Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Minutes for the Open Theory Meeting, October 20, 2011

Minutes for the Open Theory Meeting, October 20, 2011
Submitted by Charlotte Wile - January 18, 2012

Following are minutes for the DNB Open Theory Meeting held on October 20, 2011. The minutes were written by Charlotte Wile.

Present: Janos Fugedi, Bill Kiley, Mei-Chen Lu, Mira Kim, Gabor Misi, Lynne Weber, and Charlotte Wile.

The meeting was conducted via Skype. Janos and Misi were in Hungary. Bill, Mei, Mira, Lynne, and Charlotte were in New York.

The topics for this meeting were papers that Misi and Janos presented at the August 2011 ICKL conference in Budapest, Hungary:

1) Gabor Misi, “Interpretations of the Placement of the Feet.”
2) Janos Fugedi, “Dancers’ Perception of Movement Rhythm.” 

TOPIC #1: Gabor Misi’s paper, “Interpretations of the Placement of the Feet.” 

1.1    Misi’s paper “Interpretations of the Placement of the Feet” describes inconsistencies in the rules for certain groups of symbols that depict the placement of feet. These indications mean different things to Albert Knust, Maria Szentpal, and Ann Hutchinson. 

1.2     Our discussion of the paper began with Janos telling us about Maria Szentpal, who is cited extensively in both Misi’s and Janos’s papers. In the video clip below, Janos talks about the major role Maria had in the development of our notation system. Misi is sitting next to him. (The clip was extracted from a video we made at the meeting to document the conference call.)

1.3    [Maria’s English and Hungarian manuscripts that Janos refers to (see minute 2:50 on the video) are available for research on the premises of the DNB library.]

1.4   The group first examined examples K1 and F1 in Misi’s paper (page 2). The examples are copied here below.

1.5   Misi uses K1 and F1 to compare Maria’s and Ann’s methods for determining the distance of a normal step:
  •  Maria says the distance of a step is measured from one foot to the other foot. The normal distance is one foot length between the supporting feet, i.e., three squares in F1.
  • Ann says the distance of a step is measured from the heal of one foot to the heal of the next foot.  Thus, the the normal distance is two foot lengths, i.e., 6 squares in F1.
1.6   However, regardless of which of these definitions you use to interpret K1,  the resulting movement will be the same (F1).

1.7    Charlotte wondered if the way distance is judged affects the way the movement feels or is executed. For example, in everyday pedestrian walking she would find it easier to think about the distance between the feet, i.e., from the toe of one foot to the heal of the other foot (Maria’s method).

1.8    Mira said she understood what Charlotte said about the feeling of the movement, but, as Misi brings out later in his paper, there are reasons Ann uses the heal to heal definition.  

1.9    Janos said that the feeling of distance in a step is different depending upon the context of the movement. For example, it might be different if you are on your toes and step to the side, or if you are doing various dance steps.

1.10    Mei said that the “normal" distance can vary. For example, a normal step for an older person might be smaller than what is normal for a younger person. However, it is important to have a clear definition of what "normal" means in Labanotation.

1.11    Charlotte said that in the L/N texts Ann provides two ways of notating. In one method, the measurement signs used to indicate the size of a step represent an approximate amount. In the other method, the signs depict an exact amount. The exact amount is relative to the mover’s foot size.

1.12    Misi pointed out that in Ann’s definition, the measurement can be from the center of one foot to the center of the other foot, as well as from the heel of one foot to the heel of the other [see paragraph 2.6 in Misi’s paper].

1.13  Charlotte asked if it matters whether the analysis is “from the center to the center” or the “heel to the heel,” since the distance of the step would in both cases be two foot lengths.

1.14    Misi replied that it doesn’t matter if your feet are parallel [as in K1 above.] However, if your feet are rotated, the analysis is affected [as is discussed later in his paper].

1.15    The topic veered to what one thinks about when taking a step; the feet or the center of weight.

1.16    Charlotte talked about her experience teaching very young children. If they take small steps they would probably think about the distance between the feet.

1.17    Janos said in performing traditional Hungarian dances he would probably not think about the center of weight or the feet. Rather he would just think about expression of the movement. The distance he moves would serve the expression. 

1.18    Mei said that what you focus on depends upon your training and the dance style. When she walks down the street she doesn’t think about the feet or the center of weight. She just walks.

1.19    Charlotte: What if I say to you, “Take little steps while you walk.”

1.20    Lynne: I probably would think about my feet.

1.21    Charlotte: What about taking tiny steps in a bourree?

1.22    Mei: You would think about moving the feet and the pelvis together. In modern dance you would think more about your center of weight.

