, barrida consists of two Saws: in- and out-. Of course, it can be done in both directions.

The saws in barrida have a peculiarity. The body does not move up. The leg is directed by a linear movement of torso center. A torso center moves just like in Cunita. It is important to find the right tension in the body so that barrida move feels like totally controlled by the movement of this center. Since the standing leg is slightly bend, the knee goes to the knee first, before the foot goes to the foot. When the leg goes away, the foot goes first, the knees stay together. The movement of the leg is a natural, intuitive, instinctive movement as a reaction to a body change: the body is driving.

So, Barrida is a change of pose staying on one leg when the free foot changes its direction.

Let us agree to use the term Barrida, when a dancer performs the movement himself or is led from torso. If the "sweeping action" is performed by actual "dragging" the foot with another foot, let us call it Arrastre. So, in Arrastre the leg is driving.

Here is a diagram of Arrastre. It does not have to be arrastre. It can be barridas: a man can move his leg or not, but the woman will if she is led. It is possible to play a game of the lead-follow exchange with Arrastre. A man' part is on the left diagram below the woman's part. Both are on the R leg. He moves from 1) Parada to 2) Side position facing the woman. The woman here is facing him. She moves from 1) Side position to 2) Parada. The figure looks central-symmetrical.

The second way. If a man is on R, and a woman is on L, than at 1) both are in Parada, and at 2) Side.

"Barrida Star" pattern generator

Here is an elementary "Barrida Star" pattern generator. Standing on R leg, from 1) Side position barrida is performed to 2) Parada as described above.

Also it is possible to make barrida transition behind the standing leg and the pose the body comes to is nothing but 3) Liberty.

The angles of legs obtained during the performance of barridas approximately are as shown on the drawing.

Barrida transition is abbreviated like: -1B-> . On the drawing it is shown as an arrow along the legs.

Combined "Barrida-Cunita" pattern generator

Here is a diagram of combined "Barrida-Cunita" pattern generator. It allows progression around the floor in a honeycomb pattern. Essentially every Barrida-Cunita present a fancy step. Numerous patterns can be selected with this pattern generator.

For example, here is a subset of Barrida-Cunita pattern generator. It itself is a pattern generator. It performs cunita movements forward or backward with intermediate barrida to the side. For example, like this, from bottom up:

Cunita forward, Barrida side with L leg, Barrida forward with L leg, Cunita forward on L leg, Barrida side with R leg, Barrida forward with R leg, Cunita forward on R, and so on... A nice looking figure which can be done backward, or interchanging forward or backward with musical phrasing.

Another example is of moving sideway in a serpent pattern.

Barrida can be done immediately from Liberty to Parada and back. It may not look as a familiar barrida, but based on my definition of barrida, it is. To obtain a skill to make this graceful movement one has to strive for the perfect poses and smooth change between them.

Overall, the swipping trajectory on the floor can be any. A circular one is called Lapis.


Zig-Zag Walk

Combining this barrida with Cunita creates a famous Zig-Zag walk. It can be done forward or backward, alone or together with a partner. Of course, it can be done with rhythm variations described in "Cunita" Pattern Generator chapter. One of the rhythms is to make Cunita move three times, then barrida to next one. Cunita three times, for example, forward-backward-forward, or backward-forward-backward, can be called Triple-Step. To make anything "triple" is a good way to play the rhythm.

Zig-Zag walk with triple-cunita can be arranged as this ("Step" here is one movement of Cunita ):

Order Small figure Starts with leg Takes time How many contacts with the floor
1. Step-Barrida-Step-Barrida Y 1 measure 2
2. Triple-Cunita-Barrida Y 1 measure 3
3. Step-Barrida-Step-Barrida ~Y 1 measure 2
4. Triple-Cunita-Barrida ~Y 1 measure 3

This is an example of structurizing the dance. Every next measure is different, but similar. Every next phrase (2 measures) is different, but similar. This feels magical.

Center movement in Zig-Zag Walk

During Zig-Zag Walk, the torso center moves like on the drawing on the left. If, during several steps, a line is drawn by the center it will look like on the right diagram.

