To dance – Verb
1. Move rhythmically to music, typically following a set sequence of steps.

Dancing is done to music and one of the best ways to improve your dancing is to better understand the music you dance on. Because if not dancing to the music, we’re not really dancing, we’re merely moving.

So, here are 5 top tips to help you go get this exhilarating feeling of being at one with the music: the feeling of dancing.

Of course, knowing more about the music helps but as one says, practice makes perfect and the more you can dance to the music, or at least listen to tango music, the better!


1- Understand tango music structure

blog argentine tango music structure


In a few layman words, tango music is characterised by:

  • Musical phrases of 8 beats. To tune into the music, plan your sequences and adornments so that they naturally start and end with the musical phrase.
  • Usually 1 beat per second for most orchestras. That means: no rush!
  • Strong beats are beats 1, 3, 5, 7. When dancing on the beat, we are actually using only the strong beats of the music.
  • Weak beats are 2, 4, 6, 8. When dancing on half beats, we are in fact using both the strong and the weak beats.

If you want to know more about tango music structure, some blogs cover this in greater details, such as: Tango Musicology.

Top tip

When starting a tango, don't rush. Wait a few bars to identify the beat and tune in, both to your partner and to the song. When ready, breathe in, and try and step on a 1 or at least a strong beat. Nothing better to make your partner swoon.

2- Know your Di Sarli from your D’Arienzo

Tango orchestras can be categorised in 3 broad families, which take after 3 major Golden Age orchestras:

Argentine tango London | Juan D'Arienzo

Juan D’Arienzo, “El Rey del Compas” (the King of the Beat). Spear-heading the Golden Age, D’Arienzo put a strong emphasis on the beat and returned to the feel that characterized early tangos, with more modern arrangements and instrumentation. Dancing to D’Arienzo is not for the faint-hearted, it is fun, playful, fast and half beats can’t be missed – what, weak beats are almost as strong as strong beats!


Argentine tango London | Carlos Di Sarli

Carlos Di Sarli, whose reputation for musical elegance got him the nickname “El Señor del Tango” (The gentleman of tango). A talented piano player, he directed his orchestra from behind his instrument. His style does not feature significant instrumental solos; only the violins stand out, sometimes playing a short solo or a counterpoint melody. When dancing to Di Sarli, slower, more ample moves are more appropriate to express the depth of his elegant music.


Argentine tango London | Osvaldo Pugliese

Osvaldo Pugliese, known for developing dramatic arrangements that retained the elements of tango salón walking beat whilst heralding the development of concert-style tango music. In Buenos Aires milongas, Pugliese is often played later in the evening when milongueros want to dance more slowly, expressively and intimately. Pugliese is a great choice for slower tango dance music, but the arrangements can be a bit challenging.


To listen to tango music, there are quite a few online tango radios you can tune in. Todo Tango lists some and so does Very Tango.

Did you know? At the tango world championship which happens in Buenos Aires every August, finalists are asked to dance on three songs, one from each of these tango families.

Top tip

When learning a new step or adornment, take a few seconds to identify whether it is a 'rhythmical' step, e.g. a step like the cortado which plays with double beats or a 'melodic' step, e.g. a routine which emphasises a musical phrase in its entirety. Some steps can be both depending on how you interpret them. Having a clear idea of how steps and adornments will fit in with particular orchestras will definitely help you be a better dancer.

3- Understand tango lyrics

Argentine tango London | Microphone

Old school milongueros even say it’s plain impossible to interpret a tango song without knowing the lyrics.

It does make sense if you think about it: you wouldn’t express yourself in the same way if the poet is crying about his lost love, rejoicing about being reunited with his lover, or criticising the rich boys who were so despised in the Golden Age.


Tango most common themes are:

  • Love (usually unhappy) and women
  • Mates and friendship
  • Buenos Aires
  • Places of social interactions: conventillos, bars, boliches…
  • Tango, the music, the dance and the dancers
  • The bandoneon, personified and given a voice and feelings
  • Travels

Lyrics are so important, we’ve cranked up our translation machine and are going one step at a time, one song at a time. Have a look at our tango lyrics section to check our our latest translations.

You can also download your free pdf ebook of everyone’s old time favourites, translated in English and impress your favourite partner with a fact of two about the tunes that make us all hit the dancefloor, night after night!

After all, there’s definite beauty in understanding tango songs, or at least a few… maybe the ones that make you swoon?

Top tip

Even if you don't understand the lyrics, always treat the voice of the singer as an instrument you can follow and dance on. When the voice starts, breathe in and take it in your dancing - slow, poised moves often work best.

4- Learn by example

Argentine tango London | Buenos Aires Mundial

If you have favourite tango dancers, you probably already know where to find them on Youtube. If you don’t quite know where to start, it can be a good idea to start following tango salón world champions:

2013: Maximiliano Cristiani and Jesica Arfenoni
2012: Facundo de la Cruz Gómez Palavecino and Paola Sanz
2011: Diego Benavidez Hernández and Natasha Agudelo Arboleda
2010: Sebastián Ariel Jimenez and María Inés Bogado
2009: Hiroshi Yamao and Kyoko Yamao
2008: Daniel Nacucchio and Cristina Sosa

As you watch your favourite video, observe the changes in the music: Did an instrument suddenly disappear? Did an instrument suddenly appear? Did the voice start or end? What impact did the change have on the atmosphere and mood of the song?

Then, observe how the couple marks such musical changes with their dancing, be it with:

  • Change of direction
  • Change of height
  • Change of rhythm (on the beat, half beat, double beat)
  • Change of size of steps
  • Change of embrace

Top tip

The violin in tango is often associated with the woman and with slow moves. The double bass is said to represent the man and might be more suited to strong moves, like sacadas. When the piano leads, it illustrates the man and the woman together - which can be interpreted by walking together, on the beat, double beat and making pauses. The bandoneon usually calls for fast foot work.

5- Be an adventurous painter!

Argentine tango London | Lavender fields

Do you like postcards of lavender fields in the South of France?

I do too. However, I tend to find them ever so slightly boring. They’re too flat. The colours are too uniform, the lines are too straight. It simply is too tidy.


Argentine tango London | Mountains

When dancing tango, don’t be afraid of contrasts. Don’t paint with your feet a lavender field. Paint instead a picture of a rugged mountain.

Imagine… On one side, a snowy, blindingly white mountain summit; on the other, a green peaceful valley with cute little wooden houses, tranquil cows and frolicking rabbits. On one side, a mountain storm; on the other, a sunny breeze. On one side, bitter cold, on the other warmth…


What does it mean? When dancing, rather than always simply stepping on every beat:

  • Take a stance: which instrument are you following? The mellow violins or the mighty bandoneons? How can you represent this instrument in your dancing?
  • Don’t be afraid to pause and stop. Breathe. Plan your next move. Make it bold.
  • Say something: is the music making you sad, happy, confident, reserved? How can you express this through your dancing?
  • Don’t shout. Try and consider yourself as an instrument. So if the music is slow and mellow, don’t overwhelm the orchestra with loud boleos, ganchos and sacadas. Reserve this for when the music is stronger.

Top tip

If a new instrument makes its appearance, follow it to add some variety to your dancing. For example if the bandoneon starts with a very strong staccato rhythm, why not consider strong moves like sacadas or half beat steps?

Dancing to the music can be frightening at first: what, we are asked to express ourselves?! It will come with time however and with enough practice, it will become natural. Often, small cheeky steps like rebounds or changes of direction will do more for your dancing than long-winded routines that might be out the music.

See you soon on the dancefloor!


Nati y Bruno

Thank you to all who through your comments, helped improve this blog.