Fast method to write tango sequences


TSW is a writing language useful to describe tango sequences. This writing is simple, fast to write, quick enough to decode and should not be so long to learn. It often describes both leader and follower steps in a single and combined notation which is near to how you could say it orally.

Gregory Diaz
Do not copy this content without authorization.

Fast method to write tango sequences

TSW is a writing language useful to describe tango sequences. This writing is simple, fast to write, quick enough to decode and should not be so long to learn (you will tell me…). It often describes both leader and follower steps in a single and combined notation which is near to how you could say it orally. This makes it easier to learn and remember years after. It can describe most tango sequences in-line which does not require a lot of paper.


When I started learning tango, I wanted to remember every sequence, or at least keep some kind of a record. Due to the infinity and complexity of this dance, I needed to save them somewhere else than my brain. At that time cell phones were not able to make good videos and it is not always possible to film a couple doing exactly what I wanted to save anyway. Step by step, I started to write sequences on small pieces of papers and then improved the way to do it. I tried to find on the Internet any existing way to write tango steps but I never found such tool publicly described on the web at that time. So this is how I created my own, more than 10 years ago.
Today, steps are not my priority anymore, but I still use it from time to time in order to:

  • prepare my workshops
  • attend a workshop myself
  • remember a sequence I saw and liked
  • After several years, Tango Step Writing still works quite well, so I think anyone could use it. If it can be useful to anybody, then I am happy to share it in this article.


    Are you ready to know how Tango Step Writing works? Let’s go !

    Sequences are divided into steps separated by a "/" sign. The position of each step is useful to understand the following one (knowing where you come from helps to understand where to go without having to write a precise description).

    step1 / step2 / step3 / …

    When leader and follower steps cannot be written as a single movement, you describe them separately, on each side of an "=" sign. The leader's step before the “=“ sign, and follower's step after.

    leader step 1 = follower step 1 / leader step 2 = follower step 2 / …

    This is used for precise descriptions. It allows a specific writing for each role. When sequences are more simple, the “=” sign is not useful anymore and you will save a lot of time.

    The way TSW summarizes sequences is inspired from the Spanish language. If you don’t speak Spanish, it is still very easy to understand, but you are free to adapt it to your own language if you like. Here is a list of the main TSW abbreviations:

  • I: Pierna Izquierda (left leg)
  • D: Pierna Derecha (right leg)
  • ad: Adelante (forwards)
  • at: Atrás (backwards)
  • cost: Paso de costado / Apertura (side step)
  • 8: ocho
  • saca: Sacada
  • sacat: Sacada atras
  • gan: Gancho
  • arr: Arrastre/barrida
  • lapiz: lapiz
  • para: Parada
  • parat: Parada atras
  • X: Cruce (Cross)
  • V: Juntar los pies / cambio de peso (feet together / weight transfer)
  • ...: Useful when the leader or the follower does “nothing” while the other moves alone.
  • Basic examples

    Now let’s start using it with the most basic example: La Salida !

    Dat=Iad / Icost=Dcost / Dad=Iat / Iad=Dat / V=X / Iad=Dat / Dcost=Icost / V=V

    Can you decode it? That’s easy, look:

  • Dat=Iad: In this first step, the leader moves the right leg (Derecha) backwards (atras) while the follower (=) moves the left leg (Izquierda) forwards (adelante). Done!
  • Icost=Dcost: In this 2nd step, the leader moves the left leg (Izquierda) to the side (costado) while the follower (=) moves the right leg (Derecha) to the side (costado).
  • V=X: The leader puts his feet together (V) while the follower (=) crosses them (X). A more detailed notation for the cross would be IXad (Izquierda cruza adelante / Left leg crosses in front)
  • Now, you might be asking yourself why should we write all this for a simple salida?! Well, it is just an example to help you understand Tango Step Writing. Now that you are familiar with it, we will start using some easy shortcuts:

  • 1 : for the first salida step
  • 2 : for the 2nd salida step
  • …until 8th
  • So,
    Dat=Iad / Icost=Dcost / Dad=Iat / Iad=Dat / V=X / Iad=Dat / Dcost=Icost / V=V

    1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8

    Note: concerning the third step from the Salida where the leader steps AND changes lane, "Dad=Iat" is not precise enough (about the lane) and the correct notation is "3".

