Argentine Tango Encyclopedia

Almost all tango movements can be specified by describing the position and direction of motion of joints.

Each joint in the body has different movement possibilities.


The base leg is always externally rotated at the hip joint. This requires contraction of the stabilizing muscles (especially piriformis) which support and protect the joints of the leg from the weight of the body. The piriformis also links the femur to the spine, integrating of the work of the leg with the torso so that information and power is directly transmitted to the partner.

The free leg is almost always in external rotation. The exception is that as the free leg approaches the base leg between steps the hip relaxes very slightly into internal rotation to create a “natural” walking aesthetic.

The base leg’s hip is always flexed. This base flexion is accomplished by contraction of the psoas muscle, canting the torso slighly forward and shifting the tailbone backwards 2-5cm without contracting muscles of the lower back which arch the back (and make you feel like a duck). The result of correct flexion of the base leg’s hip is a slight cant of the upper bodies toward the partner, which forms the skeletal structure of the arch of connection.

Notice that athletes are using hip flexion all the time, because it means they are contracting the quadriceps, the strongest muscle in the body!


During transfer of weight hip flexion changes in different ways for each step.

  • In front step, the back/sending/base leg’s hip extends, along with the knee and ankle to lever the body forward. However, the front/moving leg’s hip never loses flexion.
  • In back step, both legs’ hips increase flexion.
  • In side step, the change in hip flexion is slight.

In voleo, the free leg’s hip joint moves before its knee joint.

  • In back voleo, the free leg’s hip joint extends completely.
  • In front voleo, the free leg’s hip joint adducts completely.
  • In side voleo (linear), the free leg’s hip abducts and then flexes.

Flexion of the base leg’s knee joint controls the size of the step. (More flexion = longer step.)

There are no universal rules about the position of the base leg’s knee at the start and end of the step. This depends on the amount of power of the step, and on personal aesthetics.

The free leg’s knee should be fully extended during both first and second projection.

When marking crosses the Mark’s back leg’s knee should be extended.

In ganchos, it looks nice if the Mark extends the knee of the leg who is not receiving the gancho.

In voleos, the free leg’s knee flexes, after the hip makes its action.


When bearing weight, the ankle joint’s flexion automatically co-varies with the knee joint.

  • In front and side steps, during the transfer of weight, the sending leg’s ankle joint become fully extended as part of the control system of the step.
  • In back steps, during the transfer of weight, with the receiving leg’s knee fully extended in projection, ankle flexion of the receiving leg (which will place the heel onto the floor) will pull the receiving leg’s hip into correct position and flexion. (In addition, some dancers like to flex the sending leg’s ankle so as to push off with the heel at the last moment. Other dancers prefer to lift the sending leg’s heel so that the aesthetic of the deweighting leg is a pointed toe.)

During projection and in the air, the free leg’s ankle should always be fully extended, to create the aesthetic of a pointed toe. Occasionally we flex the free leg’s ankle as an adorno.

When pointed, the ankle should not be rotated. Internal rotation of the ankle is called “sickle” and external rotation is called “winged”.

As the free leg approaches and passes the base leg during a step, with the hip relaxing into slight internal rotation, the ankle relaxes into flexion.


The shoulder joint is the most complex joint in the body, with the most possibilities for motion.

You can spend a lot of money paying teachers telling you to “relax” your shoulders. This instruction is ineffective, because as soon as we start to concentrate, we tend to tense and lift the shoulders. Rather than trying not to perform an autonomic reaction, a more functional instruction is to make an action: externally rotate your shoulders by gently contracting the shoulder stabilizing muscles of the rotator cuff (infraspinatus and teres minor).
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We will use the term ‘shoulder-flexion’ to refer to changes in the angle between the arm and the body. The shoulders can flex vertically, moving the elbow upward in front or behind the body (vertical shoulder-flexion), and they can flex laterally, moving the elbows from left to right (lateral shoulder-flexion)

When we are moving in the same direction as our partner, neither shoulder-flexion should change. We stabilize vertical shoulder flexion with the deltoids, and lateral shoulder flexion with the supraspinatus.

Changes in shoulder-flexions are used for two types of change of embrace:


If the shoulders are externally rotated, the elbows should be pointed toward the floor.

Changes in elbow flexion are used for a third type of change of embrace which is to give permission for the leaning movements, volcada and colgada.

Elbow flexion also changes automatically, accompanying shoulder-flexion, to accommodate many different positions of the embrace. When we are not making a change of embrace, we stabilize the elbows by gently contracting the triceps muscle. This keeps the embrace and the arch taut so that we have perfect connection for communication.


The wrist joints also flex to accompany changes of embrace.

The base position of the Mark’s embrace should be with wrists extended. Some dancers flex the wrist (either palmar flexion, tilting towards the palm or dorsiflexion, tilting towards the back of the hand) as an aesthetic affectation, but it’s most comfortable and functional to keep the wrist extended so that the palms of the hands face toward and hold the Revel’s heart. This way the power created by the lower body is directed through the embrace toward her arc.


Variations of Each Element


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