# Tangotation: writing tango steps

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:
or

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.

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.

### Tangotation

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
-MRC
3  MLF  WLB
4  MRF  WRB
-WLBX
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:

(as a JPG, as a PDF)

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

## 7 thoughts on “Tangotation: writing tango steps”

1. enzo says:

Nice.
But what do you use to indicate rotations? For exemple, in the central part of a “left turn” the man’s feet don’t move, just the body does.
Other symbols could be introduced, like N-S-W-E to indicate “facing” ðŸ™‚

2. Nice work, and a lot of it, I’d say.

But how do you notate expressing the music?
Sensuality?
Improvisation?

Perhaps some things must be felt, not notated.

3. Peter says:

@Cherie
To start dancing tango for a guy is daunting, and any tool that helps to remember the base steps is welcome. Once you get further, the limitations of a notation system like this become unsurmountable.

So yes, all your remarks are true, but they only come into play once a dancer is a lot further.

4. Mike says:

Hi

I’ve not been doing tango for long so this looks very useful. A couple of questions:

1. In your example short and long base step notations, in step #8 the lead step is given as MRC. I was puzzled as it is the man’s left leg that is closed to the right leg in the dance. Is this a typo or can you clarify please?

2. How would you notate the Hero sequence?

Thanks and regards

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