Every dancer comes to a point where they start keeping a dance notebook. If you haven’t ever tried one, start! When used in tandem (ha!) with a regular practice schedule it’s your best tool. If you’re anything like me though, my first dance notebooks were unintelligible 4 months later.
Then one day my tap teacher taught me Tap Notation. It was my first experience with a systematic way to write down steps.
I’ve modified a standard version of the notation for Lindy Hop steps.
In this notation you start by writing the counts of the move left to right across the page. Then you write a description of the step above that, and then above that, the foot that does said action.
In tap notation, you generally aren’t notating when your feet are in the air so to make it work for jazz/Lindy Hop I’ve added a little subscript, “g” or “wb”, which stand for “Gestural” and “Weight Bearing”, respectively. For an example, I’ve notated a Lead’s Charleston below.
As you experiment with this, you can add additional decorations that help describe the movement. Below, I’ve added directions to the movements to give more clarity.
When you need to get out the big guns for notating your dance, that’s where Labanotation comes in. Labanotation is a form of recording dance that’s written and read from bottom to top.
Then, on each side of the main staff you notate limbs. While the way I do this below is only one way, you can add as many columns as you need to to get to the level of detail you need.
Now add symbols that tell the reader (future you!) which direction the body part is moving in
For a similar example, I’ve added the notation of a Lead’s Charleston below. The little “x” is a Labanotation indicator that the step is meant to be done with slightly bent legs. In Labanotation, you would write this next to every step to which it applies, but since it applies pretty much everywhere with Jazz, I typically only put it where it’s important.
This is just a very introductory look at Labanotation. for a more in-depth look, check out //dancenotation.org/lnbasics/frame0.html
Physical or virtual?
Personally, I use a combination. I take notes when I’m on the bus, in class, at a private lesson or in practice. I’ve used every conceivable size and kind of notebook. It used to be that I had a variety of styles of notebooks, and then when I moved to New York City a couple of years ago I had three huge boxes of notebooks. It was then I made the decision to go exclusively with the “Field Notes” line of notebooks. I can comfortably transport years worth of notes in the corner of a bag or suitcase
These little notebooks are a bit fragile, especially if you carry them everywhere, so I use a wallet that holds them, as well as a pen. This one is made by //www.bexargoods.com/. Write down move ideas, songs you like, things you learned, things that you tried or improvised moments that are exciting. I find the more I write, the more my choreographic mind produces.
As far as virtual note-taking goes, I use Evernote. Evernote syncs automatically between your phone, your computer, and any other devices you have. I find the free version adequate, but there is a premium with more features. I use the following categories:
- Classes Taken
- Privates Taken
- Classes Taught
- Current Practice
- Inspiration Notebook (All my favorite videos)
- Travel (All my itineraries, car reservations, etc)
My other tool is Dropbox, where I make a projects folder for each thing I’m working on. Say I’m learning a classic routine, I’ll download videos from youtube using //www.clipconverter.cc/ , put any typed notes I have in the folder, and finally whatever songs I typically use for the routine. Google Drive is also great for this purpose.
If it’s my own choreography, I’ll add all the videos of the practices or choreography sessions.
That’s it! That’s how I keep track of the work I do with dancing. I hope it was helpful! Share your own thoughts, ideas and questions below.