Tango terminology can be rather extensive, especially for those just beginning to learn the dance. From time to time, you’ll encounter words like pivot, torsion, turn, or spin, which, when demonstrated on the dance floor, seem to all look quite similar to each other.

One may understand these terms on an intuitive level as they’re rather common words.

However, when applied in Argentine tango, each step can have very different meanings despite the similarity in actual movement.

What then is the difference between the

PIVOT, TORSION, TURN, AND SPIN?

Pivot

Tango Space simply defines the pivot as a “consequence of dissociation.”

Dissociation is synonymous with isolation, which, according to Endre Tango, refers to the “independent movement of body parts, according to time and shifting of speed.”

On the other hand, the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems explains the concept of the pivot as follows:

“The Argentine tango uses a lot of pivoting steps, where you twist your body to the left (or right) before or after a step and lift your heel off the floor. The twist spins your body in the direction of the twist on the ball of your foot. You stop the spin by controlling the speed and force of the twist and by lowering your heel to the floor when you've reached the place where you want to stop.”

In Classy Heels Class - focus is on technique and exercises leading to making impossible - possible.

Pivots are an integral part of Argentine tango dancing as many figures and movements involve performing stable and well-balanced pivots.

Pablo Rodriguez of Tango Space demonstrating a pivot.

This video from Tango Space demonstrates how pivots are done and provides seven insightful tips to achieve more balanced pivots, which are summarized below:

●      Don't look down. This is a very common mistake, especially for those who are just beginning to learn to tango. Keep in mind that the head is a heavy part of the body, so if the head is moved down, balance is lost, and so is one’s axis. Instead, keep the head in the same straight line as the spine. Knowing one is in a straight line means that the shoulders, ears, hips, and ankles are aligned.

●      Keep the hips parallel to the floor. Most beginners use the hips to pivot, which can lead to falls.

●      Control the ankle. When pivoting, one’s ankles may tend to go to the side, so make sure one’s weight is spread equally between both feet. Be conscious of where the ankle goes, whether inward or outward. This applies to both leaders and followers.

●      Pivot only after one has completely transferred one’s weight. Establish the pivot only when one has fully arrived into their axis.

●      Control one’s direction with dissociation. If one is to pivot in a certain direction, one must go to the center of their dissociation. If one starts the pivot with the whole body, there is less control.

●      Relax one's knees, toes, and hips. Straightening the legs too much might lock the knees, leading to more stilted movement. Instead, relax the joints as this will provide more flexibility and control. Straight legs make it more difficult to pivot.

●      Keep the free leg in contact with the floor. This will help maintain balance and stability. Pivoting with one leg higher can be a form of decoration or embellishment, but it's more challenging to maintain balance that way.

Because pivots are often used to accomplish tango dance steps, it is important that one’s pivot is stable, confident, and calm. This can make a big difference in the dance and lead to more control in one’s embrace.

Torsion

Torsion, as defined by Escuela de Tango Buenos Aires, is as follows: “[The] rotation of your body’s axis as it passes through the ball of your standing foot.”

Simply put, torsion is somewhat like dissociation but specifically refers to the waist area instead of just the upper body.

Özgür R Altun of 60s Tango demonstrating a torsion, telling us that it is important to be in control.

Torsion, as applied to the actual dance, is aptly defined in the book Argentine Tango - Class Companion: the Guide for Students of Argentine Tango by Thomas Rasche:

“Torsion, the twist in the waist, enables the embrace to remain with the partner, despite the direction in which the legs go.” The book further explains that when applied in reverse, the torsion “enables the legs to change direction freely. This opportunity is incorporated into the leading of step combinations. Beginners often make the mistake of leading with a change of the embrace, i.e. with their arms, whereas they should be leading with Torsion to keep the shape of the embrace.”

As mentioned, torsion in tango primarily involves the waist, but it does not involve the hips. This can be a common mistake among beginner tango dancers.

Not surprisingly, improving one’s torsion can be achieved by doing certain yoga exercises.

Yoga can be a good practice exercise for torsion precisely because the parts of the body that are twisting during tango are the same parts that also twist during yoga exercises. This video from Vero Kruta Yoga | Life Coaching guides one through a step-by-step yoga exercise session intended to improve torsion in tango. In this video, she highlights two important things:

●      Stabilize the hips. Don't involve the hips in the twisting motion.

●      Separate the hips from the part of the body doing the twisting. Find the part of the body beneath the lower ribs and the upper hip bones.

Turn

The turn in tango is often referred to as the “giro.” The turn or giro is simply defined by Argentine Tango Lab as “a turning step or figure.” Compared to the pivot and the torsion,

performing a turn isn’t so much about twisting the body but simply moving around one’s partner or changing direction.

Directional turns are a common turning step in tango, which is demonstrated in video from Howcast.

The video explains that directional turns can be used at any angle, regardless of whether this angle is big or small. From a basic figure, leaders typically take a step forward, but they need to step around their partner if they want to change the direction. This will result in a cross system but with turns to dance around. How wide or small a turn will depend on how much weight one is going to shift to the other foot.

The video also gives advice to both leaders and followers:

●      Advice for leaders: Do not step too close to the follower’s standing leg as this is where the latter’s axis lies. What one should do is to go around the follower’s center.

●      Advice for followers: Make sure that one’s frame is kept steady and intact, so when the leader makes the turn, one will still keep their spine straight and their weight towards the ball of one’s feet. The heels will lift up slightly similar to ochos, when one is turning on the ball of the feet. Additionally, followers should keep their embrace intact during turns so that one turns along with the leader. Having a frame that isn’t tight can cause one’s upper body to collapse, and one would end up not turning with the leader.

Spin

The spinning movement in tango involves both the leader and the follower in a rotating motion while in an embrace.

Watch the below sequences from Anna and Diego. Funnily enough, just yesterday, we had practiced a very similar sequence, with entry from the baldoza and spin from the rebound in the parallel system in Short Sequences Class before Practica Chiquita!

How Pivots, Spins, Turns, and Torsion Connect and Influence Each Other

Each of the steps mentioned above connect and influence each other. They may all have different meanings in the technical sense but what makes them connected is that they are important transitions joining one tango figure to the next.

They may not be as grand or sweeping as the other steps, but they are integral in keeping one's dance intact.

When used at the right moment, pivots, spins, and turns can give one's movements the necessary beauty and elegance. Meanwhile, these three cannot be executed properly without knowledge of when torsion must or must not occur. The proper timing and execution of torsion can either make or break one's balance, as well as the steadiness of the embrace.

Small But Significant

Pivots, turns, spins, and torsion may seem like small, subtle steps, but they are significant in creating a beautiful effect while dancing.

The musicality of tango will often dictate when these steps are best performed, but knowing how to do them can separate the novice dancer from a master of the dance floor.

Make it a point to practice these steps, as well as determine when the best timing for them should be. Additionally, one can also consider performing exercises that will improve one’s balance as all four of these require stability, as well as confidence so they can be performed well.

Whether one is the leader or the follower, make an effort to improve one’s pivots, turns, spins, and torsion for a more enjoyable and elegant tango experience.