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
$24.99, 102 pages, 152 drawings, 8.5x11, $4 mailing
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Pivoting from Side to Side Positions

While in a Side position twisted like on a1) drawing, the torso torque is set up for a change. The torque enables the pivot 180 degrees with a "Body-First" side step coming into a2). If one stands on R leg like on a1), it will be pivot right, clockwise. It is possible to continue the chain of side steps with pivots along a line. One can do it extending arms up and side, or performing tsuki hit. It works nice.

This ability can serve for validation of the theory. It is just not possible to pivot left from the position a1) in the same way as to the right. If tsuki is used, it can be made more visible for some people, since it has more energy due to high speed of torque release.

On the contrary, if at the beginning the torso twist is in another direction, like on the picture b). It is possible to pivot left easy. Crossed dashed arrow on the drawing means "not possible".

When you start trying to do pivoting with change from Side to Side in an "impossible" direction, you might get some results. There are two options here. If you observe closely, you might be doing a boleo first, before the step. It is possible, since boleo is done in that direction, but boleo is not the same, since it is done on one foot. You are making a boleo and as soon as it is possible you amend it with a side step. It does not feel nice. The second option is, when you are trying to make tsuki, you are making a "Snap punch" instead. It is a reverse of standard Tsuki. It uses the same body torque as Tsuki, only done with another arm. Since they are using the same torque, it is possible to make them, one Tsuki and one "Snap punch", two hits, at the same time. Essentially, what it means here, while you think you are doing a) move in opposite direction, you are actually doing snap punches positioning your body unintentionally in b) way. And it works !

So we have two ways to make pivoting from side to side positions, a) and b), chained if needed.

What is a Pattern Generator

What is a dance figure? It is a sequence of poses and transitions forming a small memorable pattern. Any dance figure, in my view, especially in tango, comes back to the starting position and can be done in many ways, as usual and in reverse. It essentially defines a mathematical group, or, rather more precisely, a mathematical group generator. A pattern generator is a blueprint on top of which such figures are designed. If a figure is a cycle as I proposed, a pattern generator is a set of cycles. A dance sequence and therefore a figure is a subgroup of a pattern generator group. A certain element allows transition between cycles from one to another possibly forming a bigger cycle, if one includes this element into the allowable movements. A pattern generator allows a whole dance to be build on it as a set of figures. On practical side, ability to think in terms of pattern generators is valuable for improvisation.

In tango dance, a short figure can be done in 2 measures, even in 1.5 measures. Going through all possibilities a pattern generator is providing may take much longer. The same figure may be produced from two or more different pattern generators.

If one considers a pattern be a result of successive passes via a dance figure which can be recorded logically, visually or on a canvas laid on the floor, any dance figure is a pattern generator. Then, strictly speaking, pattern generators I am talking about are "generators of pattern generators". They are on the higher system level. For the sake of compactness, I will call them just "pattern generators".

It corresponds to a definition of "pattern generator" in technology: "an electronic or computerized device or program that generates a multitude of rhythms".

The term "pattern generator" is a mathematical model which refers to poses and changes of poses. It is a "generator" in relation to the dancer's body. It works with "body coordinates". When a dance figure is performed, "generated", a pattern is made either by a body image or a traces of feet on the dance floor. They exists in other coordinate systems. For example, floor patterns exist in the geometrical plane coordinate system.

Not all elements of the body pattern generator are visible or can be reflected on the floor. That is why teaching or understanding of the dance is so difficult. But, in my experience, everything what happens in a body can be felt by a partner. To be a partner is the best way "to observe" the dance. And the more a partner is experienced the more he can feel in the dance.

Technology and artificial intelligence can provide a way to present visually what happens in a dancer's' body beyond what is visible.

A dance figure can become a pattern generator when, in accordance with a mathematical principle of a pattern generator being a mathematical group generator, it can be done in a logically backward way. If it does not work, then one must try to make, design a missing element with inclusion of which the logically backward performance becomes possible. It may be an unusual element, may be a difficult one, may be an easy one, but it definitely will complement the available dance dictionary allowing construction of many new figures out of an existing one.

Repositioning to the Right and to the Left. "X" Pattern Generator.

Can a figure on the man's right side be done similarly to a figure of the Side Step Left From Cunita? How one can reposition a partner to another side? There are many ways, I'll give one example. The word "repositioning" here refers to positions of partners: the women on the left or woman on the right.

Let us start with Side Step Left From Cunita one-move-two-steps figure shown on the left sketch. It goes from 2), Liberty pose to 1), Side pose and back. The man's part is shown. The nose is slightly directed left. Assume that a movement in one direction is done in four counts.

It is possible from the position 1). to come to the side position on R and immediately produce pivoting from Side to Side position. It does not have to be done with 180 degree, but less, like on the picture. This is not a one-move-two-steps any more. Coming to the middle point torso should twist like in a side pose on R and obtain enough torque to produce the next side step. It can be little, but it should be done. Then the torque is released with a little pivot and twisting to the opposite direction at the end. Since the whole movement is done in four counts, 1/8 timing appears during the twist in the middle. 1/8 feels in the movement: the change is fast. It matches syncopated tango rhythm.

At the end position, the nose is turned somewhat right: the dancer have performed repositioning to the right.

"X" Pattern Generator Chart

What was just described is a transition from 1) to 3) shown on the drawing on the left. It is a man's part. Woman's part is opposite and shown on the right of the drawing. It is from the man's view.

From Side position 3) a man can produce a movement similar to "Side Step left From Cunita" keeping the diagonal direction like it is shown on the drawing. In the neutral, his left leg will bass behind the standing right leg, so he comes to Parada 4) at the end of the move with his R leg stretched forward, and nose turned right toward the partner. It is achieved by the global body turn to the right to face the partner.

A woman at this point is going to be in Liberty position on her R leg facing the partner "outside" of him, on his right.

Side-Parada Two-Steps Move

Here is the man's end positions of Side-Parada move 3)-4). This is the same as woman's 1)-2).

