The Language of Dance, a theoretical and practical framework, is a tool to experience and understand movement and to communicate movement concepts through movement-based terminology and symbols. The framework consists of the:
- Basic movement concepts as expressed by the distinct terminology of the Movement Alphabet and the Motif symbols, visual representations of the movement concepts;
- Representation of movement concepts on paper through Motif Notation;
- Representation of movement in time and space through Motif Notation. One enters into the theoretical and practical aspects of the framework through one or more processes, such as exploration, observation, interpretation, analysis, evaluation, creation, and documentation of movement concepts.
The Movement Alphabet is composed of the prime actions (the movement ‘verbs’), movement concentrations and aims of which all movement, hence all forms of dance, are comprised. Each ‘letter’ of the Alphabet, expressed by a Motif symbol, represents a movement category.
The Language of Dance Approach is a learner-centered pedagogical framework that uses the Movement Alphabet and related Motif symbols to link the physical experience of moving with cognitive and affective understanding. Grounded in experiential learning, the Language of Dance Approach cultivates critical and creative thinking, personal empowerment, and artistic agency.
Dance is a “language” of functional and expressive gestures and body configurations through which non-verbal communication can be achieved. Notation provides the means to analyze movement patterns, phrases, and “sentences.” The Language of Dance®, like any verbal language, has basic “parts of speech.” There is a clearly constructed grammar that defines the relationship of the movement words to each other and how they function in the movement sentence. The structural categories in this language of movement are verbs, nouns, and adverbs.
Dr. Ann Hutchinson Guest, dancer, teacher, writer, researcher, visionary, and an acclaimed dance notation expert, created and developed the Language of Dance Approach and coined this term in 1967. Dr. Guest began to use the notation symbols in a freer, more exploratory way while teaching children at the 92nd Street Y in the 1950’s. She discovered that the physical coordination and focus required by structured notation limited the children’s freedom to move and be creative. This experience inspired her to research and identify the prime actions universal to all movement forms. After consulting many lists and sources including the “Seven Movements in Dance” as taught in the Cecchetti Classical Ballet Method, Laban’s list of basic actions, and the writings of Margaret H’Doubler, she codified her definition of the ABC’s of movement, the Movement Alphabet. Dr. Guest is also the primary developer of Rudolf Laban’s (1879-1958) system of Kinetography, which she coined “Labanotation.”
Children love to move. They learn through both visual and physical means hence their joy in discovering each Movement Alphabet ‘letter’ and their ease in relating to the symbols. Not only does it enhance their motor skills but also their creativity. Generating their own sequences is like a game; they see it written down and they enjoy performing the movements they have chosen.
Dance artists using the Language of Dance Approach throughout their professional and pedagogical practices. They use it as a pedagogical framework in teaching, learning, and assessment; as a compositional tool; as an inroad to understanding the dance in dance history studies; as a pedagogical framework to create comprehensive literacy-based dance education curricula; as a research framework for critical analysis and comparative studies in dance; as a principal means to access to our dance legacy; as a means to build and develop artistry; and as an advocacy tool to communicate about dance using a dance-based language and symbol system.
The Language of Dance® approach promotes the transference of the physical experience of dance to an intellectual understanding that enhances student learning as well as the dance-making process. In gaining these skills and developing a sense of ownership, students grow in confidence and in perceptual skills. The movement terminology introduced from the start, provides an important means of communication and can save time and confusion. This is particularly helpful for children or participants with learning difficulties who, with Language of Dance®, are able to talk about their movement ideas and comment on what they are observing in the performances of others.
The Language of Dance Approach uses Movement Alphabet concepts together with the symbolic representation of each concept to give students the chance to achieve measurable skills in dance, learn movement, vocabulary, and develop choreography. This in turn will improve fitness and coordination, encourage social and communication skills, and help build self-confidence. Addressing kinesthetic (through the movement), auditory (through correct terminology), and visual (using visual motif notation symbols) learning styles, classes can be adapted to suit students of all levels. The process of exploring the raw material of dance provides an enlightening and revealing experience for all who have grown up learning structured forms of movement. They begin to recognize the component parts of familiar actions and positions and hence experience them in a more insightful way.