The creator of dance notation

Rudolf Laban in England, two years before he died

Rudolf Laban was many things—a choreographer, dance teacher, movement theorist, architect and performer—but he is best remembered for creating two systems to understand movement, both of which are still taught in college dance programs worldwide: Laban Movement Analysis and Labanotation. LMA is a map for clarifying and analyzing movement within the categories of body, effort, shape and space; Labanotation records movement in symbols, much like sheet music for musicians. The development of these two systems helped establish dance as a serious artform, earning it more acceptance in scholastic circles.

Rudolf Jean Baptiste Attila Laban (1879–1958) was born in Bratislava, Slovakia, to a well-off family. Although he initially attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps, attending military school for a brief time, he eventually enrolled at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris at age 21. After studying architecture, stage design and drama, he became fascinated by dance, seeking to understand movement in a new way, without the confines of classical ballet technique. Laban termed his categorization of movement “choreutics”; today it is known as Laban Movement Analysis.

In 1913, he set up a “dance farm” in Switzerland, where participants grew their own vegetables, wove their own cloth and danced nude on the hillside (a precursor to Ted Shawn’s retreat for his male dancers, Jacob’s Pillow). By 1923, Laban had gained a following of students large enough to help him establish dance schools all over Europe. Recognized as a leading force in the European dance world, he was invited to choreograph the opening of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. After sending a notated dance to all his schools in Germany for them to learn, employing his own vertically staffed dance score, Laban’s 1,000-dancer spectacle was canceled at the dress rehearsal: The Nazi government found it too focused on individual freedoms and not the state.

Laban found later success by applying his movement analysis to industrial processes, like assembly lines, in England, where it was necessary to quickly train women to do men’s jobs during World War II. Meanwhile, former student Lisa Ullmann established a school in Manchester, using a Laban-based curriculum. Today, this school is known as the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. DT

The Work:

Laban Movement Analysis, or what Laban called “choreutics,” was created in order to clarify and understand movement in a new way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labanotation is set up much like musical notation, except that it reads vertically instead of horizontally. Direction, levels and each part of the body are represented by shapes and symbols. Each section of the central staff delineates from left to right which part of the body (and which side) is being addressed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun Facts:

  • Laban was quite the ladies’ man. He married twice and fathered nine children; at one point, he lived with two women at once.
  •  During World War II, when Mars Bars were mass-produced for soldiers, Laban was called in to increase productivity on the assembly line. After identifying the main problems as “tiredness, cramp and boredom,” he devised a system of exercises for the conveyor-belt workers to ease their joint strain and improved the candy bar–wrapping technique so that it no longer caused neck, shoulder and back pain.

 

An example of Laban’s “movement choirs,” in which large groups of people came together to perform choreography, but with personal freedom of expression—similar to today’s flash mobs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Legacy Lives On:

Although Labanotation never caught on the way sheet music did for musicians, this method of creating a historical record of a dance is still taught in college dance programs, as is Laban Movement Analysis. Laban’s Art of Movement Studio merged with Trinity College of Music in 2005 to form the UK’s first conservatory of music and dance. Many of Laban’s students went on to become leading figures in modern dance, including Mary Wigman, Kurt Jooss and Irmgard Bartenieff.

 

Resources:

“Rudolf Laban: Groundbreaking Movement Theorist,” by Amy Kail, Dance Teacher, December 2007.

Beyond Dance: Laban’s Legacy of Movement Analysis, by Eden Davies, Brechin Books Ltd., 2001.

Rudolf Laban: An Extraordinary Life, by Valerie Preston-Dunlop, Dance Books Ltd., 1998.

 

Top photo by Edith Stephen; both courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

Dance Teachers Trending
"Music is magical," says Black. "It just transforms kids." Photo courtesy of Black

After 31 years of teaching, Kim Black has mastered how to reach young dancers. Between a studio and private school, she teaches 34 classes per week in Burlington, North Carolina: That's 238 kids from ages 2 to 6 years old. "You have to make them fall in love with dance," says Black. The music, she says, cues this engagement.

Keep reading...
Site Network
Getty Images

Dancers certainly don't need anyone to tell them how physical their profession is. But now, we have the data to prove it.

Researchers at InsuranceProviders.com analyzed data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), a national organization developed through support from the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration, to determine the 20 most physically demanding jobs in the country. They analyzed the level of strength, stamina, flexibility and coordination required for a host of jobs, and each category was assigned

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2020? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Going upside down can be scary. It's spatially bewildering, and young students who have spent their lives upright often lack the strength required to feel confident putting their weight on their hands. But, don't fret! There are safe and pleasant ways to build the muscle and the might for dynamite inversions.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

I love this level. I see it as the true origin of a student's dance journey. Intermediate students have bought in, caught the fever, chosen to move beyond inquiry about dance to investment in dance. They are yearning to advance past their beginner training and label.

