How should I take notes?

After each East Cost class I write notes on the techniques that I learned. Usually, my EC descriptions consists of 1-4 sentences per move.

Recently, I tried to practice a move (with a practice partner) that I had not done in a few months, and I found that my notes were not sufficiently detailed to be able to remember or perform the move.

Obviously, I need to up my game wrt note-taking.

Doing an internet search, I found:

which mentions various dance notation systems.

I suspect that some of the notations mentioned in the above article are more relevant to advanced dancers than to an advanced beginner such as me.

When I take a private lesson, I video record it, but that's not practical for group lessons due to the need to get permission from a large number of ever-changing dance partners.

So, I came here for practical advice from you seasoned vets. Is there a particular recommended dance notation that would be relevant to my situation?

Thanks for any advice.

Steve Pastor

Staff member
I share your experience of finding out that my class notes leave something to be desired. But, there have also been times when I found line dance step sheets hard to interpret when it's been some time since I did the dance I'm trying to relearn.

I've only made video once, for African dance. But, I think that is the best way to go.
Have you thought about asking instructors to do a demo at the end of the class, that everyone would record? They can always say, no, of course.

Now for stuff you write down...
Labanotation is the most extensive system that I know of, but there is a really steep learning curve, and I would think that repeated viewing / recording session would be needed even if you put in enough time to learn the most common symbols.
Various swing dances have been coded in this system. Understanding what it all means is another challenge!

Lauré Haile, perhaps best known for her early descriptions of Western Swing, copyrighted a system she called Dance Code. Here's a sample of what she wrote about the coding.

“Initially, a forward step would be “F” –(instead of the “fwd” used in other codes)
The code developed in many ways after the first few years
At first I used the Capital letter for Left foot in both parts –
So the Left foot became capitalized in both parts”

She passed away decades ago, and as far as I can determine left no heirs. She was married, but then divorced. I'm not sure about the legality of using her system.

Then there is Skippy Blair's UNIT SYSTEM, which describes steps and rhythms. This is where the current not totally accurate statement that West Coast Swing is a "two beat dance" comes from.

I'm not sure how helpful any of that is, but there it is.
Hello Steve P.

Actually, your reply was very helpful.

I'll ask one of my instructors (from whom I take classes for multiple styles of swing) about giving a demo at the end of class. I love that idea.

Thanks so much!


Well-Known Member
I wrote down a lot at my beginnings because I had no money for a camcorder, mobiles used to be for talking only, and YT still was a wasteland. Then after three year six notebooks full of notes found their way into the fire. As far as I remember I used

rs(LF) = Rockstep with left foot; sst(RF) = sidestep with right foot;
rt = clockwise turn, lt = counterclockwise turn,
some elements I spelled in full,
for the foot of the follower I use (lf) or (rf) instead of (LF) and (RF),
I condensed the basic vocabulary to more complex figures with own names later on.
Last edited:


Well-Known Member
So, I came here for practical advice from you seasoned vets. Is there a particular recommended dance notation that would be relevant to my situation?
If you've done any note-taking in college/university, you should know that note-taking notation can be highly personalized. For example, taking notes in my Japanese history class would involve writing down rather long names (eg, Tokugawa Ieyasu) very often. Since I had recently taken Hebrew, I took to assigning a single Hebrew letter to each Japanese name. Of course, that made my notes unintelligible to anybody else, but what mattered was that I could understand them.

I take notes in my Country Two-Step classes, since that's the only way to remember the routine (no opportunity to practice between classes) and I have developed my own short-hand. Here's an example from last month:

C2S Jul 2017 hyphen ("-") stands for one phrase of QQSS
syncopations written out explicitly
- basic to promenade
- cross in front of her to OC
QQS inside turn her to sambas, rh-rh
QQS samba right to left, lh-lh
QQS samba left to right, rh-rh
QQS keep hand and turn her to rh-rh in front
- start elbow catch, but catch her hand instead (thumb up)
QQQQSS illusion turn to skaters
- hook behind her to OC turning her into a bow-tie
- move out in front of her to IC ending in fan
- telemark
- basic in fan position
- inside turn her ending compressing lh-rh
- turn her into neck wrap, me to OC, lh-rh
QQS unroll her while moving out in front
catch her rh-ls
QQS free spin her right and catch her upper arm/elbow, rh-rel
- roll her left into outside partner; do not take her hand
- waist catch
- waist catch ending outside partner me FLOD her BLOD.
take her hand, lh-rh
- inside turn her, compress and pop out lh-rh across LOD
- fake lariat ending lh-rh with her down LOD

Now, one thing you should notice is that I have names for particular moves. When I'm taught a particular move, I'm usually given the name for it. I know what a "telemark" is, so I only need name it, not describe it. Since it's important in C2S (albeit not as much in ECS), I note which hands are connected ("lh-rh" means my left hand to her right -- if it's a shoulder or elbow I change the notation accordingly, as in "rh-rel" for my right hand to her right elbow). LOD means "line of dance", since Country Two-Step is progressive, so FLOD is "forward LOD" and BLOD is "backing LOD".

So then rather than seek some standard dance notation, devise your own. If it's a standard move that you know the name for, then simply use the name of the move. If there is some novel kind of set-up for the next move, then add that to the description. If it's a new move or you need more details, then break it down; eg from this month:

- basic to promenade
- step out in front and turn right under own arm:
QQ step out
SS turn right under own arm ending with back towards OC
but also facing towards FLOD, with my lh on my rs
- jazz square back behind her bringing her out in front,
end by changing hands to rh-rh​

The second move is in basic time (QQSS) and that's the entire move, but then I break it down to what I do on which counts and where my hand goes when. Then the next move has me do a kind of jazz square to move behind her in order to bring her in front of me down LOD and facing me, but with me having changed the hands from lh-rh to rh-rh. Which sets me up for the next move (you don't want to know).

