Submitted by Charlotte Wile – March 14, 2003
Odette Blum, John Giffin, Lucy Venable. Complied by John Giffin
Use of Motif Work at The Ohio State University
As part of Session B on Aug. 2nd, points of view regarding the use of Motif at The Ohio State University Department of Dance were presented by Professors Emeritae Lucy Venable and Odette Blum, and Professor John Giffin. Giffin began with an overview of the history of Labanotation at OSU which has been part of the curriculum since 1962, thanks to the Department’s visionary founder Helen P. Alkire, who later brought in Venable and Blum as Labanotation specialists. Dr. Vera Maletic subsequently brought her expertise in Effort and Space Harmony to the area.
Then Blum spoke of the reasons for introducing the notation sequence with Motif. Professors Maletic, Venable and Blum had been discussing this idea for some time in order to make notation a tool which could sooner and more clearly connect to the immediate interests of undergraduates, whose main desire was to dance, and to other areas. The emphasis would be on exploring, through improvisation, the elements of dance, with the introduction of the symbols providing another way of playing with these materials. Thus the emphasis would shift to improvisation, performance or composition, depending on the instructor’s choice, instead of learning to read symbols in order to learn a dance.
When Motif was introduced by Blum in 1979, an immediate connection was made to Vera Blaine’s “Foundations in Composition”, which covered some of the same materials but in a different way. Over the years this approach proved to be successful and even students with very negative views of notation came to enjoy the process and appreciated its value. By the time the structured score was introduced, the students were familiar with a wide array of symbols and were able to read dances with relative ease and without the stress that learning new symbols induces in some adults. At present, undergraduates study Motif in two 1 1/2 hour classes per week for a full 10 week Quarter and graduates have three 1 1/2 hour classes for approximately 5 weeks. Giffin continued by mentioning some recent developments regarding Motif in the undergraduate program. Starting Spring Quarter 2001, Motif is being taught concurrently with Introduction to Composition to first-year students. These courses are excellent complements in Giffin’s opinion, and together are a good example of applying notation to the needs and desires of students in the area of composition/choreography.
Besides using Motif as an introduction to Labanotation in dance major and graduate courses, Venable has investigated, to some extent, how Motif might be used in teaching dance to children. Mainly through summer workshops, Venable introduced teachers of dance to the possibility of using Motif in their work with children to teach movement concepts which will be useful as a background for learning any form of dance or movement. Her approach was to introduce teachers to what Motif is and to have them experience it, rather than to provide them with a teaching method and progressive materials. Your Move was used as the text along with other Motif materials developed at OSU. Students in the course created some motif studies as well. A number of the participants in these first workshops had already had Labanotation here at OSU so for them it was the approach and application that was different. Some were teachers in the Columbus public schools and others were current graduate students with a teaching background. A three-week course meeting daily was begun in the summer of 1988. It developed into a five-week course by 1991 and included a group of children coming twice a week to have a lesson conducted by a different adult each time. The other adults in the class danced with the children. Everyone was learning together and the adults, by interacting so closely with the children, saw how easily the children absorbed the material, and how much they enjoyed it.
In July 1993 the Dance Notation Bureau and the Dance Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University, sponsored a one-day conference on Movement Notation as a Tool in Education at which time Ann Kipling Brown from the University of Regina, who had first worked with Motif in England and then continued in Canada, and Loren Bucek, who had taught for eight years in the Columbus Public Schools and was then Director of the Dance and Dance Education Program at Teachers College, discussed with Venable the development of a one week intensive Motif workshop for the following year. This was held at Teachers College in 1994, at OSU in 1995, at the University of Regina in 1996, and at OSU in 1998 & 1999. Some clips from video records that were made during the various summer workshops will be part of the Motif Strand of Ohio Dance’s Dance Education Web which will be accessible by the end of August, 2001.
