I can’t tell a Waltz from a Tango – by Cassie Tucker

Cassie pictured just before a lesson at Dancesport Kingdom.

I can't tell a Waltz from a Tango


DK Ballroom Instructor Cassie Tucker  writes about how these two favourite Ballroom dances could never be mixed up!

"I Can’t Tell a Waltz from a Tango"


"A cute title for a classic song; I am certain that you would have heard “I Can’t Tell a Waltz from a Tango” played at the studio at least once in your dancing journey.  Written by Al Hoffman and Dick Manning and first published in 1954, there has been so many covers made of this title that it has certainly had plenty of playtime on the dance floor over the years. 
What has always amused me about this song is the phrase “I Can’t Tell a Waltz a Tango.”  In my mind, the two dances are so distinctly different that I can’t fathom how anyone could not tell the difference between them.  But in reality that is not true at all!  Before I started dancing there was definitely a time when I was completely ignorant of the difference, and I am sure other people are or have been in that same position. 
So if you are struggling to distinguish a Waltz from a Tango, here are a few key differences to help you out.
Waltz uses a unique 3/4 time signature.  This means we count three beats to the bar of music and four bars makes a phrase.  As such, we count 123, 123, 123, 123 when dancing to Waltz music.
Tango uses a standard 4/4 time signature.  This means we count four beats to the bar of music and four bars makes a phrase.  For Tango we count 1234, 1234, 1234, 1234.  To add a twist, 2/4 music can also be used for tango where we count two beats to the bar and four bars to the phrase.  We would thus count 1 2, 1 2, 1 2, 1 2.  
Waltz utilises the same hold used for Quickstep, Slow Foxtrot and Viennese Waltz.  Most notably, the Lady’s Left (L) hand rests lightly on the Man’s Right (R) arm just below the shoulder.  The Man’s (R) hand is placed on the Lady’s (L) shoulder blade and his (L) elbow is bent sharply and slopes up and forward from elbow to hand.  Waltz hold is very fluid and allows for swing and sway to occur. 
Tango has a very different kind of hold.  The man’s (R) hand is a little further around the lady’s back and lower.  His left arm is more compact and the elbow is higher.  Most importantly, Instead of the lady’s (L) hand resting on the arm, it instead reaches around the outside of the Man’s (R) arm, palm facing the floor.  Tango hold is very rigid with the man’s (R) side and Lady’s (L) locked together.  As a result, there is no swing and sway in Tango.
Footwork and Rise and Fall
In Waltz we use the whole foot, which means we use a lot of Heel (H), Toe (T) and combination (HT, TH, HTH etc) steps.  As a result, Waltz has a very up and down feel to it.  Knees flex and straighten to aid the use of feet.  Feet do not come off the floor.  As a result, Waltz has a flow to it like a boat bobbing on waves in the ocean, rising and falling.
Tango is easy.  It is predominantly Heel (H) steps and feet do come off the floor.  Knees remain consistently flexed and as the feet never transition to a Toe (T), there is no rise (and as a result no fall), in Tango.  This makes Tango look and feel strong as the legs are very active.  Tango appears very flat when compared to Waltz. 
There you have it - you can now tell a Waltz from a Tango!  If you are curious, search for the song “I Can’t tell a Waltz from a Tango” and have a listen.  Is it a Waltz?  Or a Tango?"