The Theory Behind....


"Gestures" are arm and leg movements within the kinesphere (the "reach" space surrounding your body).

Leg movements are usually either gestures (which are non-weight bearing) or supports (which are weight bearing - see steps section).  more


Arm movements are shown in the second column outside the staff lines.


(If support is on your hands, or any part of your body other than your feet, then those body part signs are shown in the support columns.)

Directions for arm and leg gestures are analyzed by the relationship of the free end of the limb to its point of attachment.



Forward for gestures is always towards your own body front, no matter where you are facing in the room or performance space.  more

Timing of a direction symbol shows how long it takes to reach a point in the kinesphere (for more on timing, see rhythms section).

Gestures are usually either legato (connected) or staccato (separated).


When there is a separation between movements, your arm or leg will stay where it is until the next movement (you do not have to write a pause sign).

A series of directions will usually produce an arc.  The extremity (hand or foot) will trace a curving, peripheral path through your kinesphere.


When directions are diametrically opposed (in opposite directions in the kinesphere), the transition will be central (your arm or leg should bend in order to pass close to your center).


The sign for center ("place middle") has to be written if the transition would otherwise be a peripheral arc.


Leg rotation is usually shown by turn signs in the leg gesture columns.


Rotation for the arms is usually shown by the "facing" of the palm or thumb-side of the hand.


For simplicity in the notation, several facings have been adopted as "standard" and do not have to be written.


Facings for the palm or thumb-side of the hand last only as long as the symbol they modify.  A hold sign can be added to retain the facing.


Note that cancellation rules vary with    and   . 

  is strong, and can be cancelled by    ("back to normal").    is not strong, and lasts only as long as the symbol it modifies.  In both examples above, the arm returns to the standard palm facing on count 4.

More about steps and gestures:

A "step" includes contact of the foot with the floor or ground, transfer of weight, and lift of the opposite foot in preparation for the next step.


When combined with steps, gestures usually begin 1/2 way through the step, when the weight has transferred enough to release the gesturing leg.


Theory Background:

The dominant visual plane created by the shapes of the direction symbols is horizontal:  think of the pointer-like symbols arrayed around the body, showing movement into the surrounding kinesphere. 

Directions in Labanotation represent an analytical mix of body and space.  Front, back and sides relate to the body, wherever you are facing in the room or performance space.  Up and down (in the standard key) relate to the spatial constant of gravity.  This analysis recognizes the constantly changing frontal orientation of the body plus the predominance of verticality of the body in everyday life. 

It is also possible to redefine the vertical dimension according to the line of the spine, or to redefine front, back and sides according to the unchanging orientation of the room or performance space (see Systems of Reference in the Hutchinson textbook or Clefs in the Knust textbook for a full explanation of keys).