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In the early 1940s, a New York City organization known as the Dance Notation Bureau (DNB) began a decades-long effort to promote a system known as “Labanotation.” Using a combination of shapes, shading, dots, and lines on a eleven-column vertical score, Labanotation was designed to capture the ephemeral, three-dimensional complexity of dance on the flat surface of paper. Eschewing notions that dance was too emotional, evanescent, or complicated to be documented, the women who ran the DNB saw the moving body as swarming with potential data points. To them, a dance was information, and—with the right system in place—that information could be “objectively” and “scientifically” recorded. Doing so would catapult dance into the modern era, finally freeing the field from its “primitive” and “illiterate” past. Focusing on the period between 1940 and 1975, this paper catalogues the DNB’s efforts to record and preserve movement, and explores how these efforts contributed to broader transformations in the definitions of creativity, preservation, authorship, and dance itself.
- Fellow Whitney Laemmli Lecturer in History Columbia University
- Chair Kavita Sivaramakrishnan Associate Professor, Sociomedical Sciences Columbia University