Arrastres and barridas: Drags 101

I have always used the words arrastre (drag) and barrida (sweep) to mean a move where it APPEARS that the dancer is being moved by dragging the dancer's foot from one place to another, BUT which is actually led by the movement of the leader's torso. I emailed my teachers, and they said there is no difference. Whew! Why do we argue about these things online, anyway?


Technique pointers for drags

In terms of technique, what is important in a drag?

  •  The leg being dragged, or doing the dragging, has no weight on it, but it is on the floor. 
  • The free leg is free and relaxed from the hip joint. I think of the leg as being heavy, in order not to tense it.
  • The feet of the partners are connected, but without tenseness or rigidity.
  • It is important to set the move so that the partners stay the same distance away from each other, unless you are doing the drag for a specific move that opens/closes the space. For Drags 101, we will aim to keep the same distance.
  • In order to convince the follower to actually follow you, you may need to slow down and/or completely stop at the point at which the drag begins, in order to learn the correct position and movement. BOTH dancers should be on axis and on balance at this point, whether pausing or not. I am in favor of slow motion for drags, personally. I like to work the steps, rather than fit as many as possible into one dance.


When in Rome . . .

The most popular drags in Portland are those done from the follower's back cross step (usually in a left turn); dragging the follower's right foot with the leader's right foot, and then leading a stepover. There are tons of variations that few people use, but which are relatively simple in concept:

  1. You can do the same move using the leader's left foot, for a completely different look.
  2. You can do the same move with the leader's foot in front of the follower's foot, so it looks as if the follower is leading the drag.
  3. You can do the move to the other side, using either foot; and either side of the follower's foot.
  4. OK, that is 8 versions of the same thing: pick one and work on it!


A nice variation on this drag

Oscar and Georgina do a nice variation on this drag. They lead it up to the pasada, BUT:

  • instead of leading the pasada, use the chest and marca to rotate the follower to take another back step!
  • do the drag again (or twice more), THEN lead the pasada.

I like this because it is elegant, and asks more of the follower and leader than just automatically finishing the most familiar pattern.


Another kind of drag

I like to drag the follower's side step into the front step, and then lead a pasada (stepover). The same possibilities are available as in the above drag, but the easiest version is to use the foot away from the direction of movement, along the outside of the follower's foot (think "behind the foot").

Because dancers are less used to this drag make sure you slow the follower down so that you can catch the foot. It is not any harder than the drags above, except for the fact that it is unexpected. Remember how hard it was in class to do variations that were CLOSE to what all the followers already knew? When leading these, be clear! When following, make sure you relax your legs, rather than tensing because you don't know what is coming up.

Drag to a forced cross step

I taught this step in my advanced class a few months ago. It is more complex than the other drags because you must change the follower's weight before finishing the step, but it's still fun.

  1. Set up the follower's front cross step (easier in the left turn).
  2. Drag the "back" foot (follower's right) in UNDER the follower, so that you are forcing a cross step: the follower will end in the same shape as the cruzada, but will have arrived there by the back foot coming in.
  3. Change the follower's weight to the right foot by SLIGHTLY moving away from the follower.
  4. Unwind the follower, using the chest and the marca of the hand, so that the follower has both feet free (not crossed).
  5. Nice exit: just walk out.

 Drags where the follower is the center of the motion

 I first saw this style of drag when I went to Argentina for the first time back in 1999. El Indio was doing a street show almost outside my window in San Telmo, and each week, I watched him do the same routine, more or less. One of my favorite moves--I was a relatively new tango dancer, and I liked ALL the fancy moves!--was this style of drag. This drag reminds me a the calesita because the follower has to be convinced to stay on one foot while rotating.

  1. Lead the follower to a back parada.
  2. Step over/around the follower with your free foot.
  3. Drag the follower's foot, creating a rotation of the follower.
  4. Exit or repeat.

This can be done so that the foot is "trapped" between the leader's leg and foot, or with a more open style, depending on which foot the leader uses for the parada and drag. It is easier to drag with the foot near the follower, but more in El Indio's style to use the foot away from the follower, trapping it.


This is just scratching the surface of drags, but it's a good beginning. Go practice! Here are some nice examples, some of which we learned/are learning in class:  Oscar and Georgina doing barridas and llevadas