Cybertango Longer definitions and explanation of 'Tango Terms'

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Since this list is still very incomleate, why not take a look at the Spanish-English Dance Vocabulary compiled by Daniel Trenner
[These are postings or parts from posting out of the Tango mailing list]
The word derives from the castellano word FLORETA, which refers to some type of embroidery or arabesque, and also to some specific dance moves. In the general sense of the word, FIRULETE is an adornment, a decoration, an embellishment that a person wears or dons to look prettier, better, more handsome, marvelous, etc.
In the dance of Tango, FIRULETES are the complicated steps that the dancers execute to demonstrate their skills.
El Firulete is also the name of the Argentine Tango Newsletter published in Northern California.


cortes vs. firuletes

[starting note: I found myself adding small comments between brackets all the time. To allow for an easier reading I've put those comments as footnotes. That's why those numbers are standing in the text.]

In the tango-term discussion we have up to now touched upon two different aspects of the dance: 'firuletes' and 'cortes'. You could say that they are opposites.

If we see tango in principle as a way of moving, changing your weight from one foot to the other in a rhythmic way (caminar?), then 'firuletes' [1] are extra movements that do not interfere with this principle movement. They add something extra to the 'principle move'. 'Cortes' on the other hand are those elements where the movement is stopped for a moment. So a 'corte' takes something away from the 'principle move'.

First to the firuletes [2]. Caran and Steve explained already that 'lapiz' is a sort of firulete, where a leg is metaphorically seen as a pencil, drawing on the floor. This is the general meaning, and in this sense 'dibujo' and 'traze' [3] are a kind of 'lapiz'. But 'lapiz' has very often got a more delimited meaning, just as Steve explained the movement: as a men's circular leg-movement in giro [4]. If we discriminate between those two we can start to bring some structure in the ever longer list of Tango Terminology (see below). Another firulete is the patada: the kick, that became famous as a kick from the man between the legs of the woman while she is doing giro or ochos. In choreographies women are seen doing kicks between the legs of the men too (This sometimes happens in improvisation, but I have to say that I know only one woman who did it regularly).

                           /     |      \
      lapiz (general meaning)   patada   other...[5]
      /        |       \
  dibujo    traze    lapiz (delimited meaning)
I did not include boleo and gancho, as I'm not sure whether I would rate them as pure firuletes. They both can only be performed properly if the other partner 'goes with it'. In my view firuletes are something that one of the dancers can do without 'disturbing' the other. Maybe we should say that boleo and gancho are 'extreme' firuletes.

Now to cortes. The word 'corte' comes from the verb 'cortar': to cut. It possibly refers to a cut in the principle movement [6]. It is one of the central pecularities of Argentine Tango: the constant movement can be broken, which makes it possible to make real 'dance phrases'. You could say that cortes are the punctuation of the dance. In one interpretation of the term 'salida' [7], you could say that after each 'corte' there follows a 'salida'. After the movement has stopped, you have to start again. A 'parada' as explained by Ernst is a corte [8]. Mordida (and reverse mordida) are elaborations of a parada. I would rate the 'resolution natural' also as a corte, although some might disagree. The 'resolution natural' is the '678' (for those who count). It is the ending of the eight count basic [9], leading to a stand-still. Another corte is the 'quebrada': a position where the woman stands on one foot, the other one hanging relaxed behind the standing foot, often seen with the woman hanging with all her weight against the man [11].

              ____________ corte ___________
             /         /            \       \
       parada  resolution natural  quebrada  other...[10]
  (reverse) mordida
So far from me. The hardest part is still to come: the terms refering to various forms of the 'principle movement'. Don't forget the footnotes!

