Similarities between Ballroom and Argentine Tango

The similarities between Ballroom and Argentine Tango

Many Argentine Tango dancers will proudly tell you at every opportunity that their dance is completely different to that of their Ballroom counterparts.  They will say disapprovingly that Ballroom dance is full of set sequences with no real freedom or expression.  They will probably comment on Ballroom having a stiff appearance and rougher lead, lacking the sophistication of a Tango.  And with such a wonderful dance as the Argentine Tango to compare it with, how could a Ballroom dance possibly require the same level of skill and accuracy?  In contrast, they will wax lyrical about “their” Tango being expressive, flexible, technical and challenging, in some cases having an almost spiritual quality about it.

Now this seems a little unfair to Ballroom.  Are we to believe that Ballroom dance is a lesser style than Argentine Tango?  Does it require less skill to perfect?  The answer is a resounding NO!  When we look a little closer there more similarities between the two styles than we commonly realise.

The Lead

Let us start by looking at the single biggest point brought up by Tango dancers – the differences in the lead and follow.  Firstly and most importantly it should be noted that Ballroom is a lead and followed dance, just like Tango.  Anyone who says you cannot lead Ballroom (or Latin) dances has missed something.

In both Tango and Ballroom THE LEAD COMES FROM THE CHEST (not the arms as commonly believed).  I lead my Argentine Tango in exactly the same way as I lead my Ballroom!  The Ballroom hold makes it look different but underneath it really is exactly the same in terms of lead.  The man’s lead invites, and the lady accepts (or not!)

Pre-set sequences

Now on to one of my biggest pet hates – the claim that Ballroom is just a sequence of figures rather than an expressive dance form.  If you read the ISTD syllabus for its medal tests you will see that for each figure there are a multitude of options surrounding it.  You can dance it with a different timing, different amounts of turn, from different start and finish alignments in the room and you can split the turn up in different ways.  Surely that can be directly compared with a Tango figure such as for example a backward ocho which you could also dance to different speeds, using different amounts of turn, in different places in the room and with different steps before and after.

Unfortunately there is often some truth to Ballroom dancers only dancing their figures “by numbers”, but this is due to failings in the dancers themselves or more likely their teachers rather than the dance form.  (We’ll deal with this in more detail in a separate post).

Technical detail and accuracy

No one who has ever danced the Argentine Tango could ever deny the importance of accurate positioning and timing in this dance.  But why should it follow that this requirement for accuracy be exclusive to Tango?  Ballroom requires every bit the same attention to detail as Tango, as anyone who is proficient in ballroom figures such as slip pivots or fallaways will tell you.


This topic could be examined in more detail than this little post has room for but Argentine Tango and Ballroom really are very similar – when danced properly.  Both are beautiful and organic dance forms full of spontaneity and beauty where partnership is key

Dance Lessons Social Dances Workshops Subscribe