    Now that you know it, you can use some easy shortcuts:

    In the case of a crossed Salida, where steps 3 and 4 are done with the opposite leg for the man, you can use the prime sign (’) which kind of means “the opposite way”.

    The crossed salida (salida con base cruzada) will then be written: 1/2/3’/4’/5/6/7/8

    Let’s try more complex sequences

    Let’s add two backward ochos after step 2 and two forward ochos after the cross:

    Detailed TSW:
    Dat=Iad / Icost=Dcost / Icost=8at / Dcost=8at / Iad=Iat / Dad=Dat / V=X / Dcost=8ad / Icost=8ad / Iad=Dat / Dcost=Icost / V=V

    Fast TSW:
    1 / 2 / 8at← / 8at→ / 3' / 4' / 5 / 8ad→ / 8ad← / 6 / 7 / 8

    Note: In some cases the direction of the 8 is not obvious, or opposite to the natural way versus the leader step or the previous step. In this case we add an arrow to the left or to the right which indicates that the ocho is done around the left of right side of the leader. Here it is not mandatory, but it still is easier for reading.

    In the same sequence, if we remove the pivots, the ochos become crosses for the follower (this typically is what happens in milonguero style).

    The sequence then becomes:
    1 / 2 / Icost=IXat / Dcost=DXat / 3’ / 4’

    Are you still with me? Wow fine ! Let’s try a sacada then…

    This is a basic forward sacada done by the leader’s right leg, while the follower performs a forward ocho: Dsaca8ad→

    Let’s add it to our salida and continue with a right turn with sacadas. We'll finish with a parada on the follower backward step:

    / 3’ / 4’ / 5 / Dsaca8ad→ / IsacaCost / Dpara8at→ /
    after what you can do a beautiful sanguchito. :-)

    Some specific tips

    Back and forth

    In some cases we step without fully transferring our weight, before going back. This can be an issue for the script because we come back directly to the initial position. To describe such back and forth movements, just replace the “/” by “y”(and). For instance, the sequence 4 y 2 is in fact a basic forward step Iad=Dat without complete weight transfer, followed by a left step Icost=Dcost.

    Follower sacadas and more

    Sacadas, ganchos, arrastres usually performed by the leader, can also be performed by the follower (e.g. follower sacadas). To distinguish those steps, the prime sign will be used again:

  • Dsaca8ad→ is a leader sacada to the follower's ocho (Derecha saca el ocho adelante)
  • Dsaca’8ad→ is a follower sacada to the leader's ocho.

  • Note that in this specific case D represents the right leg of the follower and 8ad is performed by the leader.
  • IsacatCost← is a leader backward sacada to the follower's side step
  • Dsacat’Cost→ is a follower backward sacada to the leader's side step (this one would be a type 4 sacada).
  • TSW Limitations

    TSW does not describe precisely the rhythm. Music theory already has a good language. If you know how to write rhythms, you can probably combine it with this writing method, but it would be longer to write and to decode. May be useful if you want to write choreography but I have never done it (even if I know music theory).

    There are several ways to write the same sequence, like with most languages, you can say something, in a fast way or in a more precise but longer way. TSW can also vary depending on your own vision of the sequence. However, I am convinced that two people who know TSW could swap their papers and reproduce the right sequence.

    You must be familiar with a minimum quantity of leader and follower tango steps in order to understand Tango Step Writing. Otherwise you will probably be lost.

    Finally, TSW does not describe how to connect, embrace, communicate, feel or express the music with your partner… For this, I only know Tango dancing.

    In conclusion, take it for what it is: a very basic and stupid tool, but sometimes useful to help remembering steps.
    And if you like to play, are you able to do this ? :-)

    1 / 2 / 3 / …=V / Isaca8ad← / Dpara8ad→ / DarrDcost y Dgan'Dcost / 6 / 7 / 8

    Gregory Diaz
    Do not copy this content without authorization.

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    POST A COMMENT About this article

    Eugenio Franzoni
    muy complicado...... necesita memorizar tods las abreiaciones antes de iniciar...... otravez no se entiende nada