“Understanding the Structure
of Argentine Tango Dance”

The Walking System

Paralelo versus Cruzado

Suppose both partners step more or less simultaneously. This is what happens most of the time in tango, but also when walking in the park with someone you like. Then this can be done in either of the following ways:

  • parallel system (sistema paralelo): both were standing on the opposite foot (i.e. one on left and one on right), and thus stepping will happen again on opposite feet;

  • crossed system (sistema cruzado): both were standing on the same foot (i.e. both on left, or both on right), and thus stepping will happen again on the same foot.
Walking System Leader Steps With Follower Steps With
parallel left right
right left
crossed left left
right right

As always, all stepping happens with the free leg (the non-standing leg).

Changing the Walking System (Not for Beginners)

You will want to change regularly from one system to the other during the dance. How? There really only is one way. One partner should do an uneven number of steps (mostly one step) while the other person does not step. In practice this amounts to:

  • the leader leading a step while skipping one step himself (no so easy, takes practice)

  • the leader taking an extra step (called a “traspié”) while hiding it (not leading any step).

In both cases, this step needs to be towards one side of the embrace and around the non-moving partner if you want to keep the connection's distance. Remark just for completeness: this doesn't need to be, because there is a way of changing the distance between your feet while maintaining the upper-body connection, by varying the amount of forward lean (apilado). This is however rather advanced to lead and follow well. It is also a rather modern form of tango, with all of its volcadas, colgadas, and carpas.

Mostly, the leader will lead or do the smallest step possible (a weight shift in place). In that case, it is only natural to do it in double tempo. What does this mean exactly for non-waltz music: that the previous, the extra and the following step would be counted as quick quick slow (see further on). This boils down to inserting an extra step in the middle of the other two, and is called a traspié. In waltz, you want to do this in the music, meaning exactly on 1/3 or 2/3 in between the normal steps.

Furthermore, you typically will want to smoothly maintain body speed.

  • If you split consecutive steps when feet land on the ground, the traspié and the next step will both have to be half as long in distance too. This is called a chassé step. Thus one partner does a full normal slow step, the other one does two half length steps at the same time.

  • But in tango-speak, it is much more logical to split consecutive steps when the free leg collects, and then the traspié is a very small step (a weight change with your feet together), and the steps before and after are normal steps.

These are two different descriptions of exactly the same movement.

 

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