For the sake of clarity and help in exercising, here is the woman's "X" pattern generator diagram upside-down. It is now from her direction of view. You can see why I call it "X".

Figures generated by "X" pattern generator

So far I have described 1)-2), 1)-3), and 3)-4) movements (see the previous diagrams). These are the 1), 2), and 3) on this drawing. Other movements are possible. Movement 2)-4) on previous diagram which is 4) here is similar to 3) only it is different in that man goes from Parada to Side, while a woman goes from Liberty to Parada. This is a very nice movement. It is another kind of body repositioning.

There are two more presented here at 5) and 6). This is a different type of movement. They are similar to 1) and 2) because in the middle a neutral position is obtained. There is no need to twist the torso. From there it goes with Body-First step to the final pose.

One more symmetry. Man's and woman's parts may be changed: man goes like a woman and a woman like a man in the way described above.

A leg in front instead of a leg behind. Overlapping of Pattern Generators

As you can see the "X" pattern generator can describe at least 6 smaller figures. If seems like it covers all possibilities, but it does not.

For example, while performing 3)-4) (see the "X" Pattern Generator Chart above), coming from position 3) to 4) a man, instead of Parada, can come to another pose. If starting from 3) a man moves his standing R leg slightly away (behind), and while passing neutral, he will direct his free L leg in front of a standing R leg (instead of behind), he will arrive to another pose out of collection of poses from "Glued Feet". Let us call this position 4') for now. It is one of the extreme poses. If the man dances with a partner, moving the R foot at the beginning is needed to become slightly away from her, to be able to find space between partners for passing of his L leg.

Three-Ray-Star Pattern Generator with Body-First Steps

  If a man repeats 4)-3)-4') continuously, he performs one of the figures of "Three-Ray-Star" pattern generator when all three steps are body-first steps and therefore there are poses at ends. This is an example of a place where "Three-Ray-Star" is incorporated into "X" pattern generator. Pattern generators may overlap each other.

Mutual Location of Partners: on the Left or on the Right. Side Position Directions

"X" performs repositioning: a woman goes on the right of a man or on the left. For positions corresponding to forward and backward steps when partners are on side of each other, it is clear on what side of each other they are. It is clear in Cunita too (for the simple one which we studied so far), since in Cunita pelvis and upper torso are twisted in one direction, then with man's L leg forward, a woman is on his Left, with man's R leg forward, a woman is on his Right.

"X" pattern generator gives an understanding why a side position or a step can also be on the left or on the right. It seems paradoxical, since at a side position partner face each other. If a side position is a part of two-steps-move, it is clear on what side a woman is when both partners are in Side position. In the context of two-steps-moves, side positions have left or right mutual locations. For the 1)-2) figure on the "X" Pattern Generator Chart a woman is on his left side during both steps. So, here I have explained why and when a side position of both partners can still be considered on the left or on the right of a man.

Mutual Location of Partners on Frontal Walks

Let us see what happens during forward or backward walk when she is directly in front of him. During a L leg forward, a man pelvis will pass "twisted Left" stage. It happens on both intermediate poses, Parada or Liberty in all three types of steps. When his Left leg is in front, (or R leg back) it is easy to go through Cunita and to the side step on the left making a two-steps move. Therefore, during a man's L leg in front she is on his left.

For man's R leg in front during forward or backward walk the same reasoning brings to conclusion that she is on his right.

Therefore, during the forward or backward walk when she is in front of him, the mutual position of partners is changing with every step: she is on his left or on his right. This thinking indeed helps to understand possibilities of the dance in practice. It is more visible in Zig-Zag walk done by a couple while walking forward or backward.

I've just explained, why it follows logically that in tango walks forward or backward partners are on each other side interchangeably. Even if it is not visible. Can the dancers be in front of each other? Not on each one's side? Yes, they can. One of this figures is Traspie. See later.
Another figure is successive side steps.

Addendum for the 4th edition

Another way of explaing the direct forward, frontal walk is that the woman actually performs back ochos while walking backward. It is the same body preparation she needs to perform, only the pose change is minimal, while in actual Back Ochos the her body pose change is gigantic. Since it is minimal, the pivot is not needed. Than the man is able to work directly in front of her instead of on sides as in a regular Back Ocho. In Back Ocho the woman changes her postion in relation to the man: on his right or on his left. Therefore we come to the conclusion, that the straight forward work is when partners are on each other side interchangeably while walking. We came to the same conclusion, quite an unexpected one, starting from two different assumptions. It is far from any sort of righid proof, but it assures me that the theory described here is working.

Slowing Down. Inserting Elements Inside

Movements 1)-2) and 3)-4) are nicely done in 4 counts (one measure) each, it is slow performance. It is possible to do faster, I'll describe it shortly. Because of bursting nature of Body-First steps, is is very awkward to do slower. Something should be inserted in the middle.

Let us do it like this. From a 1), come to another Side in one step then perform Barrida to Parada transition and then from Parada to Side 2) in one step. We have inserted "Side pose -> Barrida -> Parada pose" in middle of 1)-2). Now, the complete figure 1) to 2) goes nice when it is done in 4+1/2 beats! (4+1/2 beats == 1+1/8 measures). This feels very unusual. Of course, from Parada many other movements are possible, but they belong to other constructions.

Going from 3) to 4), instead of parada, a man will make transition from Side to Liberty if a free L foot is redirected backward behind. The foot can go during repositioning in front, then you obtain something similar to an Enrosque starting position.

In a similar way one might try to go from 1) to 3). I'll live it for you as an exercise to find out what it is and what pose instead of Parada you will make in the middle, and to what pose you will come at the end. It should not be a Side pose. Is it a new transition?

Coming to 3) or 4) from 1) or 2) is one method of repositioning to the right. As you can see, on the way we have made a lot of interesting discoveries. I took only one particular moment of a dance. It is not a special moment of a dance. At any moment dancers are and should be able to go through all possibilities of the twisting dance. And we only have found several of such possibilities. There are more. Many more...

