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Dance Notation

Printed From: Community Theater Green Room
Category: Producing Theater
Forum Name: Choreography, Dance & Movement for Theater
Forum Discription: For the dancers and choreographers in community theater
Printed Date: 6/19/24 at 1:33pm
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 8.05 -

Topic: Dance Notation
Posted By: avcastner
Subject: Dance Notation
Date Posted: 10/24/07 at 11:18pm
How should a stage manager with no dance experience notate choreography?  Is there a special shorthand system or do most just write descriptively like crazy?

Posted By: Topper
Date Posted: 10/24/07 at 11:53pm
My resources were stretched very thin for a big musical and I recruited an Assistant Stage Manager from the local High School who was to sit in and help notate choreography. He had absolutely zero dance experience, but -- as luck would have it -- he used to help map out strategies for the football team.

That's exactly how he made notes -- little x's and o's (representing male & female, I guess) with formations and arrows pointing directions to how they got there. He drew them next to the lyrics of the songs, so he knew so many x's had to be in such-and-such position by such-and-such moment in the song.

As for arm movements and other bits -- he made stick figures!

I tried deciphering his notes and it made absolutely no sense to me (it looked like some weird combination of cave drawings and tic-tac-toe) but he could describe dance numbers in enough detail that he could trigger the memory of even the densest chorus member.   And most of the time, he was dead right!

I guess what I'm saying to you is: do whatever works for you. Many years from now, after you've passed on, some archaeologists will discover your cryptic notebooks and hail you as some kind of Da Vinci.

"None of us really grow up. All we ever do is learn how to behave in public." -- Keith Johnstone

Posted By: JoeMc
Date Posted: 10/25/07 at 12:48am
I agree with Topper, I have squinted at a choreographers notes & they were as weird as mine.
Although I did balet & tap dancing as kid, the only training was specific for the dance number in the show, so it was not dance training as such.
All you need is the ability to count to the music;- (as in the old adage) MD's onlly count to 4, dancers to 8, Audio techies  to 2 [ if they could count to 3 - they would electricians of course] So it is a simple as that?
Like the Footy bloke of Toppers, SM's have been making immilar notations & drawings for years, so as suggested do your own thing & devise a Legend that suits you & you can understand.
One thing I do is measure a piece out in bars at the top of a graph, pencil in the moves depicting that part of the dance with a notation such as 'Step kick' - 'Forward & back1,2,3' or what ever best descibes it, either by asking the dancers the name of the step or the choreographer. In fact you could probably duplicate his/her notes into yourBible.

Posted By: tristanrobin
Date Posted: 10/25/07 at 11:20am
When they figure out a way to notate choreography so that others can understand it, there will be yet ANOTHER way for theatre professionals to make a buck from amateurs! - the original choreographers can notate the dances and movements and garner royalties!

Imagine - LOL - high schools could use "real" choreography instead of copying those damned orphan dances from the movie!

Posted By: TonyDi
Date Posted: 10/26/07 at 8:13am

Well in case you never heard of it, there is a notation system that IS used by choreographers.  Reason I know that is because, years ago when we did Fiddler on the Roof - the contract (at that time - it's changed now) SPECIFICALLY stated that you HAD TO DUPLICATE Jerome Robbins Choreography to the letter.  I saw the book that was provided and believe me - the dance instructor we had was GREAT BUT even SHE had one heck of a time deciphering it.  There was a LOT of shorthand of sorts - mostly printed word - not diagrams which likely would have made it a lot easier.  Then again when you do that show and the number of people will account for how you do the choreography, then adjustments have to be made.  It's not an easy system to figure out if you've never seen it.  And I could no more begin to explain THAT than fly - it's been about 20 years ago now.  HOWEVER, when I did that show again about 8 years ago, they had apparently lifted that restriction and while the "dances" were still specific to the show, it was no longer part of the contract that it had to be duplicated step for it WAS the first time I did it.  I guess they figured that it would be much too hard to keep requiring companies to do that. 