Side Step Left From Cunita with Barrida Inside

While trying to make Side Step Left From Cunita twice as slow, you will find that it is not quite nice. Something feels stuck in the middle. Energy wave is lost. Let us insert a barrida inside.

1) - Side L position,
2) - Side R position,
3) - Parada
4) - Liberty

1)-2) Side to Side change,
2)-3) Barrida
3)-4) Cunita

This is for a man. Women's movements are corresponding, but the 2)-3) Barrida will be performed with the right leg behind the standing leg which is unusual in this situation. This movement is rarely if ever done in couple, but I give it for solo practicing to study available dance moves.

Body positions are shown on the left. Here is the short abbreviation of the figure with the barrida symbol inside.

Building the dance

Incorporating this 2-step move and other similar moves into "Barrida-Cunita" pattern generator one can create a very complex dance. Adding "Glued Feet" and 2-step moves with pivot can make it suitable for a performance.


Twisted torso torque is able to accumulate huge energy. It can be released above "the dividing line of upper and lower torso" and below, in two opposite directions. To get feel of the energy released above the line, it is better to go to other activity than dancing, to Japanese martial arts. Tsuki is a punch in Japanese. I am sure it is done the same way in Chinese martial arts or as a short punch in English boxing. I will use the Japanese word since I am more familiar with it. There are many components which contribute to the energy of tsuki. Most powerful of them are pelvis torque and torso torque. Let me present how torso works without any reference to pelvis. Torso is twisting, making torque and releasing it coming to the opposite position when it can be immediately repeated on another side. It is exactly like, for example, in Cunita. It is customary that upper torso does not move in relation to an external coordinate system, it looks and actually is immoveable. But lower torso twists. Instead of an arm stretched up, on this picture, a vertical line represents an arm stretched forward punching.




Boleo is an eye-catchy element in Argentine Tango which changes poses. Usually it is done forth and back. The boleos can be done fast or slow, with "flick","throw" of the leg or not, in front or behind, with rotational movement of the leg or linear. In this article, I will use the term Boleo as a movement to one direction only (the second one, coming to original position, is done in a similar way) as a pivoting change of position on one leg when a foot and a whole leg produce rotating movement around the dancer. Here, as shown, a boleo is done standing on L leg.

So, rotation in general is what distinguishes Boleo.




As in the case with Tsuki, the initial torso torque is accumulated the way it is shown on the left. Assume that the dancer is in Side position on L, left side of the drawing. When the torque is released for the lower torso, the body pivots back behind and around. The torso torque is important for starting phase of the element, if it is done well, the foot moves exactly in the circle from the side extension starting movement exactly back. I mean, it must start the very fist millimeter of movement in the direction perpendicular the line of leg. Effort should be applied to do so. After finishing, the torso comes to the Liberty position shown on the right. In this position the torso is ready to repeat the element in the opposite direction. Doing Boleo with torso twists is the way to keep the boot on the floor. In the middle you can see a short abbreviation of the Boleo element done back and forth.

Pelvis action. If pelvis stays in the side, neutral position, the boleo does not go much. After initial start with torso twist, the pelvis twists should build up. It moves the leg much further accumulating the torque for the next element, which may be another boleo done in opposite direction.

Pelvis action can not start right away. If only pelvis action is used for boleo, the foot will not go in a good circle but the circle will "be swallowed" at the very beginning. The torso torque energy should be used at the very beginning.

The Energy Wave inside the body is like this: It starts with charging torso then releasing it to another direction, then it goes to pelvis area twisting it and charging it to another torque, then comes back to torso charging it more for a good finishing pose. It may take the whole musical measure to perform all the parts. It can be done fast as well.

When making boleo make a small pivot, go for it! This will facilitate more twisting in body and allows you to arrive in a more comfortable position of feet avoiding "locking the legs". The pivot must be done.