Concluding this small chapter, abstractly speaking, we have inserted one pattern generator in the middle of another one.

Arrepentida from Cunita

Arrepentida means "Change of mind". It is a rebound to change direction of movement. There are two distinct ways of doing it. I will call it "Arrepentida from Cunita" and "Arrepentida of Traspie". First, let me describe the "Arrepentida from Cunita".

Pelvis Charge by Pushing from the Floor

Let us start from legs and pelvis. In a period right after passing the neutral position while going in a two-step move, the free leg starts to extend in the direction of the move. It is still bend in the knee. Pelvis is not charged at this moment yet.

If at this moment the free leg goes faster, and right into the floor, it can push into the floor interrupting the move. In some cases it gets straighten, in some it stays bend. During the push the leg pushes the pelvis and therefore provoke tension of the pelvis muscles, it provokes torque. The energy of the pushing leg, but even more of the pelvis torque propels a dancer to the next step in the opposite direction.

While practicing the step in that opposite direction, it should be done large, with Hip-Push. Note, that the next step in the same direction is done differently, see Traspie.

Arrepentida is abbreviated as an arrow with a perpendicular dash. Arrepentida can be done on forward, backward, or side steps. Arrepentida is done while going from a neutral position, so it can be done while going to every one of fourteen poses from a neutral.

"Forward", "side", or "back" words correspond to the direction of the step on which the arrepentida is done, which step the arrepentida is interrupting.


Here are examples of steps possible with the L leg from forward arrepentida of the R leg: a) side back diagonally, b) side with pivot in backward direction, c) to the right ( coming to Parada on L). One more is possible - directly back.

A step after Arrepentida can be only Body-First or another Arrepentida. It can not be Toe-First, since Arrepentida is already pushing pelvis. Therefore Arrepentida implies a certain rhythm.

When a man is dancing Argentine Tango with a woman, a woman must be ready to perform arrepentida at any moment. What should be ready? The mind and the leg, especially a foot. Arrepentida can be done at any moment of in- and out-saw, during Barrida and Boleo. Of course, if a woman is not able to react to unusual arrepentida her partner will not do it. With some women who do not have enough experience, the Arrepentida is a good way for her leader to manipulate her.

Arrepentida rarely happens in Salon and Apilado styles of tango, but often in Milonguero, Orillero, and Canyengue due to abundance of musical rhythms provoking Arrepentida. In Tango Nuevo some dancers do not use it, some, like Chicho, use is extensively. Mastering the Arrepentida is necessary for a successful social tango dancer, since it is a great tool to navigate around the crowded floor and manipulate inexperienced dancers. Without the skill of Arrepentida, which makes fast dance sweet and easy, it is hard to dance Milonga successfully.

Arrepentida and Torso Charge

Exact moment of the push from the floor can be facilitated by Torso. At the moment of the push, if torso obtains one of the poses with extreme torque, it supports arrepentida: body becomes tighter, easier to rebound, the whole element obtains a lot of sense. Obtaining an extreme pose usually happens when a dancer is confidently positioned on a leg. Therefore, obtaining an extreme pose while a leg is still on the move is a way of effectively leading arrepentida: an extreme pose provokes grounding with the leg. Any pose can be obtained while in the move and one leg is free, but some poses are more convenient. Also a pose sets a condition for the next step: obtaining a pose leads arrepentida, what pose obtained defines the choice of the next step.

During the Arrepentida from Cunita, the body center does move beyond the initial leg and a strong line is formed from torso center into the pushing leg.

Arrepentidas can be conveniently practiced with the X pattern generator. More about it in the "Corte y Quebrada" section.

Many dancers do not pay any attention to their Torso during Arrepentida totally relying on momentum to provoke the next step. It is rough and excessive use of energy. The flow of energy during Arrepentida can be like this:

  1. Torso starts to twist leading (for men) or following (for women) arrepentida. Energy feel start here;
  2. Leg is performing arrepentida charging pelvis. Energy flow is felt in the lower body;
  3. Torso torques more to stop the move while accumulating energy of the move. Energy flow come back to the top reaching maximum;
  4. Energy is released to the next Body-First step (i.e. starting from body, ending in pelvis).

As you can see, in an advanced performance of arrepentida and the following step, energy starts from above and flows down, up, down. Passing twice from top to bottom of the dancer's body!

Exchange of Signals Between Dancers Performing Arrepentida Together

For advanced dancers, arrepentida is subtle and enjoyable. Arrepentida is an amplifier of senses since it encourages an intense kinesiological and sensual conversation. Here are the stages of this conversation on the example of the forward arrepentida on the L leg going into the side step on the left. For a woman it is a backward arrepentida on R.

Stage Man, leading. He initiates a stage Woman, following
1. He is extending the L leg forward. His torso center moves Left. He is obtaining the Parada pose just as if he is preparing a regular toe-first step. She is extending the R leg backward. Her torso center moves Right. She is obtaining Liberty pose.
2. While his L leg being still in the air or on the floor, but not being obtained any grounding, he performs arrepentida starting with a micro-cunita with movement of his torso center diagonally R-Forward. She feels his movement of the center and moves hers to L understanding that this is going to be an arrepentida. Her R leg goes into the floor now, or a little later than the man's.
3. He feels that she understands it and is going to Arrepentida. He reaches the maximum charge in the torso as much as she allows. He performs grounding of the L leg into the floor and charging his pelvis. His body did move from the standing leg forward a little, beyond the initial standing leg, enough to form a strong line between the torso center and the rebounding foot. She feels that he is going into the floor and goes into the floor and charges her pelvis as much as possible.
Her body did move from the standing leg backward a little, beyond the initial standing leg, enough to form a strong line between the torso center and the rebounding foot.
4. With the push to the floor with the L leg and charge of his pelvis to the maximum, he starts going in opposite direction. With this push he is trying to stay in the air as long as possible without engaging his R back leg with the floor. He is awaiting her response. She feels him "soaring" in the air and softly pushes forward as much as possible with her R leg and charged pelvis. The leg straightens.
5. He feels her going forward. When she is over with her push and her L leg is landing, he lands his R leg. The combination of her and his pushing energy in his back direction is large so that his R leg goes even more backward. She lands her L leg trying to follow man's backward movement. But that is her who pushes more.
6. From here, passing the neutral position and using the remaining body charge and kinetic energy of her and his body, he takes her to the side step to the left coming on his L. She goes with him on her R.