Venable, Brown and Bucek developed a Resource Booklet for the workshop where they described Motif in the following way:
"Motif Writing is a system of notation that illustrates dance thinking. It is a form of mind-mapping used to give a single movement’s or a phrase of movement’s intention without describing in detail how the actions are to be performed. The basic symbols are used to denote general actions of the whole body. The interpretation is left to the reader, providing a useful aid for exploring movement, improvising, ordering and arranging movement, focusing on a theme, organizing main ideas, learning dances of other times and cultures, and critiquing and evaluating dance. Motif Writing can be used in creative work, repertory and formalized technique regardless of dance form or genre."
Teachers will find the use of Motif Writing to be a valuable education aid because it:
• is a way of thinking in and through movement/dance
• assists learning in a variety of modalities, particularly in identifying and understanding main concepts
• communicates movement ideas in written form
• supports interdisciplinary teaching and learning
• supports National Dance Standards implementation
• engages individual and/or group imagination(s)
• provides a framework for a variety of dance making experiences
• offers a vocabulary for the development of critical thinking and discussion
• supports the development of diverse teaching and learning methods and strategies
• helps individuals learn both visually and kinesthetically
• offers strategies for facilitating individual and group instruction
The following articles on Motif were published in the 1998 August and September issues of the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance with an introduction by Wendy Oliver, Associate Professor of Dance at Providence College in Rhode Island:
• "Capturing Dance on Paper" by Ann Dils, Assistant Professor in the Department of Dance, the University of North Carolina, Greensboro;
• "Demystifying Motif Writing" by Lucy Venable; "A Journey with Motif Writing" by Ann Kipling Brown, Associate Professor in the Arts Education Program in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada;
• "Developing Dance Literacy" by Loren Bucek, doctoral student in the department of Art Education at The Ohio State University.
The Language of Dance Centre, London (LODC)
Reflections on my journey to and work at the Language of Dance® Centre
This title gave me a great deal of food for thought and time for reflection. First, it’s important to explain my personal experiences, how I came to integrate Language of Dance® (LOD) in my day to day teaching and how LOD has now become in fact a key factor in my life and work.
I have had a privileged ‘Laban’ education. It began at Alsager College of Education in Cheshire, England where the dance programme was completely based on Laban theory. You name it – I did it! The scales, efforts, time and motion study – the whole gamut including dance notation (Kinetography Laban). This was integrated into the entire programme. Notating, reconstructing I loved it! I danced, performed and explored for 3 years. The only part I found lacking was a clear teaching methodology – perhaps it was there but I hadn’t found it clearly embedded or underpinning my work.
I moved on to the Art of Movement Studio at Addlestone in Surrey (now The Laban Centre London). There I had great opportunities to hone my Labanotation skills with Patty Howell. It was here that I first met Ann Hutchinson Guest. Ann had been invited to deliver the weekly lecture that all students were expected to attend. I was especially interested when she mentioned Labanotation discussions at her home (and the home of Language of Dance® Centre) in Holland Park. These meetings were for the Language of Dance Association (formerly, I believe, the British Dance Notation Society). I attended one meeting and remember it being a terrifying experience for a shy 21 year-old where most of the discussion seemed totally over my head but it proved to be a vital link in my journey.
A year later I began teaching in a junior school (7 -11 year olds) in East London. There I pioneered dance teaching which was not on the curriculum but felt something was missing from my work with children.
• Where was the progression in my dance leadership?
• What did the children understand about movement?
• How could they analyze, evaluate, appreciate the dance work?
• I could expand their creative opportunities?
I didn’t find the answers to these questions until much later but in the meantime I swapped teaching children in England for teaching English in Greece. Six years later I felt the need for a change of career and was interested in becoming a notator. How was I to do this? Having taught private lessons in Greece, I thought the ideal way was to have private lessons in Labanotation and who best to teach me (if she would) but Ann Hutchinson Guest. I found her number in the phone book and with trepidation phoned her. The lessons were arranged although not with Ann herself and I left to take my Advanced Labanotation exam. This was not as easy as it seemed and I found myself calling Ann again and begging her to teach me herself and thank goodness she agreed. However, after a few sessions it was evident that I had a lot of catching up to do and the phrase, “You have a lot of gaps in your knowledge, dear,” springs to mind. At this point, Ann showed me her latest book Your Move – A New Approach to the Study of Movement and Dance. I opened the book and as I flicked through I knew I had found the answer to the gaps in my teaching of dance.