WHY we were even required to do that I don't know - I just know that there was this huge book that explained every dance step-for-step and was relatively difficult even for a trained choreographer to figure out.  BUT she did and we learned it.  SO while they WERE making money on the notation for that show 20 some odd years ago (at least WE were contractually required to do that) I'm sure if someone COULD devise a reasonable way, it might make life ever so much easier for choreographers to teach it and for people to remember what it is they're supposed to do.  Most of the time, our choreographer was there enough drilling us that we learned stuff in bits and pieces and committed it to memory or were required to write it down in our own personal shorthand however it took for us to remember it. Then we always had one really solid dancer to serve as dance captain who could do better than everyone else and drill us even further when the choreographer might not be at rehearsals.
Of course in amateur theater where the dancers are NOT professional dancers (even if they dance well) - they don't do it all the time and therefore to learn steps isn't ever easy.  I was never a great dancer but I could move well in those days.  And I could learn a series of steps quickly - just like you see in movie dance auditions (think A Chorus Line here).  But to decipher what someone requires from a book, well I just don't know.  It would be cool though if someone could come up with a simple system. Might make life a little easier then wouldn't it!!


"Almost famous"

Posted By: tristanrobin
Date Posted: 10/27/07 at 7:54am
That's strange - I've been involved with two productions of 'Fidder' - and we never had any kind of requirement (or availablity!) of that.

Now that I think of it - in the day of dvd's, it would be easy enough to have a dancer go through each of the dance routines for each - and do the different characters' movements - and just rent or sell the dvd and charge a royalty.

THAT would be easy.

Posted By: drose
Date Posted: 10/29/07 at 2:11pm

I know it's off topic, but we did Fiddler 22 years ago, and we didn't have the dance clause in our contract either!  Weird.

 Would be kinda cool to get an "original choregraphy" dvd for a musical that was broken down into learnable components.  I wouldn't mind paying for that resource.  Might even be kind of fun to just have a basic, intermediate, and advanced "dance steps for musical theater" dvd.  Not full on routines, but the basics and how to integrate them, with examples that put things into genre perspective.  Hmm.

Posted By: TonyDi
Date Posted: 10/30/07 at 9:02am
Originally posted by drose

I know it's off topic, but we did Fiddler 22 years ago, and we didn't have the dance clause in our contract either!  Weird.


Well, I don't know.  I wasn't the director on that one - I was IN the show.  Perhaps that's what the director TOLD everyone to make certain we followed the plan to the letter.  ALTHOUGH there WAS the book that the choreographer HAD to follow (according to supposedly - the contract) at that time.  This has been back in about 1988 so if you did the show 22 years ago and it WASN'T required, perhaps it was a matter of this company I worked with who were told it was a requirement. But I did in fact, see the book and don't really know how the choreographer could decipher it.  I think she went batty afterwards (or during) but it came of fairly well.  Can't imagine although the big deal was that it was because Jerome Robbins demanded it be done precisely to his original choreography.  Don't know what the TRUTH of the matter is - this is just what we were told.  Seems strange to me too but I did what I was supposed to do according to the book that the company sent.  Weird, indeed?  And I did the show again about 7 years ago and that wasn't a requirement the second time around.  Go figure. Just odd or a big lie from the director - which I wouldn't discount at all since he was a big cocaine head anyway.

"Almost famous"

Posted By: avcastner
Date Posted: 10/31/07 at 9:46pm
Thank you for your insights.  I'll look around for something on the web.


Posted By: JoeMc
Date Posted: 11/01/07 at 2:00am
Here are a couple of sites;-
Benesh Institute &Dance notation bureau'- - -

But I think they will cost an arm 'n leg & frankly are probably a load of codswallop anyway?
I doubt you would need this beyond your own Bible notations.
If you need to keep a dance book as part of the show script control.
I always found as it's based on space & time, was to cut & paste the music score lines, as a music header, extending the bar staff down, so my notes fit in with the music, which gives a visual cue at any time. similar as I previously suggested with the graph.

[western] Gondawandaland
"Hear the light & see the sound!
{may you always play to a full house!}

Posted By: Kibitzer
Date Posted: 11/02/07 at 10:40am
Boy, this takes me back about a million years!  As a special research project for a theatre movement class, I was given several books to read, including one on Labanotation, which was one of the standard movement notation systems during those dark ages.  Here's a link that might be helpful:

However, I love Topper's story - it had me on the floor with laughter!  It reinforces a quote from George Patton that I always enjoyed: 

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

"Security is a kind of death." - Tennessee Williams

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