Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2001 Motif Symposium Proceedings - Theory Discussions, part 1

Submitted by Ann Hutchinson Guest - June 5, 2001

[This posting contains a compilation of background material written for the 2001 Motif Symposium. The material was included in Proceedings of the Inaugural Motif Symposium, Symbols of Our Community…Moving Forward with Motif, August 2-4, 2002, Held at The Department of Dance, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA, Sponsored by Language of Dance Center, USA, Motus Humanus, The Ohio State University Department of Dance, compiled by Tina Curran, Jimmyle Listenbee, and Charlotte Wile, Scribe, Jane Dulieu.]



Under discussion are two types of pathways - CURVING and MEANDERING. Straight and circular paths do not entail problems. Two different approaches are taken in teaching and using pathways:

I. The visual shape, pattern, as seen on a floor plan.
II. The reason, motivation, which causes the mover to travel in a particular way. This is considered important in understanding and experiencing various ways of traveling.

Curving versus Circling

From Point of View I, curving can be seen as segments of circling.

From Point of View II, circling has a strong feeling of the central point around which the circling goes, even if only a partial circle is completed. However the individual chooses to perform such circular movements, the sense of the central focus point is strong, as is the correct shape.

Curving comes from the body movement. The shape - a wide arc, a tighter arc - comes from the movement and is not anticipated, not measured. One curve following another may be identical, but the idea of measurement, of the intention that the outcome be the same, is not the point of the movement. Such curves result from the impetus, the quality of the movement. A familiar setting is in waltzing, whether alone or as a couple. The impetus, the flow produces curves which are not felt or seen as parts of a circle. Such curving does not contain the idea of going around someone or something.

Symbology for curving will be discussed later.


Teaching from Point of View I often introduces the topic by drawing a meandering path on the board, or by asking the children/students to make their own drawings before embarking on the physical experience.

From Point of View II, meandering is the result of an inner drive, of wanting to go, to move in space with no aim, no destination, no getting away from where you were, no need to arrive anywhere. There is no urgency, just a sense of going. Various ideas are put forward to support this, such as looking for a lost object in a field, wandering through the woods, around bushes. But as soon as there is an object to search for, or a tree to which to relate, the basic idea of meandering, the aimlessness, is lost.

Being concerned with the inner reason, the motivation, the idea, requires greater subtlety. Educationally this can be valuable, but it means a more in-depth exploration and evaluation. Point of view I avoids this.


If one were to start now from scratch, the present signs would doubtless be changed. Let us look at the present interpretation.

Ex. 1a: There is no question about this sign for a straight path. Ex. 1b: the signs for circling would not be changed.

Ex. 1c: This sign, incorporating the sign for 'any', means any pathway. Visually it appears to many people as though it should be the sign for meandering.

Ex. 1d: For want of a better, this sign was adopted to mean meandering. When a sign for curving was required, the arrows were added, as in 1e; note that the arrows point in opposite directions, hence no suggestion of circling one way or the other.


Ex. 1f: How should the sign of 1c be interpreted? Ray Cook brought this question up a few years ago.

Does it mean that you choose one of the specific possibilities and perform just that? Or does it mean that you can perform any of them, one after the other, changing as you wish? The sign of 1c is open to interpretation. Ex. 1g states that a specific choice must be made; 1h indicates freedom in mixing the possibilities. For this last meaning the basic sign of 1c was modified to 1g. This provides the greater freedom. This decision was made in 1994 and presented in the LODA publication Bullet-in-Stead, Issue No. 3, January 1995.


Is the more detailed approach of point of view II important? How much should this awareness of the inner motivation producing pathways be incorporated in our teaching?

Should the path signs be revised? If so, how?


In discussing Stillness there is the question of terminology and also the understanding of the origin of the sign and how it is used in Motif Description/Notation.


The term 'pause' has often been used when there is a break in the continuity of movement. Such a pause is shown by the gap between movement indications. The longer the gap, the longer the pause. No symbol is needed to show such a pause. In our notation system it needs to be clear when there is a break in the movement and when it is just a separation of symbols on paper. We start with this last.

Ex. 2a: Two actions are indicated here. The arrow points to the necessary tiny gap between the double horizontal lines and the action stroke, this gap has no time significance, it is needed for visual reasons. Similarly the gap between the two actions makes clear that they are separate actions and not one longer one.

Ex. 2b: Here there is a clear separation between the symbols, this can be a slight 'breath pause' showing that there is no immediate flowing on to the next.

Ex. 2c: Here the break is larger, a more marked pause, but still not long enough to allow the experience of Stillness.

Ex. 2d: Here Stillness follows a fairly brief action. There is time for the Stillness to be expressed.

The Origin of the Stillness Sign

When notation is integrated with teaching movement/dance, the understanding must be of more than just the outward sign and function of that sign. An inner, physical as well as cognitive understanding must take place. Not moving, coming to a rest between movements need not be a dead thing, it may need to be alive, expressive.