Here was the movement progression I had been looking for. Why? On the first page was a Movement Alphabet which gave me a wealth of possibilities to explore and many creative opportunities. The Movement Alphabet symbols allow for a common vocabulary, for movement choices and for opportunities to identify, analyze and evaluate the work of oneself and others. So I started to play with this work with children in regular curriculum classes and in an after school club. It was highly successful and appeared to attract children with social, emotional and behavioral difficulties as well as talented and gifted children, disaffected boys, and children who appeared to learn in ways other than the regular format used in education.
That was back in 1985 and since 1986 I have worked at the Language of Dance® Centre (LODC, UK) in London. There I have been able to sharpen my Labanotation skills by assisting Ann in her Labanotation publications and also explore the LOD material, building on Ann’s vision of LOD’s use by disseminating, presenting and teaching it in a variety of applications.
What is great is that LOD can be as general or as specific as you want. It provides a developmental progression from the basic movement elements through to Labanotation if desired. This is evidenced in Val Farrant’s work in the UK who uses LOD in Advanced Dance studies in Further Education college (16+). She also uses it to extend students’ observational, analytical and documenting skills in choreography, dance analysis and dance history. The point I am trying to make is that the level of generality or specificity of the work depends on the educational (or otherwise) objectives of the group an LOD practitioner is working with. LOD is also designed to promote the education of the whole student by integrating physical, intellectual, creative, emotional and social skills.
My scope of applications have ranged from the parent/toddler sessions designed to introduce new play activities and promote parenting skills through to the LOD certification courses designed to produce skilled and knowledgeable LOD practitioners who can apply this work in the way they choose. These LOD courses are specific and in-depth but I hope they show how LOD is multilayered, how it is developing to support others and its freedom in application. This is already in evidence by the community of LOD specialists we have today. K through 6 teaching is one way as Heidi Wiess in Connecticut, Tina Curran in Texas, Inez Morse in East Sussex and myself (who will teach anywhere) can testify.
Oona Haaranen incorporates LOD within her collaborative choreographic process with her children’s and professional dance companies in NY. Sharlene Jenkins has been using LOD in California within a project called ArtsBridge. Amara Burke has used it with various populations including deaf children and in crisis centres. Sean Murphy has been teaching choreography through LOD as part of Boston Symphony Orchestra’s ‘Days in the Arts’ summer programme. Edward Warburton has done fantastic work in empirical studies as is clear from his thesis The Dance on Paper" the effect of notation-use on learning and development in dance." And there are many more! Forgive me if there is anyone present I have omitted!
In October 2000 the LODC, UK received New Opportunities Funding (raised from the National Lottery) to introduce LOD in schools in the UK as an out of school hours activity to encourage disaffected young people back in schools (the goals are not curriculum based) and this has been very successful with the programme set to expand and train new practitioners.
I hope this begins to show the wealth in breadth and depth of LOD application and how LOD practitioners are already applying it in many ways. We are, however, still in our infancy (our 4th generation of practitioners are just coming through) and still discovering what this work can do and how it can benefit not just dance community but ‘the community’ – young, old, dancers/non-dancers, special needs, talented and gifted, whoever! And that LOD benefits them not only in dance education but beyond. And that is our goal
The Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies (LIMS)
I thank Jimmyle and Tina for inviting me to participate in this conference. I look forward to being with those who share a common language and bond in understanding the importance of nonverbal communication and movement as a written language. I represent one voice of many that teach or have taught motif in a similar way for the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies. It is with eagerness that I come to share and explore our common and divergent views on motif. My hopes are that this conference will widen and deepen my own understanding and appreciation of motif.