Boleo transition can be abbreviated like this: -1Bol->


Boleo and Tsuki

Boleo and Tsuki are the elements utilizing exactly the same forces and technique. Twisting pelvis, contrary to the first thought about it, does not consume energy but adds a lot of energy to the torso energy and, for Tsuki, may create a good body support at the moment of hit and add even more forward elongation, if needed. Twisting of pelvis moves the leg behind, to the side of the opponent, ready for evading and other actions. For example, for the construction we discussed, as soon as the right leg touches the ground behind (the first tsuki with right arm is already done), it uses Arrepentida technique (see later) to push from the floor in the forward burst and hit the opponent with the left arm and the left leg at the same time. Since both the torso and pelvis are charged, these hits are powerful. They propel the body forward in an open step, charging for the final overwhelming finishing blow with the right arm.


The difference between Boleo and Barrida

Barrida and Boleo are distinguishably different.

Barrida is a pose change when a neutral position is passing. A foot makes in-saw and out-saw, and a pivot may not be performed (though very much possible). Boleo is a direct pose change, when rotational movement of twisted torso and pelvis are used. The free foot stays at about the same distance from the axis and a pivot on a standing leg is usually performed. In a barrida, a torso center moves in a linear fashion. In a boleo, it makes an arc in the horizontal plane. The pelvis performs analogously, though, I am not able to elaborate more about it yet.

Here is a combined short abbreviation of Barrida and Boleo, so you can see the difference.

Leading of Boleo and Pivots

A note for tango dancers. Boleo is usually performed by a woman. Man also does it, but what is more important is that performing a torso move exactly like in boleo is a way to lead. "Performing boleo in torso" is the way to lead boleos and all pivots including the figure "Back Ocho" and the back pivot in the right turn. During leading the Ocho, your torso is also making an Ocho (geometrical figure of "8"-shape, "Eight") with its center!

Foot in Boleos

Boleos as well as Barridas can be interrupted at any moment with the movement (including Arrepentida, see later) on the free, moving leg. Therefore, by default, the foot must contact the floor all the time and be ready to accept the force. Another reason for keeping the foot to the floor is that it facilitates accepting a good twisted posture after the boleo and the final part of it. The good, charged pose is itself the way to keep the foot on the ground. It is a sign of mastery. The third reason is that while dancing in the crowded conditions keeping the foot on the floor is safer. The more safety, though, is obtained by a good performance of boleo when it is done very close to the partner. Then you can not kick anyone even with the highest of boleos. This is again obtained by deep twisting of the body.

More about Boleos

There are several types of boleos. I described one which is the most important for understanding the structure of the dance. Let us call this type of boleo "Hip Boleo". Another important type is obtained by this way. While standing on one leg, a dancer brings her free knee behind the standing leg knee and locks it there. Then she makes either a pendulum movement with the lower leg from side to side, or a rotating movement of the lower leg making a circle behind the knee. In both ways, to make such movements, the pelvis and body will work just as needed. Let me call this boleo a "Knee Boleo".

Boleos may serve as energy producers for pivots, especially the Knee Boleo, when a lot of extra energy can be produced by leg muscles. It can be used for quick pivot forward after or during a slow back Hip Boleo.

A good way to practice boleos, back pivots and forward pivots as a preparation for ochos is to come to a wall and perform them with pushing with both arms into and from the wall. It will facilitate the development of the ability to make and use torque in the torso and keep the arms with the partner. Of course, the ultimate goal is to be able to make it well without the wall and even without a partner. The push should be done not with arm muscles, but with upper torso developing the twisting in torso and obtaining a skill of creating the correct torque. A common mistake is to use a table and push down the top, do not do it.

During various boleos, a foot may come closer or father from the standing foot. These are variations of the simple basic idea. Boleo-type movement can be done with other geometric and rhythmic variations.

For more about Boleo see "How to Lead Boleo to the Left" later.

Boleo in Front, Really Big Boleo

In a similar fashion, a boleo in front from Side position to Parada position and back can be done. Foot on the floor. A combination boleo from Liberty can be done right to Parada, making it huge, "Really Big". Essentially, it is back and front boleo done in one move. Note the intermediate Side position !

Boleo Pattern Generators

Anywhere barrida is used, boleo can be used either, if surrounding space allows. All barrida patterns can be done with boleos instead.