michael cysouw
nijmegen, holland


[1] 'embellishments' is probably the closest english word.
[2] is 'adorno' just another word for the same, or does somebody feel a difference in connotation between the two?
[3] explain that last one (traze) some more Caran, I've never heard it, and I'm not quite sure if I got you right.
[4] Steve wrote the following: 'In the counter-clockwise molinete, the left-foot lapiz comes after the follower has completed a her back step. As she starts her side step, the leader sweeps his left foot away in front of her, then draws it in toward his right foot. As she completes her front step, he completes the his move, placing his left foot adjacent to her left foot.' Note that this last part is a 'parada' (see note [8]).
[5] any special names for "taps on the floor" or for the "touching of a foot of the other" (informal those movements are called 'kisses' around here).
[6] the same root is also found in 'cafe cortado'. Some people talk about a special kind of ocho as an 'ocho cortado'. Maybe some other time I will talk about that one.
[7] see my mail from 28-05: "some more about salida", hopefully soon on Garrit's server (nice work Garrit!). [Thanks :-), G.]
[8] Ernst described a parada as: 'the leader stops the follower with the inside edge of the leader's right foot touching the outside edge of the follower's left foot.' I don't think that it is important for the definition of a parada to name the feet or the side of the feet: all 8 possibilities are possible IMO. I would say that a parada is a 'corte with touching of feet'.
[9] Note that Caran named the eight count basic a 'salida simple'. This shows again a further metaphorical step in the development of the meaning of 'salida' as described in my last mail. Here 'salida' doesn't refer anymore to the start of movement, but to the start of learning tango! the 'salida simple' is the first figure most people learn.
[10] any special names for other cortes? For instance making a point, then starting again into another direction.
[11] The verb 'quebrar' means to break/to bend. Does this refer to the strained position of the woman's back, bended and on the edge of breaking? Maybe somebody has some better idea about the meaning of the word.

Here's what some or my teachers taught me. The circular sweeping action is usually called an enrosque (corkscrew). Lapiz means to tilt the foot almost vertically & scribe figures on the floor. It can be added to the end of the enrosque.

Larry de Los Angeles

Parada, Mordida, Reverse Mordida, Sandwich
Parada simply means stop, mordida (or sandwich) means that the foot of one partner is "trapped" between the two feet of the other partner. If the legs of this other partner are crossed, then it is a reverse mordida.
Sometimes confusion takes place when people say that a parada is the same as a sandwich. In my view this is incorrect. The confusion might stem from the fact that often you go from a parada to a mordida, e.g. the leader stops the follower with the inside edge of the leader's right foot touching the outside edge of the follower's left foot. This is the parada. The leader continues by shifting his weight over his right foot and closing the left foot to the right foot with the follower's left foot trapped in between. This is the mordida (or sandwich). The name mordida comes from morder (to bite), it is a metaphorical picture similar to that of the sandwich. The leader might now consider to go to another parada by moving his right foot back. When the follower then steps with her right leg over the leader's left leg and pulls (in the next step) with her left foot the leader's left foot towards her right foot, she does a reverse mordida (try it out...).

Ernst Buchberger

Parada, as somebody already guessed is stop.
Mordida is byte.
Sandwich is just that, sandwich.

In Tango terms, the terms originated in a club located in a blue collar neighborhood of the province of Buenos Aires. At lunch time, some workers enjoyed a game of soccer (picado, from pick up game) while others practiced their Tango. One warm day of summer, a middle age man named Policarpo was dancing with one of the neighborhood girls while suddenly he stopped, pulled a sandwich from his pocket, took a byte and continued dancing without missing a beat. Everybody stopped in their tracks and applauded.
From that day on, all the other workers tried to imitate but never equated the singular talent of Policarpo who became known as the creator of the Parada, Mordida and Sandwich, elements which later made him a millonaire as every "maestro" developed their variations, paid him royalties and charged hefty dollars to foreign dancers. :-)

(original info by Jose Movelo)

When doing a parada (stop) it is not the leader's foot touching the follower's that leads the parada. That is an optional element, that can only act to add one more cue to the more important leads. These are:

pressure against the follower's back keeping him/her from continuing to move,
pressure on his/her balance hand opposite to the push on hi/r back,
downward pressure on both points.

This has to be timed just right (a little over hir reaction time to events, plus a fudge factor dependent on how familiar (or not) s/he is with paradas). But done properly, a good follower with no exposure to paradas will respond as the leader intends.

