“Understanding the Structure
of Argentine Tango Dance”

The “Eight Count Basic” Pattern

O yes, there is a very known step pattern in tango consisting of eight steps. Many people “learned” this in their first tango class. It's called the “eight count basic”, and it contains some ingredients that take a lot of time to master.

  • Getting the follower on one leg to be able to lead the first step.
  • Not forgetting to look back (the leader) before taking any backward step.
  • The cross step, performing it in balance and leading and following it well.
  • Leading and following the second step, where the follower's step is supposed to be smaller than the leader's (pretty hard).
  • The leader not overtaking the follower while heading for the cross step.
  • Keeping your torsos facing each other during step 2, 3 and 4. Or more precisely, the follower following the leader's torso and not the pattern, and the leader effectively leading with his torso.
  • Doing all this while turning at the corners of the floor to follow the line of dance.
  • ...

Deeply hidden below all this is the essence of it all: doing one step well. Remember, the “how” you do it is what matters, not the what.

The main effects of this routine (in my opinion) are:

  • It gives many beginning dancers quickly the illusion of mastery, since most people can learn this figure relatively easily. I would say it takes at least three years of dancing to perform it reasonably, and ten years to do it beautifully.
  • It distracts students from learning something useful, such as leading, following and performing one step while continuously in balance and connection.
  • Teachers feel safer if they start their first lessons like this. Most students want quick “results” and typically “crave” for something quick and seemingly easy like only eight steps to memorize. This is intellectual memory training however, not tango.

All this being said, I think its use to a student is limited.

  • It can demonstrate a very typical tango “sentence” and its structure of “salida” (meaning something like the “leave” or the start), “caminata” (the stroll), and “resolución” (the tango close).
  • It can be an interesting little routine that one could consider as an exam to prove skill and elegance.


Alternative Diagram of the Eight Count Basic Pattern
Alternative Diagram of the Eight Count Basic Pattern. Not the foot trajectories are depicted, but the traveling of the connection line between partners (the line between their weight-bearing feet). The feet only indicate who steps where, and feet directions are not correctly represented. They depend on the step directions.


The following table shows the characteristics of the 8 steps, using the terminology of this site.

  Leader Follower Couple
  Step Direction Step Type Step Direction Step Type Movement Walking System
Step 1 backward open (a bit) forward open in line (a bit along) Parallel
Step 2 sideways open sideways open along Parallel
Step 3 forward cross front backward cross back (a bit) in line (a bit along) Parallel
Step 4 forward open backward open (a bit) in line (a bit along) Parallel
Step 5 in place open forward cross cross front opposite Parallel
Step 6 forward open backward open (a bit) in line (a bit along) Parallel
Step 7 side open side open along Parallel
Step 8 in place open in place open along Parallel

As you can see, there is a little bit of counterclockwise turning of the couple in the cross step. In step 5 (from position 4 to 5 in the diagram), we both take a very little step in the opposite direction. Since it is such a small step, it is often led in double time, which allows for smooth body speed.


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