Labanotation Part III

Dance Literacy Through Labanotation

Part III: The Informal Use of Labanotation

by Menawara (Laura Le Pere)

In my first article on Labanotation (Habibi, Vol. 14, No. 1)I gave some background information on why Rudolf Laban created Labanotation. I discussed some of the pros and cons of the use of dance notation ;and why it can be useful in combination with video for the preservation and transmission of Oriental dance. In the last issue of Habibi (Vol. 14, No. 2), I explained some of the basics of the Labanotation system, and suggested an informal way of using some of the Labanotation symbols. This article continues that discussion. Reading (or re-reading) Part II will help to make this article much more easily understood and useful.

Rotating & circular movements

Symbols for rotating and circular movements are shown in Figure 15. The turn/rotation symbols (a) are used for turns of the whole body (steps) and rotation or twisting of parts of the body along that part’s longitudinal axis (gestures). It’s easy to remember clockwise from counterclockwise by imagining the symbol turning on the page in the direction of its points (b). The degree of turning or rotation can be shown by the numbers and “pins” (c). These turn symbols are the most useful for us but I am also including symbols for two other types of rotation that are used by Oriental dancers for certain specific but common movements. The cartwheel symbol (Figure 16,a) is used for cartwheeling of the whole body (step) and also for rotation of body parts around an axis which passes though the body from front to back (gesture). We use this type of rotation in our pelvis when we do certain shimmies and vertical figure eights of the hips. The somersault symbol (b) is used for somersaulting of the whole body (step) as well as for rotation of body parts around an axis that passes through the body from side to side (gesture). We rotate our pelvic girdles in this manner when we do pelvic locks.

Circular paths (Figure 17,a) differ from turns and rotations in that the body or a body part describes a circle in space. There may or may not be a change of front for the whole body and or twisting for a body part. The number of circles performed is shown by the numbers and pins (b). Assuming the performance area is basically flat, steps can only take the whole body in horizontal circular paths. These paths are sometimes referred to as floor patterns. (Straight paths are also possible, of course — see below). Besides horizontal circular paths, individual body parts can make gestures on cartwheel and somersault circular paths (c) which use the same axes as for the cartwheel and somersault rotational movements. Gestures on circular paths can also be shown using the direction and level symbols. The circular path symbols are just an easier way of writing the movement assuming the circling is around one of the three main body axes just described. Our most common circle movements such as pelvic, rib and head circles (which follow horizontal circular paths) as well as vertical hip and shoulder circles (which follow somersault and circular paths) do move around one of these axes. For our informal usage, description of circling around other axes requires use of direction and level symbols or a description of the axis of circling along with the basic circular path symbol normally used for horizontal circular paths (d).

Straight paths

Straight paths are represented by the symbol in Figure 18 (a). This symbol is most frequently used to show the motion of the whole body in a given direction on the floor. Combinations of steps in different directions or turns can result in the whole body moving fairly directly between two points which may not be obvious simply from the description of the steps. The straight path sign along with a direction symbol (b) can clarify this. The direction symbol is relative to the body at the beginning of the combination. For example, a quarter turn clockwise, a step forward, a quarter turn counterclockwise, and a step forward repeated several times will move the body to a point diagonally right forward of its original position (c). Straight path symbols are used with gestures to specify shifting of certain parts of the torso as discussed above.

Facing direction

Which way we are facing in relation to the “front” of the room or the audience can often be important. Direction of motion in Labanotation is normally stated in relation to the body. So the symbols in Figure 19 (a) are used to indicate the direction relative to the room or the audience that the performer should be facing at a given point in time. These facing symbols can be combined with turn and rotation symbols to indicate the amount of turning when the final facing direction is more important than the specific degree of turn or rotation (b). They can also be used with straight path symbols instead of the direction symbols relative to the body (c).

