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:
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!

7 thoughts on “Tangotation: writing tango steps”

  1. 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” 🙂

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

    But how do you notate expressing the music?
    Connecting with your partner’s feelings?

    Perhaps some things must be felt, not notated.

  3. @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. 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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.