I hope now you have an impression, why Argentine Tango is called "a conversation".

Traspie, "Arrepentida of Traspie" Introduction

Traspie means "to stumble". This "stumbling" has a certain rhythm: 1/8 of a measure in Tango, 1/4 of a measure in Milonga. Usually Milonga is about twice as fast than tango, so it comes to about the same time. This stumbling, traspie may look like this: a dancer goes to a forward/side/backward step from a leg X, stop for a moment on the ~X leg, lands on the X leg and immediately continues the step from the same X leg. It is better to think about Traspie as a rhythm rather than a figure, since it can be done at least in two different ways: with arrepentida or with a foot change. Multiple traspies can be combined and at least two traspies can be done on a single measure.

First, let me describe how the arrepentida "Arrepentida of Traspie" is done while making a traspie. It is different than the "Arrepentida from Cunita". Before that, I am introducing "Syncopa" tango rhythm and the exercise of moving the torso center to this rhythm.

Syncopa Tango Rhythm

This is one measure of tango music. Notes are positioned on the most important moments. First G is on beat 1, B is on beat 2, fourth G is on beat 3, C is on beat 4, second G is 1/8 after beat 1, third G is 1/8 before beat 3. This rhythm is abundant in Argentine Tango and where it is not present explicitly, it is felt in music. The rhythm presented by notes G is called "Syncopa". It syncopates tango music. Often it is accented, often it fades away, but it never leaves the music. Even when other rhythms are played, they are made to contrast the syncopa.

I'd like to give names to the parts of tango measure in relation to syncopa. In this book I am paying little attention to rhythm, but I plan to pay much more attention to it in future. Names are given on the diagram.

Pulses named '1', '1.5', '2.5', and '3' are the pulses of syncopa. Beat '4' is usually well heard, it marks the end of the measure very well. Long pause around the beat '4' is an important place for poses and such elements like boleos and ganchos.

Beat '2' is usually weak. It is a place of a short pause, foot change, energy accumulation.

If two steps per measure are performed, they are done in this manner:

Pulse of the tango measure What happens usually.
'1' Push out
'1.5' A foot meets the floor. If it is a Body-First step, the weight is transferred completely already on '1.5'
'2' If it is a Toe-Fist step, weight is transferred completely on '2'. Foot change, if any is done now.
'2.5' Push out to the second step
'3' A foot meets the floor. If it is a Body-First step, the weight is transferred completely already on '3'. If it is a Toe-Fist step, weight is transferred completely after '3'
'4' A pause. The time for a dramatic pose, boleo, quebrada, gancho, etc.


I am not going to talk more about rhythms in this book, so this is the place to mention tango phrasing. It is important to emphasize the end of musical phrases in some way. It can be done with pauses, boleos-ganchos, fast runs, jumps, taps, etc. Numbers here count measures.

Tango music is designed in the hierarchical manner. The first phrase marked 2 is emphasized slightly. The second phrase marked 4 is emphasized more. The next phrase is emphasized less, and the next one marked 8 is emphasized very much. The next one, coming at 16th measure (64 beats from the beginning) is even more dramatic. Music gives very clear guidance.

A Movement Exercise to Syncopa

Let us dance to syncopa. Place feet apart. Move the torso center from the leg to leg in accordance with the left table.

Beat Action finished at the beat:
'1' Move center to L
'1.5' Move center to R
'2' Pause
'2.5' Move center to L
'3' Move center to R
'4' Move center to L somewhere around '4'
'1' Move center to R
'1.5' Move center to L
'2' Pause
'2.5' Move center to R
'3' Move center to L
'4' Move center to R somewhere around '4'
Beat Action at the beat:
'1' Start moving center to L, push from the R leg
'1.5' Move center to L
'2' Pause
'2.5' Start moving center to R, push from the L leg
'3' Move center to R
'1' Move center to L
'2' Move center to R
'3' Move center to L

You have finished one phrase. Be careful not to move the center on beat 2. It has to be done on beat 1.5! All center movements must be on syncopa beats and on beat '4'. These are the sharp, rough, "stumbling" moves. Find an Argentine tango music emphasizing syncopa (old masters).

This was a difficult fast exercise. Here is, referring to the right table, for the sake of help for you, a simpler, slower exercise with a good Tango feel. After finishing the phrase, start from another leg.

"Arrepentida of Traspie"

Assume a man starts to make an arrepentida standing on R. He moves the torso center to L with slight body twist provoking Parada for the leg. As soon as L leg goes forward, still standing on R, he moves the center on R. This shift is done in 1/8 of the measure like in the exercise above. Moving center to R provokes arrepentida from the L leg...

The difference between this arrepentida, the "Arrepentida of Traspie" and the "Arrepentida from Cunita" is that the torso does not move forward like in Cunita while the center is moving right. The "Arrepentida of Traspie" is lead twice as fast as "Arrepentida from Cunita".

Traspie Forward

Let us see what happens next. Movement of the center to R while in place provokes the Liberty pose in a tango dancer body. This provocation throws the R leg slightly back, as if makes a little tap. It is paradoxical, since the L leg is in front, and the body comes between the feet trying to obtain Liberty. But Liberty is supposed to be on the well grounded L leg. This paradoxical position of body, in turn, provokes the push from the R leg, which is just moved slightly back to push forward, to bring the body to the stable Liberty position. And the push has to be done. During the landing on L, the center moves L again while the weight passes the middle of the step! And then it moves finally to R obtaining Liberty. Center moves twice from side to side in accordance with the syncopa rhythm, but only the first element, the arrepentida looks fast.

The overall view is like a man steps forward but stumbles and still continuing his step forward. Overall performance looks very easy and light. It does not create the feel of excessive force as it can happen when a dancer is trying to imitate it without the correct body movements and timing.

This happens when the torso center shift fast, in about 1/8 of the measure. If it is done slower, the body does not react enough.

From outside it looks like that the arrepentida is done twice: once stopping forward movement and then the backward movement. It is reflected in the graphical abbreviation of the Traspie Forward Step. One traspie contains two arrepentidas.

Traspie can be done twice per measure. On the left picture, it is Traspie done once, on the right - twice. All in one measure. One traspie is done to one syncopa pair. The last step can be a push forward, or simply a foot replacement in place.

The Traspie Backward is done in a similar way.

Arrepentida of Traspie does not produce enough energy to continue to the next big step except Forward. I do not think it is possible to produce a two-steps-one-move with it. It is a light, fancy, very advanced, rhythmic, and body-waving thing. May be other elements are possible from it, but I am not aware of them yet. Summarizing, the key to the easy, pleasant traspie is the torso center change. Trying to obtain the same only with legs creates hectic unpleasant and ugly looking jerking movements.


Sometimes an action similar to arrepentida can be met in a dance. It happens when a body slightly looses balance and a short touch of the floor with a foot corrects the imbalance. It may look very elegant. It happens often in Forward Ochos. Another example is when lead is not clear and the follower uses unsystematic push from the floor to catch up.

Corte y Quebrada

I have described a side step from "arrepentida forward". This arrepentida was the "arrepentida from cunita", since a little of cunita was done. Because of that, often the charge of arrepentida is so large, that the side step made is very deep and bodies have tendency to bend over each other. This is the most famous tango figure called "Corte y Quebrada". Corte is a pose obtained in arrepentida, it is essentially a Parada. Quebrada is a break in the posture on the Side pose (in Parada or Liberty as well). It is very typical and recognizable pose of Argentine Tango along with Corte. There are other ways to do Corte y Quebrada.

Quebrada is not a convenient pose to continue to boleo, for example. A leg wrap is very logical continuation of deep side or forward step. But the most common is return on man's right leg, where it comes to the neutral position. From this position it is possible to perform the same Corte y Quebrada again. It does make sense.

Here is a diagram of Corte y Quebrada to the side. 1 is Arrepentida with L, 2 is side pose after a side L step. 3 is a Toe-First Short Side R step returning to neutral. The 3-rd side step has some feeling of an F step.

Going to the second Corte y Quebrada has a peculiarity. While going to do it again, exiting from the first 2-nd, steps 3 and 1 are done in two-steps-one-move manner. At the neutral point, there is kinetic energy propelling a dancer forward. The body pose obtained at 1 will serve not only as an indication of arrepentida, but also an accumulator of energy from the step 3. Therefore, the lead to parada on 1 is not required, and the man's torso center does not have to go left to lead Parada. What it actual means, is that the step 1 becomes not a toe-first step, but a body-first step, though not done to the final position on the L leg like in a standard cunita. It is a simplified Arrepentida of Cunita. There is another peculiarity of second Corte y Quebrada related to rhythm.

Corte y Quebrada Rhythm

Here is an example of placing Corte y Quebrada on top of syncopa rhythm. Timing in the table is given in 1/2 of a beat. 1 measure = 4 beats, 1/2 of a beat = 1/8 of a measure.
Man's movements
1 Performing arrepentida. Starting Parada
1/2 Man's L into the floor. 1 on the picture.
2 Man's maximum Liberty achieved (performing Arrepentida, not coming on the leg!) Starting moving in opposite direction.
2+1/2 Push-Hip with R leg to the side
3 Arriving at the side pose. 2 on the picture.
3+1/2 Charging body more
4 Pose
4+1/2 Pose
1 Starting R step. 3 on the picture.
2 Passing Neutral position. End of circle.
2+1/2 Starting the next Corte y Quebrada...

What I want to point here to, is that the second Corte y Quebrada starts from about the middle (not exactly the middle) of the second measure, precisely on the second syncopa. Here is a good example of the notion of a rhythm of a dance figure and a rhythm of music. They can overlap, go contrary, or interfere. Continuing with the same rhythm of the dance figure movements will shift it from the musical rhythm. This is not a mistake, but a creative opportunity, which may have two outcomes:

a). The rhythm of the dance figure movement is preserved, it goes in contrast with the musical rhythm creating overlapping rhythms, which in a dance of African origin is a positive thing. The Syncopa rhythm is strong and asymmetrical. It is perfect to be overlapped with, it makes the overlapping felt very strongly. This effect, abundant in tango figures, plays havoc with the perception of the world, mesmerizing, hypnotizing, hallucionizing dancers. Tango dancers are in deep meditative mood during the dance. This is the reason why Argentine Tango dancers look absolutely emotionless during either social dance or performance of any sort. The major source of the meditative mood is improvisation in which dancers are deeply engaged in during a dance and the conversational lead-and-follow signal exchange, but other things, like the movement-music rhythms shift and overlap pay significant contribution to it.

b) A leader will adjust timing of his moves making them faster or quicker to fit to the music with essentially the same result.

People who are watching the dance are mesmerized as well. This is the result of my numerous observations on tango-savvy as well as on non expecting audience. This is a phenomena I did find an explanation to as it seems, and as with many other things mentioned in this book it calls for further, more targeted research which may benefit many areas.

Corte y Quebrada is a simplest tango figure to try this shifting, overlapping rhythm phenomena.

Note: essentially all movement elements and figures I describe make much more sense and effect when they are performed by a couple. Because of luck of space I usually have to omit the woman's part, which supposed to be symmetrical to man's part. I have described enough of theory so that an interested reader should be able to reproduce it. This is only an introduction, I hope to compensate the luck of completeness in future works.

Corte y Quebrada on "X"-Pattern Generator

Corte y Quebrada can be put on "X"-Pattern Generator, and be done not only to man's left but also to man's right. Arrepentidas can be put in other ways on the generator, but this one is the most popular.

