I have been looking for a way to write down tango steps since I began dancing. I experimented with drawing arrows, writing full text, abbreviations, inventing signs, … I’m not alone in this quest:
Tango notation: larrydla or Tango notation: nfo.net

And that is only when you take into account the feet. The Labanotation system (developed by professional dancers) has a graphical element for each movement of the legs and arms.
Labanotation: dance notation
While this is probably one of the best systems around, it’s too complicated for us laymen dancers. So I decided to distill a base vocabulary for writing down tango steps: Tangotation.


Tango steps
picture by Nadasdy

Tangotation is an effort to standardize simple tango notation. It concentrates on the feet of both dancers. Let’s show an example:
Inverted base step (8 count)

1  MRB  WLF  
2  MLS  WRS  
3  MLF  WLB  
4  MRF  WRB  
6  MLF  WRB  
7  MRS  WLS  
8  MRC  WRC 

Every step is described as a sequence of at least 3 letters: WLF is ‘woman (follower) – left (foot) – forward’, MRS is ‘man (leader) – right (foot) – sideways’.
In WLBX, the extra X stands for ‘Cross’/’Cruzada’ (foot crossed in front of the other).
The leading ‘-‘ means that the step should be taken immediately after the previous one, not on a beat of its own. To sum it up:

syntax: ([-'])[MW][LR][FBSCP]([X8G...])

  • WHO: [M/W] – Man/Woman (or for the politically correct: Marca/counterpart)
  • WHAT: [L/R] – Left/Right foot
  • WHERE: [F/B/S/C/P] – Front, Back, Side, Close, change weight
  • WHEN: [-/’] ; every step is on the next beat unless “-“: link to previous step, “‘”: link to next step
  • HOW: [X/8/G]: Cross (Cruzada), 8 (ocho), G (gancho)

(from Tangotation)

Each letter has one unambiguous meaning, the full Tangotation alphabet is here.

I’ve even made a print-out form to allow easy notation:
Tangotation sheet (to print out)
(as a JPG, as a PDF)

This is just a first draft, so all input is appreciated!