1.23    Charlotte: In our system of notating we indicate the distance of a step by showing the situation of the feet. In situations where the intent is about moving the center of weight a certain distance, maybe we should be including that in the notation.

1.24    Next we discussed examples K2, F2a, and F2b in Misi’s paper (page 3). Example F2a shows how Maria would interpret K2. Example F2b shows how Sheila Marion would interpret K2.

1.25    The examples are copied here below.

1.26    Mira and Mei said they would interpret K2 as in F2a.

1.27    Lynne said that is what you would normally think if you had ballet training.

1.28    Mira: If you are standing on one foot, where is “place”?  If I put my center of gravity nearer the toe I feel like I’m falling. Rather, place is where the heel is. Likewise, in a turned out first position, place is between the heels.

1.29    Mira showed a movement in which she stepped in place onto the ball of her left foot (both feet were parallel). She said the movement feels more stable if the left foot is placed near the heal of the right foot rather than near the toe or center of the right foot.

1.30    Post-meeting Charlotte photographed herself replicating Mira’s movement.

1.31    Charlotte asked Misi about the reference for F2b. In paragraph 3.5 in his paper, Misi says the example comes from Sheila Marion. Charlotte wondered if Ann has stated anywhere how she would interpret K2. As far as Charlotte could tell, Ann does not address this issue in the L/N texts.

1.32    Misi said that Ann and Maria would both interpret K2 as in F2a. In this case the contrasting interpretation (F2b) comes from Sheila Marion in a paper she wrote for ICKL in 1979.

1.33    Charlotte wondered if Sheila knew when she wrote her 1979 paper that she was disagreeing with Ann’s and Maria’s interpretation.

1.34    Janos: Sheila was reverting to a former rule in which the reference point in the case of positions is the center of the foot.

1.35    Janos gave some more information about Maria’s analysis. He said he had discussed the topic of step distance with Maria many times. Maria said the problem is we are not elephants with round feet. If our feet were round it would be much easier to define the relationship of the legs. Unfortunately, the length of a human foot is three times longer than its width, and this is what causes the problem. To deal with this in notation, Maria envisioned the foot as having a circle around its heel. That circular shape becomes the reference point.

1.36    To illustrate, Janos showed us the drawing below.

1.37    Next the group discussed examples K3, F3a, and F3b in Misi's paper (page 4), copied here below.

1.38    In Maria’s interpretation, the ball of the left foot touches near the toe of the right foot, as in F3a. In Ann’s interpretation the foot touches near the heal, as in F3b.

1.39    Lynne said she would interpret K3 with the ball of her left foot next to the center of the right foot (i.e., between F3a, and F3b).

1.40    Janos asked Lynne how she would interpret K3 if the heal was touching (rather than the ball of the foot).

1.41    Lynne replied she would probably also touch near the center.

1.42    Janos said Maria’s rule was that it doesn’t matter which part of the foot touches (e.g., the ball or the heal). The placement of the foot should be determined according to where foot would be normally when the whole foot touches [see paragraph 4.5 in Misi’s paper].

1.43    Misi pointed out that if the ball of the foot touches near the center or the heal of the other foot, and then you roll to the whole foot, you end up with one foot more forward than the other. This is a reason for using Maria’s rule.

1.44    Post-meeting, Charlotte made the video below to illustrate rolling variations: near the toe, near the center of the foot, and near the heal.

1.45    Mira said that where the movement ends affects the analysis of the movement. For instance, in a rolling movement you end on the whole foot. The body knows that you will end on both feet and you naturally place the foot so the feet will end up next to each other. However, in K3 there is a different sensation. The ending position is on the ball of the foot. Thinking about what would happen if the foot were to roll is not relevant.

1.46    Charlotte: This brings up the issue of what criteria should be used in creating rules. Should they support the feeling of the movement, or should they be based on what would make the fewest or easiest to remember rules?

1.47    Mira wondered about the examples given in Misi’s appendix (page 13) shown here below. In the Hutchinson-Kolff  “4.6 paragraph” example, the touching is near the heal. What rule does the Sheila Marion use in the rolling “4.8 paragraph”?

1.48  Misi said that in the “4.8 paragraph” example Sheila used a caret to avoid the rolling problem. The caret says the touch is preparatory.

1.49    Janos said that ICKL called the caret used in this way a “forward reference.”

1.50    Charlotte understood this to mean that in the “4.8 paragraph” example, the caret tells you to judge the location of the right foot touch according to where the foot will be in its subsequent support.

1.51    Mira wondered if Sheila’s “3.5 paragraph” example conflicts with her “4.8 paragraph” example (see page 13 in Misi’s paper). The “3.5 paragraph” example implies that Sheila's reference for the foot placement is center.

