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Benesh 101 - The Basics

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Guest Peregrin Took

This information is amazing Grace, I'm new to this particular room and so I just discovered your thread. So far I'm following just about everything and it's fascinating. You explain it very well :).

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great, peregrin - i don't think we've 'met' before, online. :) there aren't that many of us 'ozzies' making regular use of the best ballet boards.

the sun shone, here in western australia, for the whole of the anzac long weekend, so i 've been out gardening...more benesh to follow, later. :)

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Thanks for posting about this topic.

For those of us less familiar with the terminology, would there be a set of pictures or diagrams that corresponded with various examples of the notation? A computer program that could read Benesh notation and generate an animated dancer would be fun.

Jumping ahead, would a pair of dancers be represented by two parallel sets of notation?


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you're a good thinker, cliff. :) answers to your questions:

- yes, a pair of dancers IS represented by two parallel staves of notation.

- if it is pas de deux/PARTNERED stuff, the two staves are connected, bar for bar, so that both dancers' movements can be read in sync.

- the same CAN be done with many staves, if necessary.

- however, often when many dancers are onstage - think swan lake -or bayadere or sleeping beauty - many of them are doing the same things as each other - OR half of them are doing the same thing "on the other side"/on the other leg - so this can be written much more compactly...(more on that one day, in the far far distance...maybe...)

as to computerisation, i'm sure you will find other threads here about THAT topic, however there IS a program called MacBenesh, invented by Rhonda Ryman at the University of Waterloo in Canada,


to WRITE benesh scores with computer accuracy. here is it's website:

strangely, i have just found a free download of a sample of Macbenesh. i have not yet tried it, but i will, and will let you know what i find out. it seems highly unlikely that this would actually be available free...


back at rhonda's page, if you click on the words 'Life Forms', you will see that this is another, different piece of software, designed to produce an animated figure for dance - but it has no connection to benesh notation.

btw, i also notice that on THIS page, you can pay $435 to learn what we are learning here...of course, THAT is personalised instruction! ;)

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Guest Peregrin Took

Oh! I didn't realise you were from Oz grace :rolleyes: Just shows the level of observance I have when it comes to net surfing eh?

I agree, there aren't enough of us gracing the dance boards. However, if you have a look at the Bloch forums, a large proportion of us are situated in Australia. So much that we are able to have our own room that is quite active. Lots of friendly discussion goes on there, especially about us Aussies.

As much as the sun shone for Anzac over at your place, it rained here. :) Made for a very gloomy long weekend, unfortunately.

I was wondering, how did you learn Benesh notation? and where would I go about finding out more about it? I am very interested in really getting into it. Don't get me wrong, your teching here is excellent but you will only be able get it across to us to a certain extent, I'm sure you understand what I mean!

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cliff wrote:

"For those of us less familiar with the terminology, would there be a set of pictures or diagrams that corresponded with various examples of the notation..."
A: online? - not that i've found yet, cliff. you are right, of course, that this is necessary. i suppose i was trying to see how far i could get, with words/withOUT pictures...more or less as an experiment.

the answer is probably that, in theory, one could get quite a bit further without pictures - but it is inefficient (and NOT user-friendly) teaching...

if there were really a significant group of people here, who seriously wanted to try to learn this stuff, i MIGHT put up some images on my homepage, and link to those - but at this stage only a small group of people have shown interest, and i imagine it's more a conversational interest than a real 'study' type of interest.

which brings me to peregrin's Q:

"I was wondering, how did you learn Benesh notation? and where would I go about finding out more about it? I am very interested in really getting into it."
A: i studied at the benesh institute in london, which, at that time (and probably still) is the only place in the world where you can pursue this study to professional level. however, i have since seen mention of somewhere it is possible to study in paris (but i don't know to what level). also, the university of waterloo offers a basic course (see link from rhonda ryman's webpage, mentioned above).

in australia, the VCA in melbourne USED TO offer a basic course - whether or not they still do, i have no idea.

there are a couple of books, but they don't take you very far at all.

you CAN do the basic course from the benesh institute by correspondence - but it is very expensive.

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Oh, grace, I hope you are not thinking of stopping now!

I know that this is probably not the most efficient way of teaching us any notation... but I am enjoying it and trying to use what I have so far.

You mentioned that there are some books.

That might be helpful, too.

I'll have to do a search for that. ;)

Thanks again for your time and effort on this!


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I hope too that you're not going to stop!:) Unless it's really too much work for too few people, which I would understand, but I'm sure more people are interested and reading this thread than the ones who have posted on it.

I'm nearly sure that the place to study benesh notation in Paris is the CNSM (Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris), I'll check, but it should be.

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I posted a reply earlier, but it seems to have disappeared! I was saying thank you very much for the link, but it's not really complete:( . Anyway, I was able to make sure I had understood! And it helps seeing other diagrams and pictures.