Here is a timing comparison of going 1)-2)-1) without and with an arrepentida:

a) Without arrepentida, the full two-steps-one-move from 1) to 2) takes 1 measure, and back - one more measure. The same for 1)-3), 3)-4), and 2)-4). The whole period of 1)-2)-1) is 2 measures.

b) Corte y Quebrada starts from the central location, let us call it 0. In the case presented so far, a man was there on his R leg. One F step with arrepentida from 0 in the direction 2) and back to 1) takes 1 measure. The same for 0)-3)-4). But to close the figure, i.e. come to an initial position, the dancers needs 1)-0. And that takes about 1/2 measures. The whole period is about 1+1/2 measures.

Suspension: Pause on 4 in the Middle

There could be two more options: c) starting two-steps-one-move from 0. This, of course, will not be correct two-steps-one-move, since a dancer starts from neutral without kinetic energy. In this case, following the rules, 0-2) and back to 0) will take 1 measure, 0-1) and back will take 1 measure. The whole 1)-2)-1) will take the same 2 measures, but feeing of the figure is different. The pose is in the middle. Instead of dramatic and charged poses at the ends, there is a "suspension" of movements around 0. It is when a dancer comes onto a leg to the neutral position and experiences the feeling of unbalanced, but precise arrival to and departure from a neutral posture. This is equivalent to "flying" feeling. The pause, the "rest" which usually happens on beat 4 allows many ways to variate the dance.

The fourth option d) is when Corte y Quebrada starts at 1). This the same Corte y Quebrada, with the same feeling. Exit step 1)-0 is the first thing to do and it happens on the first syncopa. Then, the arrepentida happens now on the second syncopa, instead of the first one. Timing of the figure along the syncopa musical rhythm is shifted forward. And it does feel different, since the syncopa rhythm is asymmetrical.

Here is a short summary of these four possibilities. One can make more tables like that:

  Two-Steps-One-Move Corte y Quebrada
starting from 0 Suspension appears Usual. Faster arrepentida on 1-st syncopa
starting from 1 Usual. Dramatic poses Arrepentida on 2-nd syncopa

Suspension is a way to emphasize the 4th beat, the end of a phrase and even the end of the dance. This is a process, but one can say that this is the ultimate Neutral Pose.

Asymmetry of Superposition of Dance Figure Movement Rhythm and Musical Rhythm of Syncopa

Thanks to the asymmetry of syncopa rhythm, The start of any figure at different points of a pattern generator will produce different results due to the difference between rhythm of the dance figure movements and the musical rhythm of syncopa.

Origins of Spatial Directions in Dance

Directions of the dance are specified by the properties of the dancers bodies and the dancers mutual location in a couple. I can single out 12 spatial directions shown on the drawing. The first group is Forward, others are side to the Left, to the Right, and Back. Each of this directions has 2 related subdirections. The angles depend on the body of the dancer, body of his partner, and their abilities. The abbreviation of directions is clear from the picture: F,FL, FR, L, LF, LB, R, RF, RB, B, BL, BR;

This can be practiced with "12-Ray Pattern Generator". During this one stands on one leg, and makes paradas, Body-First steps and back, arrepentidas, barridas, boleos, etc. in different directions. This is a source of many tango figures. Usually 3 opposite directions work the best for each figure built on the 12-Ray. For example, those which twist pelvis in different ways. With a step, one can move from leg to leg to a new position for a new figure with 12-Ray. Let us find out why 12 directions.

Origin of side directions comes from a side step. If one tries to make a "side step" to the opposite direction, to the direction blocked by the standing leg and the body, there are two options: going in front or behind the standing leg. These 2 directions are at an angle with the side step direction, slightly diagonal. During all these moves, I assume that the dancer looks at the same direction, i.e. forward and the pelvis preserves the same direction of the line between hips. In tango it means "facing the partner". It means, in the side position the pelvis is Side. During the in-front move - pelvis is twisted Right, during the behind move, pelvis is twisted Left.

On the drawing a dancer stands on L leg moving the R leg simply to the open side, then in-front, or behind to another side. This is a description of the "3-Ray-Side pattern generator". It is a popular source of some milonga figures with arrepentidas. Also it describes very big boleos, done from In-Front to Behind position via the Side one, and many intricate changes with boleos and barridas in general.

Origin of Forward directions comes from positioning of a dancer around his partner. Forward means "inside the partner". As we know, it is not quite forward in relation to the dancer himself, since the pelvis is twisted. It is "adjusted twisted".

"On the Right" means direction on the right of the standing partner. "On the Left" means on left of the standing partner.

Any leg extension, step, or element can be done in any direction: Forward, Side or even Back, but, in all of these moves, the pelvis must be directed toward the partner, facing the partner as much as possible.

How far from the partner to step? Keeping the distance from "very close" for performance of special elements to "about one step apart" in general. Just as much as embrace allows. It is possible to extrapolate it for longer distances when dancers are far away.

Origin of Backward directions comes from bringing the partner toward a dancer. It is an opposite of Forward directions: bringing a partner "inside", to the right, or to the left of yourself.

Corte y Quebrada: the Third Way with a Leg Wrap

Utilizing the idea of spatial directions, let us construct the third step on X-pattern generator. So far we have 1) when a man leads a woman outside on the left. It is a sides step. And 4) when a man leads her outside on the right. It is Forward step for her. 5) Should be a step inside. A man steps backward, leading her forward step inside.

If he leads her to the deep forward step, so that she ends with Open Pelvis (see above), independently of what her torso position is, he may lead her to a dramatic move utilizing energy of Open Pelvis. This dramatic move can be called the Leg Wrap.

Upon arrival to 5) pose, dancers bodies are deeply twisted, and free legs are stretched and are parallel to each other and very close. If he leads her to change her torso and/or pelvis twist, her free leg will jump up wrapping around, brushing along his leg. There are several other outcomes. This requires further generalization and formalization.

