Women's Technique
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Good tango is in the details. Tonino (left) , Alfredo “El Gordo” & Lequi (right).

Nelida and Carlos are two of the best dancers of vals. Note Nelida’s posture and how she keeps
her feet close to the floor. Strict technical discipline means freedom on the floor of the milonga.
(Nelida and Carlos are the dancers pictured on the title page of this site.)

The Bad and the Ugly

Street performers entertaining tourists in Boca.
Ignoring the details of basic technique results in bad tango. 

Five things for women to avoid:

1. Don’t wiggle your hips when you walk. The man will feel it, and it will throw him off the music. This is a popular fad some places, but it doesn’t look good in Buenos Aires, and everybody will notice it.

2. Don’t bend or flex at the waist. It causes the same problems as hip wiggling, but it’s not even a fad. It’s just bad technique. 

3. Don’t dance with the legs bent. It’s inelegant, and when it’s combined with flexing at the waist and hip wiggling, it will make the leader feel like he’s driving an old car with worn out shocks. Be a Ferrari, not an ‘81 Oldsmobile. 

4. Milongueros sometimes pause to allow time for the woman to do adornments… but don’t overdo it. Excessive adornments are sometimes called “verduras”. Verdura means “vegetable”, and lots of boleos, kicks, and ankle movements interfere with the music. They also llaman la atención. But it’s not the kind of attention you want.

5. Finally, don’t ever, ever step out of the compás of the music. The man should marcar (lead) the cadence clearly, but at times it’s up to the woman to find the rhythm. Nothing is more annoying than a follower who steps out of the compás during a giro. Being out of the music is unforgivable in the milongas.


“Any artisan must learn to resist his natural preference for whatever looks difficult. A Carter typeface is notable for its elegance. There’s a reservation to its style.”


“He doesn’t put elaborate features on characters, to catch attention.  Everything is carefully executed. This is the hardest part of typeface design.”


“Everything seems to fit. The deeper you go into the structures and the network of relationships, the more you find… everything is deliberate and controlled, but full of life.”

The quotes above are from colleagues of the greatest designer of typeface in the world. His name is Matthew Carter, and he learned his trade traditionally by studying old manuscripts from monasteries, and by carving wooden letters by hand. He designed the typeface being used on this page, and many others as well, including the masthead of the New York Times. It struck me that if you substitute “tango” for “typeface” in the quotes above, you have an excellent description of the way the best women dance in Buenos Aires. 

The feet of the Maestras: Elba Biscay, Marta Fama, Graciela, La Tana, and Alejandra. Just as with
the best milongueros, the best women dancers instinctively gravitate toward almost identical
positions on the floor of the milonga. This is the meaning of “form follows function”.


The result of good technique is visual and tactile. Others will see it, and your partner will feel it. Bad tango comes from small shortcuts. A slight sagging of the posture, or failure to have discipline with the feet makes everything run together. Each beat should be marked clearly by a sharp step onto a straight leg, and the ankles should brush together with every step to create a brief moment of balance, before tipping off into the next step. Hit the beat precisely. Take no shortcuts. A step back and to the side should be: step back, collect the feet together, slow for a microsecond, and then step to the side. 

The best milongueras limit their adornments to a few small circles with the foot, or an occasional light toe tap. There are no “elaborate features to catch attention.” They know how to resist the “natural preference for whatever looks difficult… everything is carefully executed… with a reservation to its style”. Each incremental step is executed with care and feeling, and the aggregate result is that:

“Everything seems to fit. The deeper you go into the structures and the network of relationships, the more you find… everything is deliberate and controlled, but full of life.”