My perspective on motif is twofold. One: motif is a means to an end. That end is to inform the observer about something he or she may not have noticed about the observed movement if it wasn't for the motif. This is what I teach, what I know to be true, what I must convince novice observers. And Two: As a teacher of motif, I must enlighten, convince, inspire and encourage students that this medium is a valid one.
The perspective that motif is a means to an end is different from one which may use motif to record, although I also teach from that perspective. Motif is used in movement observation to encourage various ways of seeing. Simultaneously students are asked to learn what to see, how it changes and how to write these changes. This is the equivalent of asking someone to learn a language (with the additional task of persuading students that motif is a functioning language).
How does the writing of motif inform students in observing movement? For example, “defining the event” is a very obvious (one would think) pre-step to any motif writing. Identifying the beginning, middle and end of the action to be observed eliminates later confusion when it may be discovered that observers were not all examining the same bit of movement; they had defined the action differently. Once the event is determined and agreed upon, understanding of phrasing is key in movement observation. I have had great success in horizontal Effort and Shape writing when asking the students to determine the phrases and their subsequent accents first. Next they are asked to look at the phrases themselves to determine the number of Effort or Shape changes. After that they look at what these changes are in terms of states and drives, and/or shape complexities. This has proven to be an efficient way to organize and teach horizontal phrase writing. Students are less likely to be intimidated by what they initially see because they have a means of organization that immediately informs them as to the shadings of the movement dynamics and shape nuances.
Once the phrase is motifed, the students begin analysis of what they deemed to be most important in their initial recording. Where are the accents in the phrases? Are they consistently the same? Is a phrasing pattern emerging? Are the lengths similar? Is there a pattern in the lengths of the phrases? What about patterns within the phrases? Number of specific effort changes (i.e. how many direct space efforts do you see, how many awake states, passion drives in a set configuration, etc.)? They analyze the phrase for data. Then they come up with conclusions based on what they learned through the motif. (For example a student may say, “I had no idea until I looked at the motif that he constantly changed his tendency from free flow to bound right before he went into a punch, and then of course, he gave up flow entirely.”) This type of analysis is also useful when looking at all aspects of Space and Body organizations.
Vertical motif writing works well also. Here, rhythmic patterns, body part usage, actions and initiations, spatial patterns and directions are most often motifed and analyzed.
In order to most successfully use motif to inform in this way, it must be simple. While learning to write as they observe, students must be able to place pencil to paper and write down symbols as quickly as possible. After phrasing bows, the simple action stroke, effort and shape strokes and hold signs work the best in initial observation.
Training to produce a corresponding written rhythmic response to observed movement is paramount. Because the subconscious has already determined and chosen aspects of the defined movement, training involves developing a confidence in trusting a kinesthetic response to movement.
Mental analysis at the time of writing only gets in the way. The simple motor response to writing action, effort and shape strokes and pauses works best to meet this end. One can become more complex in writing the motif after this initial response to movement, but should always refer to this initial response to determine the complexity of the motif. One asks, “What did I see that caused me to write that action stroke? Space? Effort? Body part? Something made me determine that that stroke was important enough to write. What was it?” Students usually find it was clearly one thing and not another, certainly not the four or five things they want to motif as they sit and stare at the movement again and again.
This method of observing honors that the observer is very much a part of the process. Motif is not about objectivity; sometimes it’s about consensus.
Motif changes depending upon the context and both the context and the motif inform each other. This is the wonder and creativity of motif. This is its credibility. This can also be an exasperation to those students who want a right or wrong answer. Motif informs, and often it informs just as much or more about the observer as what is being observed. “What do I tend to always see and write? What do I forget?” And the big scary question: “What can't I see?” I look forward to illustrating how motif informs tomorrow in the class I teach.
My second perspective on motif is that as a teacher of motif, I must enlighten, convince, inspire and encourage students that this medium is a valid one. And I must do this in a relatively short time. I disapprove of bogging down students with rules and symbols at the beginning of their observational training. This has not worked in the past and has only served to intimidate the students. I have not enjoyed teaching motif when asked to teach it in this manner. Those students who have the inclination to appreciate written detail will gravitate in that direction, but if I want to encourage beginner students in the use of motif, I must keep it user-friendly.