1.52    Regrettably, we needed to stop discussing Misi’s paper at this point in order to leave enough time for Janos’s paper.  

TOPIC #2:  Janos Fugedi’s, “Dancers’ Perception of Movement Rhythm.”

2.1    Janos’s “Dancers’s Perception of Movement Rhythm” is a PowerPoint paper which describes his research into the perception and notation of timing.

2.2   The PowerPoint begins with a summary of Janos Fugedi and Gabor Misi, “Ways of Notating Floor Touching Gestures with the Foot” (ICKL 2009), which compared four different methods of notating timing: exact (Knust), mixed (Szentpál), unit (Hutchinson), and rhythm expressive (Fügedi and Misi).

2.3    The PowerPoint then goes on to describe an experiment Janos conducted with his students. His hypothesis was that “movement rhythm is represented in our mind as if it was ‘mind-notated’ in unit timing.” To test his hypothesis, the students watched short films of traditional Hungarian dances. They recorded the timing of the movement using a special task sheet.

2.4    Janos first showed us the films. The video below, which was extracted from the video we made of the conference call, contains the films. Charlotte inserted the titles.  In the video only some of the music accompanying the dances is audible. [For a larger image, click "You Tube" on the bottom right.]

2.5    In the experiment each student recorded the rhythm of each film using horizontal lines on a horizontal staff, as instructed on the task sheet shown here below (see page 19 in the PowerPoint). [Click the image to make it larger.]

2.6     Examples of the students' responses are given in the PowerPoint on pages 20-21. A sample is shown here below. 

2.7    Fifty two students participated in the experiment. All of them were dancers. Some had a L/N background and some did not. In any case, their task did not involve L/N. Rather they were just asked to use horizontal lines to depict when movements in various body portions begin and end.

2.8    The results of the experiment are documented and analyzed on pages 22-34 in the PowerPoint. On page 22 Janos shows the different ways the students drew the lines on the task sheets.  Janos found that of 98% of their drawings corresponded with a unit or unit-like perception of rhythm (page 34 in the PowerPoint).

2.9    Charlotte speculated that the results may demonstrate that it is easier to understand and record unit timing.

2.10    Janos corrected Charlotte. He said that exact timing is no more difficult to learn than unit timing. He feels that the subjects in the experiment mainly used unit or unit-like timing to record their observations because that is the way they they intrinsically understand timing. The results of the experiment support his experience in teaching L/N for more than 20 years. Even though his students are taught both exact and unit timing, they most always choose to notate using unit timing.

2.11    Charlotte asked if the students taking the experiment knew that Janos was testing their perception of timing. Janos said they did not know the purpose of the experiment.

2.12    Mei said if she had participated in the experiment before she had L/N training, she probably would have draw the “unit-like” lines which are not clear about where the movement begins (see page 22 in the Power Point). In other words, she would have drawn the lines a little after the beat.

2.13    Janos said it is important in discussing these issues to keep in mind a dancer's training. The way you are taught movement affects the way you perceive rhythm. This understanding of rhythm is not conscious. It is during the teaching process that you get your built in sense of rhythm. He feels that in all the dance styles that stem from traditional forms, such as folk dance, tap dance, ball room dance, and Latin dance, the perception of rhythm tends to correspond with the “unit timing” method of notation.

2.14    Mei and Charlotte wondered if it might be useful to do the experiment with ballet or modern dancers.

2.15    Charlotte said she would be curious to know if unit timing or exact timing is used most in L/N scores. Regardless of which method notators might say in theory they feel works best, which one do they actually use in practice when they notate scores?

2.16    Janos said that is a good question. He thinks they use both. Generally they use unit timing, but they may switch to exact timing to notate touching. However, there are notators who mainly use specific timing. For example, Judy Van Zile uses it extensively and consistently in her notation of certain Asian dances.

2.17    Charlotte gave the example of Mickey Topaz’s score for “Day on Earth,” which uses both unit timing and exact timing for touches. Some people might say that this is not a problem because the context of the notation lets you know how it should be interpreted. However, Charlotte thinks that if you are doing a close reading of the notation, the mixture of exact and unit timing can be confusing.

2.18    Mei said arguments can be made for each method of writing, but when conflicting systems are used in the same score, the notation becomes very hard to read.

2.19    Charlotte wondered which timing method should be emphasized in our texts and in our teaching.

2.20    At this point it was time for the meeting to end. We all felt we had made a good start in our examination of Misi’s and Janos’s excellent papers, but there is so much more in them we would like to discuss. We decided we should continue at the next meeting.