BTW, being a touch-typist and computer programmer, I make my notes and then I transcribe them to a text file. If all I had were hand-written notes, then I would be unable to read my own writing, plus any attempts to correct mistakes in my notes would only make them even more unreadable. If I type my notes into a text file and then have to correct a mistake, then the corrected text would still be legible. Just a suggestion.

When you are first learning, then everything is new. When you first encounter a move, then name it in your notes and break it down and describe it in detail. Then after you have mastered that move, all you would need to write in your notes would be its name.

That is what I do. Some dances, such as progressive ballroom, introduce other variables such as direction, so you would need to adapt your note-taking to accommodate those variables as well.

The mean thing, the bottom line, is that you understand what you have written and can use that to reconstruct what you are supposed to do.


Well-Known Member
Thanks, kayak.

I'm headed in that direction, when possible.
I also shoot a video of the pattern, which appears to be common practice. Mostly I use it to verify my written notes, which I usually write a day or two after the class. And more importantly to establish or verify the timing (Country Two Step and even West Coast Swing can change the count a lot). Plus there are little details, especially hand-work and the timing thereof, that my notes may have missed.

Basically, videos and notes are intertwined. Notes are based on the videos and videos verify the notes.
DWise1, thank you so much for the thoughtful and thorough post!

Actually, I have been transcribing my hand-written notes into a DOC file for several months. My challenge is not due to my poor handwriting, but rather to a lack of detail.

Hopefully, I can develop a more detailed styles of describing moves.

Thanks again for the helpful reply!
[QUOTE="DWise1...Basically, videos and notes are intertwined. Notes are based on the videos and videos verify the notes.[/QUOTE]Great point, DWise! I'll take your advice.


Well-Known Member
Just to reiterate in case a couple points weren't clear enough.

Most moves have names. Granted, different instructors can have different names for the same move, but still most moves have names.

Learn names for the moves. You will see them reappear over and over again. Once you have written a detailed description for a particular move, when that move appears again, then simply annotate the name of that move referring back to that detailed description. Then as it becomes more common for you, then simply write down the name of the move.

My assumption: in many classes, there's a routine that is being built up over the month or so. The leader's job is to remember that routine, whereas the follower's job is to follow the leader. As a leader, my notes are for me to remember the routine and how to lead it. A footnote below on "Beginner's Hell".

An example of the above would be "underarm turn". Simple move, even though maybe you had to take notes the first time. After that, you no longer need to describe the move but rather all you need to write down is "underarm turn".

"Tuck turn". Same thing. At first when you don't know it you write down a description of it, but then after that you simply write, "tuck turn".

Same thing with the "belt turn." And so on.

As you learn more moves, you no longer have to write descriptions of those moves, but rather just need to name them in your notes.

The point I'm trying to make here is that your notes do not need to be overly detailed. When a move you know well is used, then its name should suffice. It is only when something different is happening that you would need to go into any detail.

Maybe this might help. In Lindy there are some sequence dances (much more than line dances): Shim Sham, Dean Colin's Shim Sham, Trankee-Doo, The Big Apple, etc. Most country line dances are only a dozen steps or less and simply repeat themselves against various walls (boring!), whereas these dances go on for most of a song. My Lindy teacher's approach was to ingrain within us a kind of a song that described the dance and the timing. In effect, every move had an invocation with which to remember it. That immediately leads me off on mnemonic paths that I must at present refrain from following.

Another thing is that when you do need to get into a detailed description of a move, you can do so by first giving an overall description of the move and then add a beat-by-beat detailed description.

The overall effect is that you are starting from one point and you want to arrive at another point. The overall description of the move tells you that. You know where you are starting from and you know where you want to end up.

The details in the middle are what will get you there.


Well-Known Member
I'm sorry, I promised to speak about "Beginner's Hell".

Nearly two decades ago, a salsa teacher, "Edie, the Salsa Freak", had a web site and several articles. One was entitled something like, "When Will I Get Out of Beginner's Hell?". It took on a few different issues.

One issue is that the leader's burden is far different from the follower's, which has a profound effect on both parties. She lists the responsibilities of both the leaders and the followers. The leaders have about 25 responsibilities while the followers have about 5. One factor to consider is that one of the responsibilities of the follower is to listen to the leader's lead, which is a very major part of her responsibilities (which includes remembering to smile). In the meantime, the leader needs to maintain situational awareness of the dance floor (AKA "floorcraft"), plan the next moves, etc. One of my ballroom teachers said, "Men dance in the future; women dance in the present."

Getting back to "Beginner's Hell" is that there are many different things that a leader has to learn as opposed to the few things for the follower. At the same time, the follower only has to learn a few things in a class before she has learned almost all that she needs to learn in a class. From that point on, most of what she has to learn is learned by actually dancing, whereas the leader still needs classes to develop his skills.
DWise1, thank you so much for the thoughtful and practical advice! I will put it all to work.

I googled and I think I found Edie's article:

While I would not say that I am completely out of Beginner Hell, I had one great achievement after 6-7 weeks of classes, which was that I was able to go to swing socials dances and 'do ok' and have fun.

I've now been taking classes since the first week of January, and I still have a lot of work to do on some of Edie's learning curve items for Leaders. But, I am enjoying social dances, Followers ask me to dance more than once (my acid test, ha, ha!), and I feel fairly comfortable on the dance floor (i.e. I'm thinking of the next move, not thinking of the mechanics of the current move).

p.s. By the way, if I don't reply to posts immediately, it is because I'm not getting email notifications of new posts.

Dance Ads