Ex. 2e: In Labanotation the small circle denotes a hold, a retention of something.

Ex. 2f: Here this hold sign is used to show that the weight is to be held on the right foot, to negate the rule about a gap meaning a spring. (This is the only instance in our system that a gap does not mean absence of movement; it is a special rule.)

Ex. 2g: Here the retention sign is used to state that the fist is to be retained; the reader then looks for the cancellation sign.

Ex. 2h: This sign for Stillness was evolved to provide the idea of retaining with an outward flow of energy. There should not be a stop, a cessation of expression, it is not a freezing, as in playing statues. The added V sign was taken from the sign for an outward succession.

Ex. 2i: Shows an outward succession (outward flow) for the right arm while held in the side middle location. This action is also known as a 'ripple' when there is no change of direction; it begins with energy flowing out from the base of the limb.

Ex. 2j: A lowering is followed by Stillness; no other action occurs, stillness is important.

Ex. 2k: Here the lowered position is to be maintained while turning to the right takes place. An action follows, thus there is no Stillness. Such Stillness is understood to be for the body-as-a-whole; if an arm is moving, for example, there is no Stillness. How Stillness is expressed will be individual.


After I had put a few Stillness discussions on the net, some LMA people replied suggesting various kinds of states which could be expressed during a stillness. Each of these states can be indicated by adding next to the stillness sign the quality it should take. This addition means taking the notation to a higher level; in the earlier stages it should be left open to the individual. Charlotte Wile had the idea of giving Stillness the meaning of 'retained intent', thinking that it should retained the quality, the direction of the previous movement. For example, if you had been moving forward, that forwardness should be retained.

I prefer to leave all such specific ideas open, allowing the stillness to reflect on what had taken place, on a neutral state, or as an inner transition to what is coming next. It is more usual for the stillness to be an outward 'radiation', but it can also be introvert, an inner focus, for which, when needed, the specific signs for focus can be used.



From notating ballets the need arose to indicate a shape made by the performer. The idea of making a shape also comes up in teaching children. To fill this need the sign which represents space, the diamond, Ex. 3a, was used as a basis and a horizontal line drawn across it to express 'a shape', 3b. This sign is then used as a pre-sign and any drawing which follows it pictorially represents the shape to be made. For example, 3c shows the legs making the shape of a diamond. This usage arose from the need to make a visual shape, a shape for others to see. To provide open choice, the sign of 3d is used. This can also be drawn as 3e.

This is a different concept and a different experience from the inner feeling of achieving a shape for the body as a whole, a shape to be physically experienced, the idea behind Laban's pin, ball, wall, etc. Thus we have two approaches to this idea of making a shape.

Using the sign for shape we have the following:

Ex. 3f: a straight line, 'pin'

Ex. 3g: 'a wall'.

Ex. 3h: 'a ball'.

Ex. 3i: a twisted shape, a spiral, 'a screw'. (Note: this is a different indication to that used by Peggy Hackney, 3j.

Ex. 3k: a triangle, 'a tetrahedron'.

What is not clear from these signs, if one is going to be more specific, is whether they are outline, e.g. two dimensional, or three-dimensional. What in 3g suggests a wall, if one had not learned that this is the given meaning? The part of the body being used can make a difference. In 3c the arms cannot make a three-dimensional shape.

Ex. 3l: In the case of the ball, indication of the body-as-a-whole, (the miniature 3-line staff sign) could mean that it will be a three-dimensional performance.

Ex. 3m: By adding a vertical line within the diamond sign for shape, three-dimensional application could be indicated. This is a new idea.

A concern I have is that the indication of 3g does not suggest a surface, the flatness that is the point of experiencing the wall shape. How can that flatness, that surface idea be stated?

Ex. 3n: Would shading the square sign give a better impression of a flat surface?

Of course one can arbitrarily learn that any sign has any meaning, however, our system is built on logic as well as visual representation when that is appropriate.

Ex. 3o: Here the statement of a round shape is combined with the indication for three-dimensional contraction (flexion) which will produce the three-dimensional ball shape. Perhaps we must expect to add such detail when a specific result is desired.

Tina Curran reminded me that such indications of shape were not given in the Your Move book; they were presented in the June 1997/January 1998 Issue No. 8/9 of Bullet-in-Stead, the publication on Motif which is sent to LOD Association members.


The question came up as to whether still shape forms can be taken into movement or used to modify a movement. The following are simple examples which pose no problem:

Ex. 3p: a turn to the right occurs with a curved shape.

Ex. 3q: during a spring a round shape occurs. If no body part is given, the shape could be made with the arms, hands, or possibly, with the legs.

Ex. 3r: in this example the shape should be of the body as a whole.

Doubtless there will be many more possibilities which will require selection of the appropriate movement/shape indications, combined in the required timing. Experimentation with these can be undertaken by those interested and in need of such developments. The important thing at this stage is to cover the basics.

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