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learning labanotation?


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I like to write down the exercises we do in class, so that I can run through them at other times and so that I might possibly remember them all next time in class! After several years of scribbling down leg, arm and head movements, it occurred to me that maybe using labnotation would be better.


So my questions are:

1) I believe that there are several systems for recording dances (labanotation, Benesch). Which system is easier? Which is more commonly used?

2) What are good books to learn from?

3) Is learning a way of recording dances like this more effort than it is worth? Should I stick to my scribbled notes?


Thanks, Wembley

Edited by wembley
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Benesh notation is dedicated to ballet. I prefer it over Labanotation. Being in Australia, you will find much more support for Benesh-based learning than Laban. In the US, it's the other way around, but I still like Benesh better. But your longhand notes should be a sufficient aide-memoire for now.

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Wembley, just writing down combinations, using the terminology of ballet should not be that difficult. If you have not learned the terminology and how to write the port de bras, then I would first learn that before tackling a notation system. I mean learning notation would be great, however it's really intended for notating ballets. If you are really interested in learning dance notation, by all means do it, however if you just want to write class notes, I would really suggest just using the terminology!

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The Benesh Institute's website is benesh.org, they show several different types of course. It looks utterly fascinating, I had fun just poking around in it.

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Thanks, dido!


I did a little bit of exploring on the Benesh site, and I was intrigued and amazed

at the level of detail provided by the notation. And, the computer tool for typing

in notations seems nifty as well. (It reminds me of tools that are used to write

musical scores -- I do some music composition as a hobby and it was fun to see

the parallels)


Dear Wembley: I tried my hand at writing down combinations, etc, but I found

the following limitations: <a> I hated having to fumble around with my notebook

and pen during class, and <b> I don't write as clearly as I like when I am tired,

and <c> despite my best intentions I could never manage to scribble as much as

it seemed that I needed to remember things.


Based on what I read in the Benesh site, you'd have to be pretty fluent in the notation

to be faster at transcribing that than simple longhand notes as Victoria and Mel

have already pointed out.


But I wanted to share another idea with you: get one of those small, fairly inexpensive

MP3 player/recorders, if you don't already have one. They are available now in very

small sizes (some even as key chains, smaller than a cigarette lighter) and have hours

of voice recording capacity. And just narrate into it what is being done. If you get one

with a pretty good microphone, you might even be able to run it during class, unobtrusively,

and pick up the combination description, the music, and even corrections! Then, after

class, when you're comfy at home, transcribe everything into your notebook...


Just a thought, anyway. This leads me to an off-topic musing, by the way for

the teachers out there -- Do your students often record classes, either in audio

and/or video? I think video might be rather tricky, but having a decent audio transcript

of class could be a real help when reviewing at home... I'm going to try it!

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No, our students do not use any kind of recorder for classes. Once in a while I will use the video tape, but it is kind of difficult and time consuming. I do use a small voice recorder when I am doing the audition tour, instead of trying to write down everything during the audition. I walk around the room and make voice notes about the students and then transcribe the notes onto the paper evaluations later. It is not a totally complete tool for this procedure, but is helpful.

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Thank you everyone! I think that I will continue writing my notes, but will look into the Benesh system just for interest's sake. I usually write my notes after class, but find that I often get confused and forget things.


Thanks, Wembley

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In writing longhand, I've found it helps to remember that every step has:

1. A name

2. A beat of music on which it happens

3. A direction (1 of 8 corners)

4. A body position when viewed from the front (eg: efface, croise, etc).


Also, "left" and "right" aren't always so descriptive. Is the left that you wrote down the Standing Leg or the Working Leg? So I do it like this, for example, here's the start of an adagio sequence:


1-4: develope croise L_SL [L = left, SL = standing leg, and I write it subscript] to croise attitude front

5-8: grand rond de jambe to ecarte front


1-4: fouette CCW (counter-clockwise) to arabesque croise, F_SW [F = facing, SW = "Southwest", or the room corner to your rear left when you're facing front]

5-6: lower R leg to tendu back

7: fondu L_SL, retain R tendu back

8: releve to arabesque


...and on and on


A general system like Labanotation is not needed because ballet movement is so highly standardized; so a specialized system is going to be easier and faster for classical dance. Just saying "ecarte front tendu, L_SL" implies an entire position, INCLUDING standardized arms. If you need more specifics on the arms, you can describe them; but even the arms don't go in very many positions.

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Believe it or not, I have eight years worth of ballet combinations recorded. I may have lost some of the notebooks, but they are somewhere in my room, I know. I write down combinations when I get home from class. This is definitely a skill you develop. When I first started noting them I could only remember perhaps 2-3 things we did in class. Now, I pretty much remember every single exercise.


I write them down because I repeat most of them at some time during the week. In the last five years, I’ve given up recording barre combinations because I’ve found it pretty easy to remember what we did and can make up things that are reasonably good for my own practice. I also refer to these records when there are no classes and I’m working on my own. Incidentally, I have found that writing them down helps me get them. I’ll be a total goofus in class, go home and write down the combination, then be able to do it reasonably well later after just one or two tries. Writing them down helps me understand their structure. I think it’s also helped me learn combinations faster in class.


I use regular ballet terminology, but over the years I’ve developed something of a shorthand. It has just evolved. I also used to record a lot of things, but find I now record less and less. For example, for an adagio I would write every musical count and the step. Now, I just write something like 1-8 then the step sequence for those counts. In general the less I record, somehow the easier it is for me to remember (I know that makes no sense).


I’ve also done notebooks in two different ways. One is a class by class approach, essentially taking one page and recording everything for that class on one page. The second is an exercise by exercise recording. With this I have a notebook section for each exercise (e.g., tendus, adagio, pirouettes, petite allegro, . . . .) and record the exercises in the various sections. I don’t think one is any better than the other.


Once upon a time, I tried recording modern and jazz center combinations. Now that was an experience as there is no standard terminology or movement for that matter. I gave up after about a year as I realized that after that long I had no idea what I meant by terms like “funny arabesque” or “rolling arms” that appeared in some of my notes.

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