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Tango Notation

One of the most frustrating elements of learning tango is reproducibility: the ability to accurately record and reproduce a sequence of steps away from lesson.

To do this, one requires a notation system in which both the lead's and follower's steps are defined. Below is described a notation system to do just that.

Rasche Notation

- by Thomas Rasche

An example of Rasche Notation is shown below:

Rasche Notation

The Rasche Notation has the following components:
  • The notation describes destinations of movements.
  • Movements are described via a stave which is a similar system to music, in which there exist five lines and four spaces on which music is written.
  • The Rasche stave combines music, phrases and steps by defining the Compás (C), Description (D), Man (M) and Woman (W) into separate lines of information.
  • Compás (C): counts 1 to 8 of the music phrase, and which section within the music this phrase occurs. It may also show the beats between the accents.
  • Description (D): shows the dance phrases and notes. It may also show the time sequence in minutes and seconds for a video, for example.
  • Man (M): describes the lead's steps and movements.
  • Woman (W): describes the follower's steps and movements.
  • Only essentials are written
Common Rasche symbols:
  • {…}: used to summarise a dance step, for example if the couple were to walk from phrase 1 to 5, there would be shown "{walk" at phrase 1 and "}" at phrase 5
  • L: left foot
  • R: right foot
  • M: man
  • W: woman
  • 1…12: direction per a clock's face, from the man's perspective
  • (1)…(12): direction per a clock's face, from the woman's perspective
  • #: close step in which the free foot steps besides the standing foot
  • S: side step
  • F: forward step
  • $: $ide step including pivot
  • B: back step
  • C+: lower body clockwise pivot
  • C-: lower body anti-clockwise pivot
  • T: torsion when the upper body rotates above the hip
  • %: step between partner’s feet
  • Π: full weight transfer
  • ∩: partial weight transfer
  • g: gancho
Note that the Rasche Notation can be found in, which includes a description of Rasche's book of the notation.

Free software is available on to animate dance steps using Rasche Notation, developed by Fred Bolder.

Rasche writes of his notation:
If you wanted to write down your Tango, how would you do it?

Tango is a dance, so writing it down in any form will only be a shadow of what the dance really is. Any representation in words (or symbols or graphics) is a ‘notation’.

Ultimately, the writing will never perfectly describe dance. So, if someone chooses to write it down, then this reveals choices: the choice of what to describe and what not to describe. The choices that are made become clear, when recognizing for whom the writing is intended, and also how the notation is subdivided or structured.

...Rasche Notation is a system where the choices are also clear. It assumes a knowledge of Tango. It describes the destination of steps, rather than how they are led. The intention is to condense and abbreviate what would otherwise be a large amount of long hand writing, so that the document can be read more quickly, and so that it can more easily be related to music (also abbreviated into the Compas line). This is done with clear definitions of symbols and a syntax, thereby ensuring clear understanding of what is meant. For example, the six fundamental steps can be described. Furthermore, the extent and qualities of these can also be described, should it be desired. Dancing in a robotic way is not implied: a step can be taken, either well or badly, but it may still be placed to the same destination.
It is the opinion of the owner of Very Tango that the Rasche Notation system succeeds in what it seeks to do: to record, simply and succinctly, the steps and body positions of the lead and follower relative to the music. It cannot, nor does it purport to be a, a substitute for lessons, nor can it record every subtlety and nuance of every movement. However compared to all other dance notation systems that I have seen (such as Labanotation) it is infinitely easier to use and understand.

Rasche Notation Example

Below is shown a video of a tango, and the notation thereof.

Damián Esell and Nancy Louzán

Rasche Notation

Rasche Notation

Rasche Notation

Tango Shoes

From Carole McCurdy: After that tanda, I found that every man I danced with that evening had something beautiful to offer, no matter their postural eccentricites or limitations of technique. In fact, their eccentricities and limitations were something to be respected and accorded a value, something that added rich flavor to the dance. If my partner is stiff as a board, well, it means that we begin the tanda by doing the 'stiff as a board' tango, which can offer some very creative moments of shared comedy, playing close to the edge of being off-balance. Whee-ha-ha. Maybe by the end of the tanda our dance will have expanded into something more soft and flexible and grounded, maybe not. The cortina has its own great value, after all.
I left the milonga that night feeling thrilled and humbled. How sorely I had underestimated these 'bad dancers,' how foolishly I had cheated myself out of the deeper pleasures of connecting in the dance. It wan't somebody else's fat ego getting in the way of dancing, it was my own.
Astrid responds: It works both ways. The great advantage (and burden) that women have in dancing the tango is that it enables them to experience a hundred different worlds, by dancing with different men and, if they are sensitive and intuitive enough, for a while becoming that man's creation to certain extent, for better or for worse...
It also works the other way round. One of the best dancers has told me that he dances in a different way with every woman, because she inspires him to do certain moves.
And the total is then always more than just the sum of its parts. Wish that in real life we also had some music to guide us to follow each other's steps...

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