Most dancers don't need to keep notes about moves and sequences—they need to remember enough moves to preserve variety on the dance floor, and their kinaesthetic memory allows them to do so without any artificial aids.

However, some dancers find that they need or want to keep a more permanent record of moves and choreographies that they have encountered. There are many reasons why this might be useful:

  • To keep up with a series of classes that expand on the same material.
  • To sync up a choreography between a group of dancers.
  • To expand the repertoire of social dance moves by revisiting old, forgotten, moves.
  • Obsessive attention to detail.

To be as useful as possible, a dance notation system needs to be:

  • compact, so that writing notes is faster than just describing the move in English
  • comprehensive, so that it covers as wide a range of normal movements and actions as possible
  • easy to remember, so that a note-taker doesn't need to keep looking up details
  • easy to read, so that a note-reader also doesn't need to keep looking up details.

Of course, the last two of these criteria are diametrically opposed to the first two, so any notation system is necessarily a compromise that depends on the particular situation. For modern dancers, where the dance involves a vast range of possible movements, and where its practitioners are typically full-time professionals, a complex system like Labanotation may be worthwhile. For social swing dancers, a more simplistic system is better suited to the task.

This chapter describes a notation system for swing dance which tries to achieve this balance. It is adapted (and simplified) from the system described in Craig Hutchinson's "Swing Dancer" manual (see the Books chapter), and is reliable enough that it was possible to generate most of the content in this book from ten-year-old notes written in the system.

The main limitation of the system is that it only describes footwork; it does not include notation for body positions or for hand and arm movements. However, in practice including descriptions of these elements in English normally suffices.

Each step is described with a code, and the code breaks down into several parts:

  • when the step happens
  • who takes the step
  • what kind of step it is.
The last of these breaks down further into:
  • the type of step (normal, tap, stomp, slide,…)
  • the size of the step
  • the direction of the step, relative to the dancer (forwards, backwards, sideways,…)
  • which foot performs the step
  • the rotation performed with the step

Notation example
Notation example

Who and When

The first part of a move code describes when a step happens, and who takes it. When a step happens is just the number of the beat (1, 2 etc.) or an ampersand (&) for steps taken in between beats (the beats that the step is between are determined from context). Who takes a step is just a single letter that indicates which dancer performs the action.

Which Dancer
BBoth dancers
SIndividual/solo dancer

Step Breakdown

The first part of a code that describes a movement indicates what kind of step it is. This part is optional: if it is not present, then the code just describes a normal step. The type of the step normally also determines whether the dancer changes their weight from one foot to the other (however, this is sometimes overridden by the direction code below).

Type of Step
CodeChange of Weight?Meaning
YesNormal step
TwYesTwist step
TaNoTap with toe of foot
ThNoTap with heel of foot
TbStomp—tap with both heel and toe simultaneously
PNoPoint foot

The size of the step can also be indicated, although only roughly: a small-sized step, or a normal sized step. Again, this part of the code is optional: if it is missing, the step is normal-sized.

Size of Step
Normal size step
eSmall step

The next part of a move code is the direction that the step is performed in. These are mostly as described in the Step Movements section, but there are a couple of additions. In particular the St and Co codes are actually a combination of a direction and a type: the direction is effectively T ("together"), but the step does not transfer weight.

Direction of Step
XCross in front of other foot
HCross behind other foot (hook)
RReplace in same position
TMove next to other foot (together)
DfDiagonally forwards
DbDiagonally backwards
StMove next to other foot and bend knee (stag)
CoMove next to other foot but don't transfer weight (collect)
UUp (only for jumps)
0Do nothing

The direction of a step is accompanied by the foot that performs the step. This will normally be the foot that is free (i.e. has no weight on it), but there are some exceptions to this. For example, a jumping step (Ju) needs to start from a foot that does have weight, and a slide step (Sl) may involve either the free or the weighted foot.

Which Foot
LLeft foot
RRight foot
BBoth feet

The final part of a step code describes any rotation that the dancer performs. This includes the amount of rotation, as a number of 45° increments, and the direction of the turn.

Amount of Rotation

Direction of Rotation


A simple example in this notation system is 1: B:BL, which is equivalent to: "On beat 1 (1:), both dancers (B:) step back (B) on their left feet (L)."

A more complicated example is &: M:SlSB W:TweFR2L. This is equivalent to "In between beats, the leader slides both feet out sideways, while the follower steps slightly forward on her right foot with a twist step, turning 90° anticlockwise."