Larry de California Sur

Salida does *not* mean the end. It means "exit", and it stems from the verb "salir" which translates as "to exit", "to go out". It strikes me as funny that what a (supposedly) native speaker of English terms an entrance move is actually called an exit move in Spanish. So much for the different conceptions in different languages.
Ernst Buchberger

The word originates with the way men invite women to dance. "Salimos a bailar?" for example uses a variacion of the verb SALIR and he is saying "shall we dance"?
In Tango BAILEMOS the protagonist says at one point: "... el Tango ya termina, salgamos a bailar"
Again, the meaningful translation is "the Tango is ending, let's go dance".
When the fad of Tango dancing began to sweep the world, those who tried to learn "by the numbers" may have wanted a more scientific definition and portenios dancers faithful to their entrepreneurial spirits coined the term SALIDA to indicate a sequence of initial steps and from there on, each traveling "maestro" carried a suitcase full of steps with their own version of SALIDAS.
Hopefully this will clarify the issue and bring a little sense to the wonderful of Tango terms.
So, in Tango terms, SALIDA means the beginning of the dance and I would equate it with the expression "SHALL WE..?" How to start dancing is irrelevant since we have two feet and four cardinal points to begin moving. Some men prefer to step to the side while others will step back, but I have seen people start dancing by walking straight forward, etc. (I have been experimenting stepping to the right but I keep banging my elbow against the wall... :-)
Many times the way one begins the dance is dictated by common sense, courtesy or the lack of it but there is no rule as to how to do that.


Some more about the meaning of 'salida'
As pointed out before, 'salida' comes from the verb 'salir', meaning 'to exit, to go out'. Ernst wondered about this:
It strikes me as funny that what a (supposedly) native speaker of English terms an entrance move is actually called an exit move in Spanish.

Alberto proposed that:
The word originates with the way men invite women to dance. "Salimos a bailar?" for example uses a variacion of the verb SALIR and he is saying "shall we dance"?
So, in Tango terms, SALIDA means the beginning of the dance and I would equate it with the expression "SHALL WE..?"

I don't agree with Alberto here. IMO the word 'Salida' came into tango through a completely normal metaphorical use of the word. Let's first look at the meaning of 'salir' some more. It is always very hard to describe the meaning of a word in abstract terms, but for this case I would like to define the basic idea of the verb 'salir' as "leaving the present location and start doing something". The meaning includes:
- the transition from a state into an action
- the state takes place 'here', the action 'there'
- a connotation of 'pleasure' in some uses (e.g. salir a comer)

So 'salir a bailar' means simply 'to go out to dance':leave the house to go to a milonga (from sitting here go there to do something). This meaning then is metaphorically used for every dance: from standing still you start moving, you 'go out on the dance floor'. (In fact I find the word 'entrance' not the best translation, Ernst, because 'to enter' is an action resulting in a state: 'going in' results in 'being inside'. IMO words like 'beginning' or 'start' are much better.)

I do completely agree with the tango-meaning of 'salida' given by Alberto:
SALIDA means the beginning of the dance

Note: in fact there is only *one* salida in each particular-3-minute-tango. Only the way you start moving at the beginning of the dance is a salida. But I think at the moment there is a new process ongoing where this meaning is again used metaphorically for something different. Instead of naming the start of a *dance* a salida, the start of a *figure* is more and more called a salida: every way to start moving anew after a 'resolucion natural' (another term for the list!).

michael cysouw

New (names for) Styles of dance
(Urquiza style, Almagro style, Naveira style)

"New Styles of dance generate confrontations and polemics between milongueros"
(Article from "Clarin"

For ten years, the proliferation of teachers and schools have been modifying the way to dance tango. Although the change is evident, it has heterogeneous forms. As a result of that, there is a new paradigm: today, anyone can dance.

The static postcard of the milongas today, with its colorful mixture of "hip youngsters" and "old time historical habitués" united in the "ritual" of the dance, is not more than that: a flat image that rarely reveals something more than a repertoire of archetypes. Behind that frozen scene, nevertheless, an unsuspected and burning world exists where the old can be new, the novelty can be obsolete, a simple thing can be difficult, and the excessive is insufficient. And in that, on the other hand, all these values are in permanent change.

Ten years ago, and in a symptomatic coincidence with the world-wide triumph of the musical review Tango Argentino, the social dance of tango began to rise from the ashes in which it had been almost buried for decades.