Vibrations and undulations are movements which are particularly characteristic of Oriental dance. These movements, which are gestures, could be described using direction and level but special symbols exist that are much simpler to use. These symbols are shown in Figure 20. You will notice that there are two types of undulation: outward and inward. Outward undulation gestures of the limbs start at the point of attachment of the limb or the part of a limb and move toward the extremity as in our “snake arms” or arm wave movements. Inward undulations of the limbs start at the extremity and move toward the point of attachment; but I have never seen this type of movement in Oriental dance. Outward undulations of the body move from the direction of the legs and move toward the head. Inward undulations of the body start from the direction of the head and move toward the legs. Typical Oriental dance undulations of the body are “camels” (inward undulation of ribs and hips), body waves (outward undulation of hips, ribs and head) and abdominal undulations (both inward and outward).

Relative size, degree or amount of movement

The relative size, degree, or amount of movement can be expressed in Labanotation using the symbols in Figure 21 (a). These symbols can be used to modify virtually any of the other symbols. The most common uses, though, are with the direction and level symbols for steps (b), with the turn/rotation symbols to indicate the degree of turning of the whole body (c) or the degree of rotation of a body part (d), and with the path symbols to indicate the relative length of straight paths (e) or the size of circular paths (f).

Accented movements

Accented movements are shown using the symbols in Figure 22 (a). These are used with other movement symbols to indicate the use of extra energy in the performance of that movement. For example, (b) shows a 3/4 shimmy of the right hip with emphasis on “the down”.

Touching or proximity

The touching or proximity of two body parts is shown in Labanotation using horizontal “bows” as in Figure 23 (a). These bows connect the symbols for the body parts which are close or in contact. If necessary, direction and level symbols may also be used to show which part had to move in order to create this relationship or to clarify the orientation of the parts. For example, (b) shows the head sliding to the right, the right arm with the elbow out and the right palm near the head.

Hold and back-to-normal

The hold and back-to-normal symbols are shown in Figure 24. They are used in rather specific ways in standard Labanotation depending on which body part they refer to. For informal use, however, the symbols can be used simply as shorthand for those words.


Repeat symbols can be used for individual movements or combinations of movements. The basic repeat symbol (Figure 25,a) means that the movement or combination should be repeated exactly as before. The repeat-other-side symbol (b) means to repeat on the other side of the body reversing lateral directions. Any forward or backward elements of the movements do not change, but are performed using the same body part on the other side of the body. Turns and horizontal circular movements are done with the opposite rotations. So, for a one-eighth turn clockwise with the left arm up and the right arm diagonal front low followed by a step forward with the right foot, the repeat-other-side symbol would mean a one-eighth turn counterclockwise with the right arm up and the left arm diagonal front low followed by a step forward on the left foot. Your notes for this combination might look something like (c). For a sequence of repeats, the bottom dot of the repeat symbols may be replaced by the number of repeats (d). This number does not include the original performance. A sequence of repeats can also be written by using the appropriate number of repeat signs. If this is done for a sequence of alternating repeats in standard Labanotation, all repeats performed in the original manner use the basic repeat symbol and all repeats performed in the opposite manner use the repeat-other-side symbol (e).

I realize that I have just presented you with a tremendous amount of new information. The idea is not that you will immediately start using all of these symbols when you take dance notes. However, I hope that at least some of them will be useful to you. Personally, the ones I used the most initially were the turn and facing symbols, followed by the direction and level and body part symbols. It will be up to each of you to decide for yourself which symbols are most useful. You may even decide not to follow the standard conventions of use. These conventions do, however, contribute greatly to the clarity of meaning of the symbols, which is why I have included them.

I also realize that I have not given you very much information about putting these symbols together in your notes or very many examples of the way specific Oriental dance movements would be written. The scope of this article was only to present you with some of the concepts of Labanotation. The informal use of these concepts that I am suggesting is very personal in nature. At this level I do not feel that it can be used as an effective means of communication between dancers. But becoming familiar with these concepts will, I hope, stimulate an interest in learning more about Labanotation and encourage confidence that it is not an insurmountable task. If you wish to do your own research into Labanotation I am including a bibliography of published references (some of which I was not able to locate) and a list of addresses of Labanotation organizations. In future articles I would like to present more information about how to use the symbols with the staff in the way Laban intended and how to notate specific movements. With this shared knowledge we would have the ability to communicate movement to one another in print.


Banesh, Rudolf, Reading Dance: the Birth of Choreology. London: Souvenir Press, 1977.

