Peter Forret wrote about his choice for a notation for tango steps (Tangotation: writing tango steps).
He bravely developed “tangotation“, an alphanumeric dance notation that might have a sufficient vocabulary for a beginner.
It’s not a bad system at all and quite easy to read because the character assignments are logical, but I think it will become overly complex or unfit for more complex movements over time.
What about … ?
What about directions (e.g. pivoting 90° or 180° or more), boleos in all directions (circular and linear) or colgadas and volcadas or planeo and lapiz? They can be assigned new characters or combinations of characters or modifiers, bu it will quickly become quite complex.
And when tango becomes more than executing steps you will also need explanations on how to lead (with torsion of the torso, by slightly lifting or lowering the partner, by shifting the partners weight but not your own, or whatever …).
I challenge Peter to use his notation for the steps and figures below.
Years ago I did the same research and for me the very pragmatic requirements for such a notation are that:
- It should be easy and intuitive to write. After all you’re going to write down your steps as soon as possible after a class or workshop, late at night, being very tired, … I don’t want to use a reference book for my notation at that time, it should be as fast and easy as possible.
- It should also be easy and intuitive to read. I often want to quickly refresh my memory on a few figures right before going to a milonga, so I can throw them in now and then to surprise my regular partners with something new and see how I can integrate them in my dance patterns. Again I don’t want to spend much decoding time, I need instant visual clues and patterns to refreshen my memory and try out the steps a few times.
- It should be able to represent enough information to recreate a figure that I forgot. Not only positions of the feet but also relative body movement, dissociation of upper and lower body, pivots, weight shifts, changes in axis, clues for leading, relative position to partner, rhythm, timing, …
- The notation is for personal use and reference in the first place. It’s nice but not essential if other people can use it.
I chose a visual representation to be able to recognize a pattern when I look at my notes again, in short I draw feet and arrows with additional notes.
The principles of my system:
- I use L and R for the position of left and right feet, the direction of the character corresponds to the direction of the foot. L and R in gray filled circles are follower’s feet. But most of the time notation of follower’s steps is completely unnecessary, I use it only when it clarifies what the leader has to do.
- An underlined L or R means weight on that foot.
- Lines with arrow heads at the end (normal arrows) indicate the feet’s path of movement on the floor or a direction of rotation.
- Lines with arrow heads in the middle indicate movements in the air, like boleos or ganchos.
- A small circle in the middle of an arrow indicates a pivot.
- Numbers next to the arrows are for the sequence of steps and for a link to the additional explanatory notes.
- Parallel lines link displaced drawings to avoid drawing over the same drawing again.
- I sometimes draw stick people to clarify or show body positions or other things.
- I always refer to a starting position from the basic 8 step (e.g. giro starts from 5th position = cross).
It’s far from ideal but I’ve been using it more or less to my satisfaction for tango steps (and other dances as well) and I can still decipher my old notes 😉
Here’s my very first attempt from 1997, my very first tango lesson, the basic 8 step salida with some variations, the second image is the giro to the right from 2001 and the third a complex variation in a giro from a workshop with Javier and Geraldine in 2002:
These con-tra-time exercises and colgadas/volcadas by Adrian and Alejandra indicate the problems of the system to adequately represent rhythm and changes in axis, I could not draw it in 2 dimensions but had to explain:
Boleos are difficult to represent. In the first image the principles of linear boleos according to Dana and Pablo need stick figures. The principles of circular boleos need other drawings and words to explain. In the second image the circular and linear (backwards/forwards and to the side) boleos by Lautaro and Lucila also use almost only words:
Looking back at my notes I notice that there is an evolution in my notation style that is parallel to my evolution, experience and knowledge as a dancer.
Where in the beginning I wrote down all the steps “foot by foot”, building a basic steps vocabulary, I now have an active “vocabulary” of steps and figures that I can concatenate easily and without thinking. I only actually draw the new stuff and pay more attention to clues for leading, relative positioning and style. I also try to split up long sequences in manageable and reusable chunks.
The microscopic and abstracted encodings of contemporary dance notation – so fussy and clumsy and contrary to the wholeness of the substance- …
… for work in determining the essential nature of old dances … they are all equally worthless.
… the systems are so difficult to decipher …
… how to reduce the magnificent four-dimensional reality of time and three-space into little marks on paper flatlands.
OK, don’t give up, think positive, we can at least try it for ourselves! 🙂