It is known that throughout these last ten years, the panorama was modified completely. Today, hundreds of instructors shape thousands of dancers who attend tens of milongas. In order to have an idea, it is enough to take a look at anyone of the specialized publications (Tangauta, B.A. Tango), or to consider that at a single school (Estrella-LaViruta) there is an enrollment of 600 students.

But beyond the numbers factor, the phenomenon of the contemporary milongas marks a historical change in another sense: a new change of direction in the continuous transformation of the styles of dance throughout the century.

What is being favored today on the dance floor? If it is what can be observed with more frequency, one would say that three tendencies are disputing for supremacy: the Urquiza style, the Almagro style and the Naveira style, as the fans know them, - implying a neighborhood, a club and a teacher.

They are not difficult to distinguish. Make yourself comfortable on a stool by the bar and you will see them move over the waxed surface: a couple that advances with long steps, touching the floor as if they are wearing gloves on their feet (Urquiza), is followed by other couple closely embraced and whose short steps adjust synchronously to the beat (Almagro), and behind, a third couple that unfolds all the imaginable variety of figures which the previous couples can do without (Naveira). Adding to that, there will be another couple schooled in the style of Antonio Todaro and belonging to an elite with technical formation, that alternates between the social dancing at the milongas and the professional stage performances.

The fans are simultaneously protagonists and judges of the prevailing tendencies. In some halls, one or another one dominates. But on several "pistas" the practitioners of different styles mix with each other, they watch each other out, they appraise each other, they admire themselves or they condemn the others. The commentaries can be listened to between the tables, but they can be tracked all the way down to the Internet (currently a Tangolist site burns with opinions like: " So and so's dancing, looks like a cowboy with hemorrhoids ").
Miguel Angel Zotto and Milena Plebs led the first changes at the beginning of the 90's. When they reconstructed in their spectacle Tango x 2 elements of style of the popular dance, they revealed to inadvertent eyes of the public, the wealth of the world of the milonga. Then, the halls, and the classes of Antonio Todaro, bricklayer and milonguero, with whom Zotto and Plebs had made their meticulous work of stylistic archaeology, began to fill with new customers.

A little later, Susana Miller began her classes at the traditional Club Almagro. Miller (of academic extraction) associated with Cacho Dante (a veteran aficionado) begun from her classes the propagation of which usually is known as the Almagro style - very similar to the typical style of the downtown night clubs of the 40's. Its less demanding requirements gave access even to those who were less fitted naturally, technically or sensitively. And it quickly put on the dance floor an enormous amount of new fans, generating a true leveling off of the dance.

Right now, the influence that registers greater growth is, perhaps, the one of dancer and teacher Gustavo Naveira. The faithful followers of his method of combination of steps and figures consider it "the acme of creative improvisation ". The detractors, who detest the way in which the Naveira dancers move around the floor looking for space for their movements, define them as "the patrol cars of the dance floor."

Naveira himself affirms: "a single person cannot be determining in the evolution of the dance. That's been happening from the beginning of the tango, and without stop, always because of a conjunction of factors. Now, what is arising is a system of improvisation of an even greater variety of combinations. And these changes are also transferred to the marking techniques to lead the woman".

However, for disc jockey Horacio Godoy the future is in Villa Urquiza. Teachers Vilma Heredia and Gabriel Angió also agree that many young people are focusing their attention to the floor of the old Sunderland Club of Villa Urquiza, where they still can watch the habitués of half century ago. "Urquiza is what it's coming," prophesies Godoy. "There is a group of kids that realized that the maximum wealth is there. I am not talking about figures, it's about the musicality and the quality of the movement. It's about a wealth of knowledge so subtle and complex that for the ordinary eye is imperceptible. "

The trends, in any case, hardly draw up general lines: common characteristics, airs of familiarity. As it has always happened with tango, there are so many ways to dance as there are dancers (it is what highly distinguishes it from almost all other forms of popular social dance). And in the same way, there will be so many opinions on the question as the number of people on the dance floor.

By Irene Amuchastegui and Laura Falcoff
Clarin Newspaper
Sunday, August 8, 1999

Garrit Fleischmann Aug. 1999
Email: kontakt(at)