"H" Pattern Generator

"H" pattern generator is a combination of "3-Ray-Side" and a side step transition. Here I am showing it with arrepentida arrows. Usually dance figures on this structure are generated like this: 1)-3)-2), or 2)-4)-1), or 1)-5)-2), and so on. They are done in one measure. Transitions including a side step like 3)-2) are two-steps-one-moves. Arrepentidas can be done outside or inside the partner. Partners can go in a promenade way when woman goes to 3) while man goes to 5), contrary to each other, and so on. There could be numerous figures built with this pattern generator.

Combination of "X" and "H" Pattern Generators

Here is a combination of X and H pattern generators. It is done via common side-step cunita. Here the symbol marks the common elements of H and X generators.

Energy Wave of Moves

Here is an example of two-steps-one-move move. A dancer goes from a pose to a pose with two steps passing neutral position with speed, a). Potential energy at the ends is maximal, kinetic energy changing from zero to zero is passing the maximum in around the middle, c). A dancer accumulates energy in poses and releases energy in moves. He is tense in poses and more relaxed on the move. If a change of a pose is required in the middle of the move, like during 1)-3) transition in X generator, is is obtained by a splash of torque energy in the middle released to the torso twist, d).



It is possible to make one move in three steps. During these three steps, a torso changes twisting completely, for example, from left to to right, while pelvis also changes twisting from, say, left to right. Regarding pelvis, it is possible, when making steps Forward-Side-Backward, or Backward-Side-Forward, FSB or BSF. Neutral position, so to speak, is aligned to, stretched along the whole side step which has only small twist charges at the ends. It is not a full blown side step, but rather a transition between forward and backward steps. Still it should be large and with the hip-push, otherwise it will deteriorate into a foot change (see later). It is a common mistake of tango students to produce too small middle side step.

On this diagram, "H" construction with poses at the ends is present. 3)-1)-2)-4) and 5)-1)-2)-6) are three-steps-one-move moves. It is possible to make them both FSB or BSF. Nose can look the the same direction or change directions from outside to outside. The floor geometry of the moves is mostly in a shape of the lines shown on the diagram.

Three-steps are usually done in one measure of tango, and around the partner.

The Three-Steps Turning

With pivoting it is possible to make three-steps-one-move moves around a certain center, so that the nose is directed to the same point in space. A dancer "goes around", like it is shown on this drawing. It can be done FSB or BSF in any way. This geometry is very nicely suits the way a body twists in the three-step-one-move moves.

If a dancer amends this with a pivot and an additional side step, to come, for example, from 4 into the same 3, he completes a tango turn. Immediately follows, that there are at least to ways to make a tango turn: Going FSB or BSF. These turns are usually done in 1+1/2 measures of tango music, but they can be done in 1 measure or 2 measures, depending how to make additional side step and pivot - with boleo or not. The number of the measures is the same like for the Corte y Quebrada with an additional step to close the figure.

The pattern generator for a turn is shown on the left. It does include four, 4 steps. It does not mean that the pattern which is done on the floor has to be square. In "the floor coordinates" it can be a square or it can be a triangle, or even a section of a line. This is the best way to practice turns: going from a point on the floor to another point on the floor in four steps. I mean there are only two points on the floor. What is shown on the left is a pattern related to a dancer, in "body coordinates", but not necessarily to the floor.

There are other ways to make tango turn, for example, ones comprised of two two-steps moves. The rhythm of them is one turn per two measures. A "turn pattern generator" may look a little different for this.

It is possible to make a turn continuously by 3-steps in the same direction from pose to pose, like in this sequence: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Milonga Box

One combination of "H" pattern generators has a shape of hexagon. Stepping around the hexagon sometimes is called Milonga Box in Tango. This is the "Milonga Box" pattern generator. With variations, with arrepentidas, cunitas, one-, two-, and three-steps moves, especially when energy waves fall upon different sides of the hexagon, it is a source of numerous dance figures. It is a combination of two "H" generators and three "3-Ray-Side" generators. Zig-Zag walk comes out of here and the sideway serpent pattern too. This generator constructs many more figures that two "H" generators individually.

Concatenating many hexagons covers a comb pattern on the floor.
Certain figures may not produce a perfect hexagon pattern, but deformed and rotated. The Milonga Box by itself produces naturally rotating comb patterns on the floor.

A Short Summary

As you can see, in this theory, dance consists of poses, 14 of them on one leg, and transitions between poses. Elementary transition consists of a step, which is a transfer of the force holding the center of gravity from one leg to another, and an elementary pose transition. Elementary pose transitions include changes of torso and pelvis twists, barridas, boleos, ganchos, leg-wraps and steps: 0, 1, 2 and 3 steps per one body transition. Pose transition includes a body transition and the leg transition, say, from F to S. Transitions can be done with pivots, in- and out-saws.

All these transitions, of course, are done to match or complement music.

On the drawing: a) - a pose and its transitions on one leg, b) one-step-one-move, c) two-steps-one-move, d) three-steps-one move. I am not sure where to include arrepentida. May be b), may be c).

Foot Change

A foot change happens when a free foot X is brought close to a standing foot ~X, then the weight is transferred to X, followed by stepping out with ~X. Usually it is done fast, but not necessarily.

A foot change in Tango is an ending of a step. It can be followed with a continuation of the previous step with the same leg, but also the foot change can be followed with an element like a lapis, boleo, anything, or a step to another direction. The foot change is a very common element in tango.

On the drawing, a foot change of a Body-First side step with the R leg to the right is shown with the next step back. A foot change is abbreviated with the angled line. The next move after the foot change is always with the same leg as the previous step.

There are three major types of a foot change in tango partner dancing. First is when a man changes his foot himself and leads a lady to change foot. The second is when a man changes a foot himself and does not want a woman to change foot. The third is when a man does not change a foot himself, but wants a lady to change her foot. Someone may be very surprised with it, but that is true: there is no "wrong foot" in tango.

