The Theory Behind...



Direction for steps is the direction in which you travel (away from your previous position). You should sense your whole body moving in the direction indicated. More

Level for steps is based on natural walking (middle level). Low level means to lower, stepping down onto a bent knee (demi plié, in ballet terms). High level means to rise, stepping up onto the ball of your foot (relevé, in ballet terms). More

Distance for a step is based on your own usual amount of space between steps in walking. To find your step length, walk in an unhurried but purposeful way until you fall into your natural stride. This should be the length of your middle-level forward step. The size of steps in different directions and levels, if unforced, will vary slightly from this individual "standard."

Each step represents a complete transfer of your weight from one foot to another.

Timing for a step includes all aspects of transferring weight from one foot to another, including the moment of contact (represented by the beginning of the direction symbol), taking weight on your new support (about 1/2 way through) and release of your opposite foot in preparation for another step (at the end of the direction symbol).



When there is a pause in traveling and your weight remains on one leg, a pause or "hold weight" sign follows the direction symbol.




When you have weight on both feet (for example, one foot closes while the other retains weight) the pause sign may be centered over both.




A subsequent step on either foot will cancel the pause sign.






More about directions for steps:

Directions relate to your own body front. Right side steps will be toward your right side, backward steps to your back, etc., no matter how you are oriented in the room or performance space.


If you travel to your side with several steps, you will have to cross in front or in back. A pin, which "points" forward or backward, shows which way to cross (see the grapevine in the section, "try it out")




An alternate way of travelling to your side is to step side, close, side, close.




For steps on the diagonal, try to resist turning into the direction of stepping. Keep your diagonal steps on the angle between forward and side, or between backward and side.You will not need pins with diagonal steps to show crossing; you should cross in the most natural way.


A step "in place" is directly underneath you, like marching in place. Release your foot before stepping on it, and make a complete transfer of weight onto your foot, the same as for steps in different directions.





More about levels for steps

You can change level either after or during a step:

If you change level after you finish a step, the symbol for "in place" shows the change of level. Your weight will already be over that leg.





If you change level during a step, the direction symbol shows the two different levels, producing an undercurve or overcurve.







Theoretical background

The two columns at the center of the staff give important information about how the body as a whole is mobilized. Weightbearing movements, whether on the feet or other parts of the body, are shown in these "support" columns.

History note:

The simplification of complex actions such as steps reflects the notation’s early use for nonprofessional dance, with an emphasis on "natural" movement. Helen Priest [Rogers], who studied the notation in the 1930s, soon after it was first developed, discusses expectations for the manner of performance when an action is written simply: "One of the basic principles of this system is that the most natural movements require the least number of signs. This does not mean that a natural movement is not a complicated one, but that only the essential parts of a movement are notated, the rest not notated is to be done in a natural manner." (Helen Priest, 1937: The Construction of a Course in Dance Notation (Laban Method).

Although what is considered to be "natural" varies among cultures and dance styles, and although movement varies according to body size and build, Labanotation is meant to accommodate the individual.

Transfer of weight, from foot to foot and in various directions, involves a complex sequence of joint actions. It is also a very common activity: walking. It can be represented simply, as a series of steps, or in the complexity of joint analysis, as needed.