(For Argentine Style Tango, please refer to “Specialty Dances”)

The Ballroom Style of Tango is one of the most beautiful of all the dances. It is characterized by earthy and dramatic movements. In order to achieve the distinctive style of Tango, it is important to develop controlled staccato footwork along with fluid graceful movements. The unique rhythm of the music is great training for timing and phrasing which develops as the dancer becomes more proficient. Tango practice is essential towards becoming a good Smooth or Standard dancer.

Teaching Elements:

  • Tango Basics–Work on level progression
  • Dance Positions–Closed position for better lead and follow
  • Amalgamations–Link patterns easily for smooth transitions
  • Control–Learn to channel momentum into the floor
  • Variety (Interrelation)–Build vocabulary of patterns for style, movement & adaptation
  • Footwork–Develop foot coordination. Flares and Fans are exercises of balance in rotation
  • Compare/Contrast–Argentine Tango, Foxtrot, Waltz, Bolero


The Tango began in Argentina where it is still danced and continues to develop into the form known as Argentine Tango. It has a long and rich history and has been associated with Argentine culture since the late 1800’s.

Ballroom Tango started its development after the Tango was sensationally demonstrated in Paris in the early 1900’s. Paris at the time was considered the centre of western culture and was hungry for new innovative trends and not at all averse to the risqué nature of this new dance. It was also widely demonstrated by the famous ragtime era ballroom dance couple Vernon and Irene Castle who exemplified a style and elegance that stood out from the wild vulgarity of the ragtime dancing phenomenon [see Foxtrot]. They included it in their book of dances entitled “Modern Dancing” released in 1914. “A sublimated form of Tango, I admit” writes Mrs. Castle but their interpretation included double head movements, stalking leg action, lunges and dips, many of the components still used (though updated in their style) today.

World War I consumed everyone’s attention in the subsequent years and Vernon was killed in an aircraft accident. It wasn’t until 1921 after the silent screen star Rudolph Valentino danced his Tango in “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” that the world once again became fascinated by it. It became all the rage in Paris all over again and made its way to England where it continued its development over the years in the dance studios into the English or International Style Tango and also to the United States where it developed on a parallel path into the American Style Tango. Both styles continue to be danced in professional competition in their respective divisions.


Tango music is usually written in 2/4 or 4/4 timing. Often this music has a clear beat and strong phrasing in sets of 8 counts especially in music used when introducing this dance to a new student. The recommended tempo is 30 to 32 bpm (bars per minute) with American Style usually at the slightly slower tempo and International Style at the slightly faster.

As a student progresses, music with more complex structure can be used. At the highest levels complex music such as those recorded by the “Gotan Project” can be used to great artistic effect.  American Style Tango has been danced in movies such as “True Lies” and “Scent of a Woman”.


The first teaching rhythm in American Style tango is slow, slow, quick, quick, slow (“T-A-N-G-O”), 3 walks forward starting on the left foot and then side to right and draw left foot toward the right. In International Style Tango a similar simple grouping of walks and progressive side step is usually used as an introduction.

The hold in Tango is more compact than in other Smooth or Standard dances. The walk in Tango is a staccato action. This dramatic movement is accentuated by the delayed follow-through of the free leg and foot. It has a more sustained downward leg pressure than in the other Smooth and Standard dances making for a heavier, stronger look particularly for the man.

This dance is the perfect dance to develop a strong sense of power and groundedness in movement and to develop a sense of musical rhythm and after that, phrasing.

Like the other ballroom dances, the International Style must remain in closed hold while American Style allows for underarm turns and position changes that make it very adaptable for manoeuvering around the floor and also more choreographically varied. American Style Tango is like a hybrid combining the sharp dramatic styling of the International Style with many of the smooth and graceful movements of the Argentine Style. Components from other dances such as the dramatic shaping of Paso Doble and the romantic liquidness of Bolero can be added to create interesting textures.

The Tango of today is a powerful dance, one that is exciting to dance and to watch, with a strong sense of the dramatic. Electric tension between the partners is played out as the dance progresses, one never quite knowing how the story will end until the end of the dance — and often with a twist in the plot.  Modern Tango is considered the “dancer’s dance” and becomes a favorite of all who learn it well.

Tango songs and artists include:

  • Hernando’s Hideaway – from “The Pajama Game”
  • Whatever Lola Wants – from “Damn Yankees”
  • La Cumparsita – Julio Iglesias
  • Por Una Cabeza – from “Scent of a Woman”