When a man leads a woman, he can make a foot change himself or not. The theory must allow him to lead a foot change without changing foot for himself. Assuming, that lading is done with torso, then when a man does not want a woman to change foot, he should change the foot himself, but preserve his torso and pelvis in the same position, so that his woman will not notice any difference. This effectively changes a pose of the man. So, the foot change is a pose transition too: changing of the standing leg.

Here is the technique of performing foot changes and at the same time leading it, so it becomes clear for the woman what to do. Again, the feet movements are optional, if a man does not want to change his foot, he does not have to. He only has to produce the leading body move.

A Foot Change on Toe-First Step

While arriving to a Neutral pose after a Toe-First step with X leg, a man performs in-saw to bring the ~X foot to the X foot. When ~X foot is near X foot, a man moves his center to ~X leg immediately releasing the X leg for the next move, which can be anything including the next Toe-First step in the same direction with X leg.

It can be done in any direction. The best result is when time between movement of the center to the ~X leg and the following preparation of torso for the next element (like next Toe-First step) is done in 1/8 of the measure, i.e. to syncopa. The two Toe-First steps in the same direction with a foot change are shown in the drawing.

The sequence of torso moves is exactly the same like in Traspie. The difference is that Traspie is done on the beginning of the step, the Foot Change is done on the ending of the step. When torso sequence is done when a body is somewhere in between the legs, it is difficult to say what it is, Traspie or a Foot Change. It is "blurred", it is both.

A Foot Change of Body-First Step

After arriving to a pose, Liberty, Parada, or Side, after a Body-First step with X leg, a man performs in-saw to bring the ~X foot to the X foot coming to the Neutral pose. During this in-saw the body decreases the twist, "dragging" the free foot in in-saw manner. The line "body-center - foot" stays tight, the foot (the ball of the foot) is pushing to the floor. A leg is like a strut. As soon as it reaches a desired point, which can be at the standing leg or not, The center is moved again on the ~X side which provokes the next Body-First step. This moving of the center back is microscopic since the force line is already there.

And again, the best timing between foot change and the next step is 1/8 of the measure. The two Body-First steps in the same direction with a foot change are shown in the drawing.

"Square Box" Pattern Generator

Combining a side step R with foot change and a B step with a side step L with foot change and a F step, forms a "Square Box" pattern generator. The "Square Box" as a figure is practically absent in Argentine Tango, but it is a good figure to practice foot changes, since it is symmetrical for both partners: they do the same steps. This can be "Transformed" and "Followed" (see later) in many useful ways.

A foot change itself can be transformed into a step, then the "Square Box" becomes "Milonga Box".

Pattern Generators: Concatenation and Modulation

Pattern generators can be "attached", "concatenated" together.
If a pattern generator is a part of another generator, one can say that the pattern produced by a larger generator is "modulated" by a pattern produced by a smaller generator. Inclusion of a smaller generator may have consequences. Since it may change the direction of a larger pattern done without modulating. On the drawing, the "Milonga Box" pattern generator with the "Cunita" pattern generator included is shown.

Pattern Generators: Following and Transformation

A pattern in another coordinate system produced by a body pattern generator (see "What is a Pattern Generator" chapter) may follow a certain path, be constrained to certain constraints usually with small incremental changes. This can be achieved by small changes in technique of performance of the body. Let us call this phenomena Following. There may be another, better name for it.

At a certain point, the small changes became something else. A pattern generator becomes another pattern generator. Small, quantitative changes are accumulating and cause a qualitative change. This can be called Transformation of a pattern generator. As an example, here a "Milonga Box" may be transformed into "Square Box" when the two of the steps are transformed into the foot changes.

A Square Box appears when a certain pair of steps of Milonga Box are transformed into foot changes. There are three pairs possible, it means there are two more "siblings" of a Square Box. What are they?

Transformed patterns may continue to follow the same line.

Another example of following is a graduate change of a Milonga Box to change an output pattern into a more flat, squeezed pattern, and a transformation into another, more linear pattern generator. With this method, Milonga Box is transformed into an "Ocho Cortado Prototype" and then into a conventional "Ocho Cortado" pattern generator. Both are not discussed in this book, but now you have an idea how to make them.

Third Dimension

Colgada, Leverage

Argentine Tango is a relatively simple dance since it practically does not have jumps, lifts, spins and aerials, though some are possible. It essentially is done in two dimensions of the floor.

However there are two ways to exit into the third dimension. In Tango, they are called Colgada and Apilado.

Colgada, or "hanging" is similar to Leverage in Swing. It usually referres to certain figures, but the whole dance can be done in Colgada positions with all elements done "hanging away" from a partner.

Leveraging is a good way to experience various twists in the body since it implements the "Monkey" model. Performing various changes of poses and directions while leveraging can be very educational. (See the disclaimer!). Colgada is not an important element of tango and it does not define the dance.


Apilado, "stacking", "heaping" is a partner position when their torso bones are in very close physical contact. Partners "lean" against each other just like against a wall when one leans against the wall to rest. So, who "is stacking"? A woman is coming to a man, attaches her torso to him and pushes into his torso up. Up! He responds in a similar fashion. As a result, their torso centers move outside of the projection of a center of the ball of the standing foot, coming between the partners. The distance range is from very little to huge. All tango figures may be performed in this position. Dancers may dance the whole evening like this. It is easier since the tightness of the bodies provides an energetically more economical way to maintain the balance. Moving in this position is very sensual. It amplifies feeling, it puts the movements and tensions under a microscope. It encourages very graceful and meaningful movements and pose changes. Maintaining the balance unshaken during a dance is a goal. But the degree of leaning may vary from larger to smaller for different elements. Many people dance only in this position.

Movements in Apilado obtain new quality as being performed in 3D space. The perceived difference is huge. Though, the full degree of beauty and pleasure of this dance can not be seen by others and only felt by dancers themselves. Tango can be understood completely only after mastering dancing in Apilado. The position of Apilado is typical for Argentine Tango. Even when partners dance apart, in the "open embrace", their body position and moves are just like they would be in Apilado.