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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: growth of dance in America
(Summer-Fall, 1976)

Kummel, Herbert
Dance literacy: [toward a literacy of dance: have you read any good ballets lately?],   pp. 236-241 PDF (5.5 MB)


Page 236


by Herbert Kummel
He is executive director of the Dance Notation
Bureau.
Dance is the last great form of cultural expres-
sion to start the transition from an oral history
to a literate documentation. It has not been
an easy task. I can imagine the reaction of
the old tribal story teller (seated in the
entrance to his cave and instructing the
young children in the history and glory of
their past) who was first greeted with the news
that a way had been invented to preserve all
of the great stories by chipping them into
rocks! I somehow doubt that he embraced
the informant enthusiastically. If he was at
all typical, his first words were, "What, trying
to kill my job?" Followed by, "It will com-
pletely destroy the spontaneity that comes
from the all-important human interaction!"
The Dance is now almost in that same histori-
cal position. Professional dance training is
still a "monkey-see, monkey-do" proposition.
As a result, the roots and history of the pro-
fession are limited to the minute period
encompassed by living memory and contact.
Choreographers who matter can be counted
on your fingers, because each requires a full
company of dancers in order to have a means
of expression. If the weight of the stone
carvings was an argument against literacy,
the sheer expense of maintaining a company
236
of seventy-five union dancers will eventually
weight the scales for graphic notation.
The development of a language of movement
has had a number of experimenters over the
years. Many of their approaches were suited
to the dances and styles of a given period, and
tended to assume a knowledge of the particu-
lar dances, choreographers and social man-
ners. Labanotation was really the first total
language and has been called "The Mother
Tongue of Dance." If the transition to literacy
is now a measurable one, it can be attributed
to and delineated by the growth and role of
the Dance Notation Bureau.
The Bureau started thirty-five years ago as an
association of persons interested in movement
measurement. In their wisdom they estab-
lished a world center for all notational sys-
tems, serving as an archive and place for
study. Out of the belief that it was the most
accurate and practical approach available,
they adopted the system invented by Rudolph
van Laban, called Labanotation in the United
States and Kinetography Laban in Europe.
ICKL, the International Conference of Kinetog-
raphy Laban, meets bi-annually to monitor
and standardize new developments and chal-
lenges. It insures the universality of language
and measurement as the need for and use of
dance notation grows increasingly within all
spheres of the dance world.
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