As teachers, we begin to set more stringent expectations for them to commit to class, take ownership of their learning, and comprehend more terminology and skills. Yet, they are still a bit disheveled in their movement and engagement. They still sometimes forget their dance pants and confuse upstage with downstage. Some of them are still, well, terrified.

Keep reading...
Site Network

2019's movies featured some truly fantastic dancing, thanks to the hard work of many talented choreographers. But you won't see any of those brilliant artists recognized at the Academy Awards. And we're (still) not OK with that.

So we're taking matters into our own jazz hands.

On February 7—just before the Oscars ceremony—we'll present a Dance Spirit award for the best movie choreography of 2019. With your help, we've narrowed the field to seven choreographers, artists whose moves electrified some of the most critically-acclaimed films of the year.

Keep reading...
Dance Teachers Trending
Kathryn Alter (left). Photo by Alexis Ziemski

In every class Kathryn Alter teaches, two things are immediately evident: how thoughtfully she chooses her words, and how much glee she gets from dancing the movement and style of modern choreographer José Limón. At the 2019 Limón summer workshop at Kent State University, Alter demonstrated a turning triplet with her arms fully outstretched, a smile stretching easily across her face. "It should be as if…" She paused to think of the perfect analogy that would help the dancers find the necessary circularity of the movement. "As if you live in a doughnut!" she finished, grinning broadly. The dancers gathered around her laughed—her smile and love for something as foundational as a triplet was contagious.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Melanie George (right). Photo by Grace Corapi, courtesy of George

Teachers from coast to coast are pushing students to move outside the constraints of popular music. There is a consensus that the earlier you introduce varied musical forms, the more adept and adaptable a dancer's musicality will be.

New York–based jazz scholar and teacher Melanie George notices that many students' relationships to music can be reductive: They may think exclusively about lyrics or accents. But jazz, for example, is about swinging: an embodied comprehension of instrumentation that only comes with musical acuity. "Students are ready for this specificity, even if we aren't giving it to them," she says. When her students understand that there is a technique to listening, it becomes less about going forward, and more about going deeper into the sound and into their bodies.

Keep reading...
Site Network
Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in a scene from An American in Paris. Courtesy Fathom Events.

If you loved Christopher Wheeldon's An American in Paris on Broadway, you can now see the 1951 Oscar-winning movie it's based on in all its Technicolor glory. Fathom Events will present MGM's An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly and French ballerina Leslie Caron, and with music by George and Ira Gershwin, in select theaters nationwide January 19 and 22.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy of PNB School

Naomi Glass, teacher at Pacific Northwest Ballet School, knows firsthand the advantages and challenges of hypermobility. As a young dancer, she was told to keep her hyperextended knees in a straight position far from her full range of motion. "It felt too bent to me," she says. "But once I was able to access my inner thighs and rotators, I found strength and stability and could still use the line that I wanted."

Hypermobility occurs when joints exceed the normal range of motion. Dancers can have hypermobility in specific joints, like their knees, or they can have generalized laxity throughout their bodies (which is often measured using the Beighton system—see below). While this condition may enable students to create beautiful aesthetic lines, it can also increase risk for injury. Help dancers gain the strength they need to stay healthy while making the most of their hypermobility.

Keep reading...
Instagram
Photo by Rachel Papo

Alicia Graf Mack's journey to become director of The Juilliard School's Dance Division—the youngest person to hold the position, and the first woman of color—was anything but a straight line. Yes, she's danced with prestigious companies: Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Alonzo King LINES Ballet. But Mack also has a BA in history from Columbia University and an MA in nonprofit management from Washington University in St. Louis; she pursued both degrees during breaks in her performing career, taken to recover from injuries and autoimmune disease flare-ups.

As an undergrad, she briefly interned at JPMorgan Chase in marketing and philanthropic giving, and she later made arts administration central to her graduate work, assuming that she'd eventually take an administrative role with a dance organization.

Keep reading...
Dance Teachers Trending
Morrissey (left). Photo courtesy of Interlochen Center for the Arts

When Joseph Morrissey first took the helm of the dance division at Interlochen Center for the Arts, a boarding high school in Interlochen, Michigan, he found a fully established pre-professional program with space to grow. And his vision was big, with plans to stage the kind of ambitious repertory he'd experienced during his dance career. But the realities quickly set in. During his first year in 2015, the department was denied by the George Balanchine Trust to license any Balanchine ballets—the dancers were not quite ready.

This early disappointment didn't derail Morrissey. In just four years, he has not only raised Interlochen's training standards, he's staged ambitious full-length ballets and been granted the rights to works by Merce Cunningham, Agnes de Mille and, yes, Balanchine. Guest artists regularly visit, and he's initiated major plans to expand the dance department building. Morrissey is only 37, but it should come as no surprise that he's done so much so fast—his entire life's journey has prepared him to be an artistic leader.

Keep reading...

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox