3-3-2 Rhythms in Tango

3-3-2 is a rhythm found in many tangos.  The 3-3-2 rhythm is thought to originate in Africa, and have come to us through Cuba, similar to the Habanera.  It is found in popular songs, such as “Clocks” by Coldplay.  If you’re not familiar with 3-3-2, the phrase may sound like random noise, but once you hear the 3-3-2 rhythm, it is as easy to follow as walking to the beat.

Astor Piazzolla used 3-3-2 in many of his tangos, and his tangos are considered “the most undanceable” by many tango dancers, and “the best” by those who understand them. If you have wondered why Piazzolla is not played at milongas but beloved of many tango music aficionados, it only depends on whether you can hear a 3-3-2 rhythm.

If you read music, see below for what a 3-3-2 rhythm looks like; eight half-beats are grouped as 3, 3 and 2.  In common dancer’s parlance it might be called, “Slow, Slow, Quick”. 

3-3-2 Rhythm

You can hear a 3-3-2 rhythm in Piazzolla’s Libertango https://youtu.be/vaXNdVTGT0k where the whole song has a 3-3-2 rhythm, while much of it has a cello playing in 4/4 time in parallel.  (There is also a recording with Yo Yo Ma with emphasis on the cello.)

One way I like to dance to a 3-3-2 rhythm, is take a full step forward on the first 3, then a side step on the next 3, then a quick close with weight change on the 2. However, the 3-3-2 rhythm lends itself to stepping in any kind of pattern or direction. When I have trouble hearing the 3-3-2 rhythm, it is easier if I step it – my feet know what to do.

Dancing the 3-3-2 rhythm introduces an intimacy and connection more than dancing other kinds of tango steps, the same way dancing a Habanera rhythm does.  Once you can hear the 3-3-2, it becomes easy and even automatic as you dance it.

Some other tangos with 3-3-2:

  • Mala Junta 1943 by Osvaldo Pugliese (not his 1952 version)
  • Balada Para Un Loco by Osvaldo Pugliese
  • Comme Il Faut and Toda Mi Vida by Anibal Troilo (not by other orchestras)
  • Escualo, Verano Porteño, Jacinto Chiclana and Che Tango Che  by Astor Piazzolla
  • Nonino and Zum by Color Tango
  • Arrabal – Pedro Laurenz (1937)
  • Tierra Querida – Pugliese (1944)
  • Negracha – Pugliese (1948)
  • Orlando Goni – Alfredo Gobbi (1949)