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Benesh 101 - The Basics

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here we go, then!

the system is VERY simple, consisting of only a few simple symbols, which can be manipulated in such a way as to build up a vast amount of information about the position/s of the human body - and thereby about its movement (from position to position).

if you actually want to try to LEARN this (instead of just reading about it), i suggest you rule up an oversize 5-line music stave, and use pencil, NOT pen, to write any notation - as you will definitely be needing to be doing some erasing! ;)

imagine a human body (dancer) standing in front of you, so that you are staring directly at his/her back. (both of you facing the same way, ensures that you, the notator, have the same right and left as the dancer.)

now picture that body superimposed on the standard 5-line music stave, thus:

the top line represents the top of the head

the next line represents the top of the shoulders

the middle line represents the waist

the next line represents the knees, and

the bottom line represents the floor.

ABOVE the top line, one has the possibility of IMAGINING a 'ledger line' (just as in music), which is one-line-space above the 'top of head' line. THAT line represents the full height of the upstretched arms (i.e. straight arms, NOT balletic 5th).

any questions thus far?

please note the exact descriptions, such as "TOP OF shoulders", rather than just "shoulders", because that ends up mattering a lot...

OK - next image:

IMAGINE the music stave mentally chopped up into little squares, so that you could represent one little human figure, according to this system, in each square....along the stave, from left to right.

each square will have an IMAGINARY centre-line - which will be the dancer's body centre-line. anything written on the right of that centre-line, will represent a RIGHT part of the body. anything written on the left of the square, will represent a left part of the body (UNLESS the limbs cross over the body's centre-line - but we will get to that later...much later! ;) )

are you still with me?

any questions thus far? :)

it would not hurt to actually rule up a few squares, and dot in the centre-line, and dot in the ledger line, to help cement this image in your mind.

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as you can imagine, this means you can read from left to right across a stave, seeing the body transition from one position to another, and thus building up a sequence of movement.

i will try to write commentary (like this) in black, and put factual benesh ('lesson') information in blue. that way, we can have Q&As or conversation, in-between presentation of content, without inconveniencing people who just want to get to the nitty gritty.

please feel free to PM me, if you want to ask a Q but not in public - although i would encourage you to ask publicly - because i do find that it does bring up intelligent questions (and you are probably wanting to ask what others are thinking, anyway).

also, this isn't the best medium for sharing such concepts - so my explanations may sometimes miss the mark. please be patient! :)

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next bit: the area of paper above the stave (ABOVE the imaginary 'ledger line') is used to record TIMING information - obviously with ballet that will most often be MUSIC. but it need not be. so just think of this area as being for TIMING.

the area WITHIN the 5-lines (+ the ledger line) is used to record body information - positions, for example.

the area BELOW the stave is used to record SPATIAL information - such as:

- where you are positioned, onstage

- what direction you are facing (no numbers needed here!)

- any direction of travel or floor pattern

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There is no real difference in pronounciation between "porté" and "portée", maybe just a slight difference in the accentuation of the syllables but it is not really noticeable (I'm not even sure whether most people make a difference). However, the articles change so this allows to see the difference, and the context too, fo course. ("porte" is pronounced differently, but I suppose you can't do the accents ;) and know the difference).


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thanks su-lian. yes - i do know about the accents, but it wouldn't work. i thought e acute was done by holding down 'alt' key and typing 180? i thought that's what i used to do, in the past, when i bothered to include them...?

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i am jumping a head a little bit here... well, a LOT, really! - but i think this will help us all.

here is a link to a sample page, from a collection of ballet class allegro exercises. (it's a good book, btw.) it will help us a great deal that, on the right-hand page, the exercises are expressed in french and/or english (on the left-hand page, they are notated in benesh).


i will use this page as an ongoing reference in this thread.

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at that sample page, you can see:-

- the 5-line stave,

- the movements to be read from left to right,

- the word Intro (for Introduction) and the single bracket - like a sideways T - which ends the Introduction, ABOVE the stave. it's only a 2-bar Introduction. (this is TIMING information),

- the single symbol just marginally below the bottom line (i.e. the FLOOR line) of the FIRST FRAME. this is a 5th position (with the left foot behind). you haven't "learnt" that, yet - but i am pointing it out, because it's an example of something written at the floor-line (which just happens to be feet!),

- the (vertical line) symbol BELOW the first frame of the stave, which tells you WHERE on stage the dancer is...and much further down, under the third stave, you will see a semi-circle shape, which shows a semi-circular path taken, on the floor (i.e. SPATIAL info goes BELOW the stave).