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OK - you've had a few days to digest the first few 'lessons'. here's a bit more, to build on what's above.

have a look at the benesh illustration on this page (the graphic with the vertical blue lines next to it):


the first picture is 5th position of the feet, flat on the floor, with the arms both coming DOWN via 2nd to bras bas.

the circular lines are "movement lines" which graphically depict the movement pathway.

bras bas is shown by two 'front' symbols, equidistant from the (body) centre, approx, one third of the way down from the waist line (towards the knee line) stand up and try it - that should be about right. OK?

the second picture shows the left foot is supporting the body (level)

the left knee is bent, turned out (level).

the right foot is also level, but extended just ever so slightly below waist height, to the side.

the movement line shows that it got there via a developpe (an inward curve) rather than by a straight lift (which would be depicted by an outward curve).

you will see there are movement lines for the arms: the right arm has gone directly forward (via devant) to 5th (en haut).

the left arm has gone (via devant) to 2nd. again, the movement pathways tell the story, as viewed from behind, of course.

there are two more signs to discover:

BELOW the stave completely, there is a curve which indicates a jump. in this case it is a jump sur place (no travel).

between the two top lines of the stave is a vertical line, with a little mark on it. what 'section' of the body is this? it's the section between the top of the head (line) and the top of the shoulders (line). therefore, it's the head and neck. voila!

the little mark on it can be considered a 'nose'. the head is turned slightly to look to the right (as if viewing that mark as a nose, from behind).

so the whole thing adds up to: a jump from 5th with a developpe of the right leg to waist height, arms going from bras bas to 4th en haut. any questions?

obviously, this example is using theory beyond what you have so far 'learned' - but i am just trying to take advantage of whatever images i find online...

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referring to body contact or other contact (such as contacting the barre).

the basic premise is that the level symbol is manipulated,

- to point up 'to' the right (meaning something RIGHT is making a contact)

- or up 'to' the left (meaning something LEFT is making a contact).

this little diagonal line then becomes very useful. it can be placed at the knee to indicate a retire, at the waist to indicate a hand on the waist, at the hipline to indicate a hand on the hip, on the shoulderline to indicate fingertips touching the shoulder, or even joined to a level symbol below the floorline, to indicate one foot CLOSING (i.e. contacting) the other in(to) 1st position.

remember: consider where the centre of the frame/centre of the body would be. then, if the symbol points up to the right, it's a RIGHT something (right hand or right foot). at this stage, it is the context which tells you which of these it is: hand or foot. (later, you will discover there are other aspects which make this clear.)

i have brought in this 'teaching' of CONTACT at this point so that we can make a start on reading the exercise in the COMBINATIONS FOR ALLEGRO book (previously linked to). that's where i'll pick up this discussion next, so if there are any questions at this stage, fire away! :)

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at least this '101' thread has lots of views, so i know there must be more people looking in, than su-lian, diane, hans, cliff, peregrin and mel. :( aren't those movement lines cute (animated figure at the french site)?

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I have a question for you, Grace. (yes, I'm one of those viewers looking on ;))

Ok, I understand everything you've told us so far, I think, but how do you know what step they are doing in the Benesh notations? Do you have to memorize all the different kinds of steps/movement lines? Or is there some rule that lets you read it kind of like music? I don't think I'm asking this very well. :rolleyes: But I have been enjoying this thread, and I watched that dancer dance with her movement lines several times because it was so cool!

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blackbird: thanks for your question.

all these various symbols that you are learning about provide a language in which to write the steps.

so, (theoretically at least) anyone who learns how all the symbols are used, should be able to read any step that is written with them.

however, in practice, the particular combinations of positions (and therefore symbols) that make up, say, a pas de chat, a pas de bourree or a waltz, become SO familiar that a practised notator will recognise such common steps, without having to read every symbol - just the way most of us read english now, without actually sounding out the spelling.

make sense?

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Guest Peregrin Took

Aha, now THAT animation was very helpful. Whether we like it or not, it is a little difficult to read and understand movement lines when just noted on blank paper with no dancer behind it, especially when learning on the internet ;). It gives reading Benesh a little more depth :mad:.

Sorry, I haven't been checking back very often, incredibly busy times, so thank you grace, for putting all the time and effort into typing up the explanations and finding the diagrams!

By the way, what a shame there are so few places where Benesh can be learnt. Although, I admit, being hardly an advanced dancer myself, I might encounter some difficulties if I decided to really apply myself to it, especially when it comes to difficult steps. Did it take very long for you to master? Why did you choose to study the subject?

Sorry, it sounds like I'm giving you the third degree :) but curiosity is a strong point of mine.

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Did it take very long for you to master?
umm...i haven't 'mastered' it! i completed the course and passed my exams - but no way have i 'mastered' it!!! its jolly complex stuff! and since doing the course, i've had little reason to use anything beyond the basic level, so i've forgotten things.

a more straight answer would be that the intensive fulltime course for professional notators - which is what i did - is (approx) 16 months long.

Why did you choose to study the subject?
aah...now that's going back a way...i was young and foolish. that's the answer. ;)
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