Another recent discussion (about a particular figure-based syllabus) set me thinking (and not for the first time) about the relationship between recognisable elements or actions in tango and 'figures'. They seem to me to be closer than many would wish to acknowledge. I have no interest at all in stringing together a series of figures in my dancing, but find that I am using a core of fundamental actions again and again, and from more-or-less the same starting points - and what's more, so is nearly everyone else. If I lead a back ocho, then my partner and I know what's going to happen for at least four consecutive actions. She will be led to a backward step, to pivot as she collects, another backward step and another pivot (that combination is what makes it an ocho). We might do that again, or we might walk out (probably into a cross, but not always). It's just as likely that the ocho will precede or follow a giro pattern, but these are, well, patterns. There are lots of things I wouldn't lead in tango, because they wouldn't be tango, but as soon as I follow that line of thought, I am forced to conclude that what I am improvising is the order in which I use the elements of my tango vocabulary, and the way that I time and shape them (hopefully in response to the music and my partner), but I'm not improvising the elements or actions themselves - they are what they are. If I were writing a syllabus, and it contained a chart or table setting out how a giro can be danced, turning clockwise, perhaps from a cross, and exiting the pattern with a forward ocho and coming back to a cross, then I will be able to come up with a simple version, with suggested timings and amounts of turn, but equally, I could suggest many variations that would still start and finish in the same place. In my useage of the term, these would all be patterns (I'm not sure I would want to use the term 'figure' at all -it has all the wrong connotations); but others would say that all these variations are living proof of the improvisatory basis of the dance, and that the same clockwise giro could have started and ended in so many other ways, so to say that it is a pattern, at all, is redundant. It's the same with ochos, the pasada, barridas and a hundred other actions (well, OK, I don't know a hundred, but some will). Watching a room full of tango dancers I observe the same things being danced, across my whole field of vision. I see tango (rather than the completely random movements that would be the product of free improvistion) and it is probably a reasonable application of the Pareto principle to see 80% of tango being represented in 20% of all the actions you might observe danced in, say, one song. So when we dismiss figures and a figure-based approach, and talk about improvistion, I'm not sure whether if we could show each other what we meant, we would find much more agreement than would be expected from the polarisation of the two camps to be found in print here. One monkey, out of an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters, will produce the Complete Works of Shakespeare, word perfect. But I never see a tango dancer improvising something that I would recognise as an advanced ballroom tango amalgamation, suitable for a higher-level medal test. So the improvision that I do see is informed by lots of unwritten rules and conventions, and the vocabulary is suprisingly small. What do those who talk of improvising (while dismissing figures) really mean by their usage of the term (ie improvising what?) and could a syllabus ever be formulated that would set out how to use the vocabulary of tango in that way?