so - thus far - you might be able to recognise those things...

can you? :)

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great. feedback is good! ;)

there are only 3 symbols you need to memorise:

l : a vertical line is used to denote something IN FRONT OF the body

_ :a horizontal line is used to denote something LEVEL with the body

. :a dot (BIGGER than the little punctuation dot) is used to denote something BEHIND the body.

ta-dah! now you know EVERYTHING.

well - not quite.

the concept of "level" is BODY THICKNESS. imagine your body squashed between two panes of glass - one in front of you, and one behind you. the space inside the glass panes is ALL "level". and yes - *MY* "level" is now larger than it used to be!!! ha-hah... :)

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to express this in another way... (mind you THIS way doesn't appeal to ME at all, but people are different...):

looking at this illustration of the PLANES of the body,


(the text there would be valuable, if it weren't missing the crucial symbols which i have just 'taught' you.)

IN FRONT and BEHIND the body are concepts to do with the SAGITTAL PLANE (i think...).

while the CORONAL PLANE is "level" - but body thickness.

expressing it that way doesn't help ME at all...but...who knows...

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hmmm...no responses...i now feel i am talking to myself... :(

if anyone is 'listening':

what you do to write a position, is that you plot the extremities (feet, hands) - which, byreference to the imaginary centre-line, and the 5 lines of the stave, give you the position of each of the limbs. the body (torso) is assumed to be straight upright unless otherwise instructed.

obviously, at this stage, we can really only talk about the MOST BASIC positions.

the balletic positions of the feet, for eaxmple, are created by combining two symbols, one for each foot, and writing these below the floor line (to indicate 'flat' on the floor. the same symbol written ON the floor-line would be the same position on demi-pointe, while the same symbol written JUST ABOVE the floor-line would be the same position on full pointe).

thus 1st position, in which both feet are LEVEL and TOUCHING, is symbolised by two level symbols, joined (which gives you one long level symbol!), thus: - + - = _

2nd position is made up of two level symbols with an appropriate amount of space separating them (e.g. if you want the feet to be 1-foot length apart, you must write the two symbols 1-symbol length apart. if you want the feet, 2 foot-lengths apart, you write the symbols 2-symbol lengths apart, etc). yes - that DOES mean that when you start out writing benesh, you DO need to rule and measure the length of the symbols. after a while, your eye becomes very attuned to judging such things.

eventually we get 5th position, which is made up of one LEVEL symbol and one BEHIND symbol (to indicate which foot is behind). if the left foot is behind, the dot (the behind symbol) will be on the left of the symbol. hence we have the starting foot position in the allegro exercise at this page (below the words 'Allegro con brio'):


you might notice that there are no hands written in there - indeed - in the whole exercise. the author/notator here took the unusual step of leaving out any arm positions, so as to leave those to the teachers imagination.

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if i were teaching in person, i would not go on, at this point, until LOTS of practice had taken place with both writing and reading lots of possible positions with STRAIGHT limbs (only).

however, that is a bit hard to arrange here, so i will go on to teach about BENDING things (i.e. elbows and/or knees).

to show that a joint is bent, you use one of the same 3 symbols you have already learnt, with a small modification.

if the joint is bent IN FRONT OF the body, you plot the joint's position with a FRONT symbol which has a little (cross-like) line through it. i can't draw you one, here, so i'll show you one later.

if the bent joint is LEVEL with the body, you use a LEVEL symbol with a little (cross-like) line through it.

if the bent joint is BEHIND the body, you plot its position with a DIAGONAL CROSS, like this: x this is a 'new' symbol to you. it is used because a 'behind' symbol (the dot) with a cross-line through it would be too easy to confuse with other symbols.

i suggest that you don't actually try to WRITE anything with bent limbs at this point. but i will point some out to you in a minute, for 'reading' purposes...

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if you have a look again at this page


you will now be able to see that, after the first 5th position at the commencement of the exercise, the same symbol appears again, two bars further along - but this time it has above it, two level symbols (just below the knee-line) which have that crossed line we just talked about, through them.

so: they represent two bent knees. you will notice that the knees have moved DOWN towards the floor (just as in real-life) and have also moved OUTWARDS, away from the body's centre-line (just as in real-life). clever, huh?

what position is the next picture creating? 2nd position on demi-pointe!

and the next?: 5th position demi-plie again, with no change of feet.

so - what does that combination of positions add up to?

an echappe releve sans change! :(

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