Brown, Ann Kipling, “The Laban System of Notation: Implications for the Dance Teacher.” Journal of the Canadian Association for Health, 1989, v.55, no.4, p.14.

Buonaventura, Wendy, Serpent of the Nile: Women and Dance in the Arab World. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Interlink, 1994.

Cheslow, Jerry, “Three Movements Meet” (International Congress on Movement Notation). Dance Magazine v.58, Dec., 1984, p.116.

Dance Notation Bureau, Score requirements: Qualifications for a Score Submitted for Dance Notation Bureau Certification. New York: The Dance Notation Bureau, 1976.

Eshkol, Noa, Debka: Arab and Israeli Folk Dance. Holon, Israel: Movement Notation Society, 1974.

Fugedi, James, “Dance Notation and Computers.” Yearbook for Traditional Music, 1991, v.23, p.101

Goodman, Nelson, “The Role of Notations.” In What is Dance. Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen, eds., 1983, pp.399-410.

Green, Doris, “Percussion Notation.” Dance Notation Journal, 1983, v.1, no.1, pp.37-49.

Guest, Ann Hutchinson, Choreo-graphics: a Comparison of Dance Notation Systems from the Fifteenth Century to the Present. New York: Gordon and Breach, 1989.

Guest, Ann Hutchinson, Dance Notation: the Process of Recording Movement on Paper. New York: Dance Horizons, 1984.

Guest, Ann Hutchinson, Labanotation: or, Kinetography Laban: the System of Analyzing and Recording Movement. New York: Theater Arts Books, 1970 (Rev. ed. 1977).

Hall, Fernau, “Dance Notation and Choreography.” In What is Dance. Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen, eds., 1983,  pp.390-9.

Laban, Rudolf von, Principles of Dance and Movement Notation. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Dance Horizons, 1970.

Maletic, Vera, Body, Space, Expression: the Development of Rudolf Laban’s Movement and Dance Concepts. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1987.

McGuiness-Scott, Julia, Movement Study and Banesh Movement Notation: an Introduction to Applications in Dance, Medicine, Anthropology, and Other Studies. London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Menosky, Joseph, Video Graphics and Grand Jetes. Science, 1982, v.3, May, pp.25-35.

Preston-Dunlop, Valerie Monthland, Practical Kinetography Laban. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Dance Horizons, 1969.

Salter, Alan, Perspectives on Notation. London: Laban Centre for Movement and Dance, 1978.

Towers, Deirdre, “Cultural Literacy” (Intensive Course in Elementary Labanotation on Video). Dance Magazine. 1988,  v. 62, Nov., pp.70-1.

Taubes, Gary,“Virtual Jack,” Discover, 1994, v.15, no.6, pp.66-74.

Warner, Mary Jane, Laban Notation Scores: an International Bibliography. New York: Dance Notation Bureau, 1984.

Addresses of Labanotation Organizations

Centre for Dance Studies, Les Bois St., Peter, Jersey, Channel Islands, Great Britain

Dance Notation Bureau, 505 Eighth Ave., New York, NY, 10018, USA. For Library, Courses, Videos: 33 W. 21st St., New York, NY  10011, USA

International Council of Kinetography Laban, Department of Dance, Ohio State University, 1813 N. High St., Columbus, OH, 43210, USA

Laban Center for Movement and Dance, University of London, Goldsmith’s College, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW, Great Britain

Language of Dance Centre, 17 Holland Park, London W11 3TD, Great Britain

Menawara (Laura Le Pere) is a professional performer and teacher of Oriental Dance. She has been studying the dance for 15 years and will be a student forever. Known as Laura LePere in her life outside the dance, she has an education through the post-graduate level with degrees in geology, anthropology and archaeology. She has worked professionaly as an archaeologist, a draftsman, and a petroleum geologist. She also has an interest in sewing and needlework (which comes in very handy for designing and making costumes). She has traveled widely in the U.S. and abroad, staying for extended periods in China, Scotland and also Ecuador, where she currently resides in Quito.

Copyright © Habibi Publications 1992-2002, Shareen El Safy, Publisher.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.