My job is to provide a hook for students who come to the certificate program who only want to move, who are not interested in reading or writing, let alone in writing movement. I must show students that there are endless ways in which they can use motif and that it is painless. Some of these ways or perhaps others will hopefully be incorporated creatively in their end of certificate program projects.
With some, it becomes a chore, with others a delight. Hopefully they are encouraged enough to play with motif. Certificate program students have created some unique, ingenious symbols.
I am inclined to believe students’ enthusiasm for motif comes from how it is initially presented. I focus my energy on the refinement of presentation in order to introduce the students to the incredible richness of motif. This presentation of course has evolved through the years and through various programs. Classes are always determined by schedules and time frames, so that it sometimes becomes daunting to hold to simplicity. I find I do a lot of re-teaching and simplifying in tutorial sessions. There students feel freer to ask questions and I can find ways to make the use of motif less overwhelming according to the individual student’s needs. Recently our yearlong program has been successful in incorporating motif into daily class work and the past few programs have produced students who enjoy and use it easily.
By necessity, I do not deal in complexity in teaching motif. If anything, my colleagues and I must train students to write what they deem the most important and to avoid writing all that they see. This is where the teaching of learning to trust one’s subconscious comes into play. The students must whittle away, trust that what they write first is what is most important and/or most important to them. Motif is an excellent modality for supporting students’ confidence in what they initially see.
Because movement in itself is so complex, when motif is used in analyzing movement, subtle nuances and aspects of movement ready to be discovered that would have been missed via any other type of analysis are revealed. The inherent complexity of the movement is made understandable through the clarity of the motif. I personally do not teach advanced motif writing, nor have I been involved with the evolution or clarification of symbology. I am more than willing to let others make theoretical decisions and I gladly teach the results if they are applicable to beginners. I must admit that this has led to some inconsistencies in the teaching and use of symbology through the years as something may be taught one way for a while, then changed, only to be changed back to the original as experience shows that the most appropriate way to write the symbol after all. There is not always agreement and cohesion among LIMS faculty about symbology, but we attempt to be conscious of our differences and try to be consistent among ourselves throughout any given program. The important point is the practical availability of motif to the certificate student.
Motif is a powerful tool in the training of movement observation. I hope to convey at this conference some of the fun and satisfaction of working with motif in training students in Laban Movement Analysis.
Integrated Movement Studies (IMS)
Note: this summary was written on July 14, 2002, by Peggy Hackney from her “Mind-Map,” a graphic illustration that she had written on the blackboard as she spoke at the symposium. Capitalized words within the summary are keyed to the “Mind-Map” which is reproduced following the text.
The Integrated Movement Studies Perspective on Teaching Motif Writing
In our Integrated Movement Studies (IMS) Laban/Bartenieff Certificate Programs we teach Motif Writing as part of our Observation curriculum, because Motif is “AN OPEN INVITATION TO MOVE!” It galvanizes people into movement – it puts them in an exploratory mode as they play with moving the symbols. It’s easy and it’s FUN – and we believe it should stay that way (i.e., not get too complex in the scores). And, even more importantly, Motif leads to MEANING-MAKING. Our IMS approach is based on moving toward claiming our personal meaning making in both our movement and our observations.
Motif enables people to move or observe movement while paying attention to INTENT, using ELEMENTAL BUILDING BLOCKS of movement. When moving or observing in this way, people are coalescing bodily sensations, which are coming from the movement and bringing them into consciousness. This consciousness results in the perception of clusters of elements that are happening together and helps us to distinguish how they are similar/different one from the other. This differentiation can, of course, be DESCRIBED/RECORDED in symbols. This then leads to PATTERN RECOGNITION, which ultimately moves to personal MEANING-MAKING and INTEGRATION.
Of course how much differentiation is necessary to record differs with the context, and is certainly a necessary topic of discussion for us in Motif Writing. (I find that notation gives me the chance to use my inner “Goddess of Clarity,” but there is also the possibility for my inner “Demon of Hypermentality” to be the bully. She takes out the fun and limits my ability to perceive pattern by obscuring the essence of the Intent with too much detail.)
