Friday, January 22, 2010


Submitted by Ann Hutchinson Guest - March 21, 1999
[Originally posted Jan 4, 1999 on LabanTalk]

Dear Friends,

What a wonderful opportunity it was at the end of the C.O.R.D. conference to meet and talk about Motif Writing and share ideas for possible future developments!

After I returned home it occurred to me that it could be valuable to share with all of you my early thoughts at the time of my contribution to the development of the Motif symbols and their meanings. By making these thoughts available it may help in establishing a common understanding on small points where different ideas exist.


In Labanotation a gap between movement symbols means no change, no movement. If the gap is small, it produces a short pause; a longer gap and the pause, the cessation of movement is longer. A short pause might be just a `breath pause', a minor form of punctuation in the movement `sentence'; a tiny stop in the flow of the movement. A pause in speech may be just a moment of thought, a pause to decide what to say next. In such instances the speaker often drops the eyes, looking slightly down for a second. Or the pause may be an intentional suspension of speech for a dramatic effect. The speaker then continues to look outward toward the audience, holding them with his/her intensity, an aliveness which is not there when one is just thinking about what to say next.

We have similar situations in dance. A pause may not be expressive, a stillness IS. This is why I invented a special sign for stillness. The gap itself is the pause. Too short a pause will not be a stillness, a stillness requires some suspension, a moment or so of energized non-movement.

I gave prominence to the idea of stillness as I wanted children to understand the difference between stopping and becoming statues (a game which has its own particular value) and enjoying the duration of a stillness. A statue freezes, energy is held within. The person no longer exists, being captured within the shape of the statue. Stillness is alive, it is suspended. It emanates the same kind of vibrations which travel the soundwaves after a music note has been struck. Through imagery children can learn the difference between`stop' and `stillness'.

In Labanotation the small circle is called "the hold sign". Something is retained, held, maintained (whichever is the appropriate word). In Motif Writing the result of a previous movement may be retained, for instance, a lowering which should remain while another movement takes place, perhaps a gesture of some kind, perhaps traveling. This retention must be cancelled at the appropriate time.


Stillness does not have this idea of retention, of holding,therefore I modified the basic sign by adding the V SIGN for an OUTWARD SUCCESSION. This sign represents an OUTWARD FLOW of movement. It was not derived from the longer V sign for `toward', which came from the 'increase' sign in music.

It may be amusing but I feel it defeats the purpose when the stillness sign is called "a tomato", or "the hold sign with rabbit ears". The child or student is not being keyed in to the origin and meaning of the sign, the underlying sense and intent.

I would like to hear the term 'pause' used where it is appropriate and `stillness' used when that state is what is really wanted.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this particular topic and, indeed on any related use of signs or terms in Motif Description (Motif Writing).

Yours sincerely,


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