That is a question posed by Safi Thomas over on his site a week ago, and It’s been floating around in the back of my mind ever since. He goes on to say:

“There are a multitude of methods over the past century that have been used to transcribe dance, from Labanotation (1928)to Vasyl Verkhovynets (1919) to Greenotation (1970’s for African Dance) to the BLADE Dance Technique® (1990 for hip-hop dance). All are varying in execution yet all came as a result of not having a standard way of being able to write movement.

The idea of transcribing dance is centered upon being able to show a movement’s placement within time —or relative to the music— as well as being able to have a reference point for shape and dynamic. So that a dancer or choreographer can preserve their work in lieu of a visual reference.

To do so requires an understanding of music theory, anatomy, kinesiology and dance theory. The combination of this knowledge lends itself to our understanding of how the body works and allows us to record our movement patterns or even the particulars of the dance and its social roots. The possibilities are endless!

As dancers, we have a responsibility to transcribe and share our art, so that future generations will have the ability to access our concrete experience. This knowledge is necessary for the authentic proliferation of the art. Unfortunately not many choreographers or dancers within hip-hop dance have this knowledgebase, yet it is vital to the future of the art-form”

All of this I agree with, and expanded to include all dance forms for legacy purposes.

I have to admit to a longstanding fascination with dance notation. Back in the day, when I was 17 or 18, I had been hired to re-create the Broadway choreography for Fiddler on the Roof for a local Jewish Community Center in Scranton, PA – where I briefly lived. It was a very interesting gig. The community center had received the royalty rights to mount the production, and as a part of the obligation, we were given a bound volume of the book that contained all sanctioned staging and dance choreographies. It was gold! And also an extreme challenge to decipher the notations, and decode the historical intentions of the artist who created the moves; as well as the historical context from which the movements derived. It was awesome! And exasperating all at once. I wondered at the time, whether there might be a better more universal manner of transcribing a three-dimensional art form onto a sheet of paper, to then be recreated three-dimensionally in someone else’s mind or imagination. Written notations are a challenge after all since a single move can have so many names, or descriptions dependent on whose school you learned from. Is there a perfect universal notation system for the body like musical notations?

Over the years I’ve looked into some of the above mentioned systems, none of which I find elegant for their universality. I think that is why I’m drawn to the newer forms of recording technologies and dance for camera/film explorations, but then, that would require that everyone had access to those same tools.

Can you write dance?

Update: An interesting after-thought occurred to me once this was posted. A number of months ago I was having this conversation with another dancer, who is also a talented choreographer, and she summed up my interest in dance codification as “a very male trait”. Thoughts?

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