Recognizing characteristic aspects of continuity and change and seeing how things repeat and are layered into pattern is one thing we are stressing in our IMS programs, because we believe that PATTERN RECOGNITION is important for our personal, artistic, and cultural growth. It leads to perception and appreciation of Style, whether that is personal, artistic or cultural. We like that Motif asks us to see and write about “What stands out in the movement?” and “What comes together?” And/or “What’s coloring the movement?” We do not write every little detail. This means that when we are working with Motif, we are already working in what Martha Davis called, many years ago, “creeping interpretation.” We are making choices according to the perceived INTENT. When we commit to which symbol to use, we are making choices about what intention we are using or we see being revealed.
In our IMS Programs we teach the following little “mantra”:
“In Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis
We Perceive (access the sensations)
Often students wonder why the use of symbols is important . Are they important? I continue to think that they are, even though most of our students don’t continue to use Motif Writing as a formal symbol-system in their application fields after they graduate.
• Symbols train students to perceive INTENT, and the chance to choose which symbols to use amplifies that perception. Students continue to use this ability in their application area, even if they are not using the symbols.
• Symbols give people the opportunity to attach a large number of movement experiences to one symbol. Symbols are containers, a way to hold on to the evanescent movement experience. The symbol then, like art, is a way to hold my many experiences of one type of movement (such as “Shape Flow”). When I have experienced that symbol in many different combinations with other elements, and I see a motif that uses the symbol, I can then create the movement experience as a gestalted experience, because I can perceive the entire group of symbols together. When we use words, we are in a linear realm rather than in a clustered realm of the “multiple known” that symbols can provide.
- Symbols encourage what Carol-Lynne Moore calls “movement thinking.”
- Symbols are also international in a way that words are not. (This is particularly important in our current world scene.)
- And Symbols are, of course, also a visual inroad. Some students are drawn to learning visually.
In summary, our Integrated Movement Studies Laban/Bartenieff curriculum is not “about” Notation. Recording the movement is only one aspect of what we are teaching. Our emphasis is on INTENT and EMBODIED KNOWING. Symbols, and Motif Writing in particular are tools. We are training students to:
• Use movement to further their own personal and professional INTEGRATION,
• Become more skilled as movers and movement thinkers.
• Personally claim their own embodied knowing, and
• Move into the world with INTENT and the full richness of who they are as human beings.
The Dance Notation Bureau (DNB)
The Dance Notation Bureau would first like to salute Tina Curran and Jimmyle Listenbee, Motus Humanus and the Language of Dance Center for organizing this event and Ohio State University for hosting it. The importance of dance literacy can't be overstressed. The more times that we can come together as a group, the stronger we will be.
This morning in our working groups sponsored by the Alliance of Dance Notation Educators as part of the International Council of Kinetography Laban conference, Tom Brown said we have to stop being a 'me' culture and become a 'we' culture. The Dance Notation Bureau would like to support this effort by making the work of this symposium available on our theory discussion bulletin board on our website, an idea conceived and curated by Charlotte Wile. We have already hosted some of the preliminary discussions for this event.
I'd also like to mention the materials on our teaching materials bulletin board, with which many of you who have been here this whole week are familiar. It is a joint project with Southern Methodist University and is under the auspices of the Alliance for Dance Notation Educators. It is due to the efforts of Patty Harrington Delaney that this wonderful resource has been started. I'd really like to encourage all of you to participate in this effort to build a library of materials that we can all access and share. I'd like to encourage all of you who have just arrived to take a look at it and share your motif materials because together as a 'we' community we can build a whole library of resources.
Dance Notation Bureau founder, Ann Hutchinson Guest, has been telling us for many, many, many, many decades of the importance of motif work. Ahead of her time, as she often is, the fact of this symposium and the discussion of the practical experiences we have had in the last few days show us that we are finally catching up with her. So thank you and enjoy the rest of the symposium.