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Welcome to the "dance floor" of Iver Cooper's "Action Stroke Dance Notation" web site. This web site is dedicated to the teaching, promotion, and improvement of Iver Cooper's "Action Stroke Dance Notation", a movement shorthand designed so that the basic movements can be written quickly (as "action strokes"), and details added later.

For convenience, this site is divided into several pages. Click on the table of contents symbol (the person looking for something) to see a listing of the major topics covered in this site. Click on the right leg icon to advance to the next page. Click on the left leg icon to move to the previous page. If you are at the bottom of the page, click on the head icon to return to the top of the page. Click on the home page icon (shown at the bottom of this page) to return to this page. If a word is highlighted, clicking on it will send you to the relevant page and topical section.

First, let me show you just how easy this notation system can be. Below, I show you how a dance score for the leg action in a basic Charleston step, Lindy Hop style, might evolve. My purpose just now is to give you a bit of the flavor of the system; the formal teaching will come later. So don't worry if you don't fully understand this quick run through. Also, I should mention that the Charleston step can be executed in many different ways. The notation system is precise enough to illustrate these differences. I chose one mode of execution for now, please don't think I am insisting that this mode is the one right way to do it.

When writing a score, I start by drawing the staff and count marks. Then I put on the action strokes, first for the leg staff and then for the arm staff. I then come back and add the remaining symbols, both for the limbs and, as needed, for the head, chest, pelvis, hands, etc.

1. Below, we have a blank score. The vertical line is the leg staff (since for this quickie example we are just notating leg movements, we don't need an arm staff, etc.). The beats are marked off as diagonal tick marks, and the counts are given on the left. As you can see, the first movements are at the bottom of the staff, and the last at the top.

2. Next, we add the action strokes. Strokes on the left side of the staff are actions of the left leg; those on the right, of the right leg. A straight horizontal line is an action that takes weight, a curved line is a gesture. If the curve is up, it is a gesture in the air, if it curves down (which doesn't happen here), it is a gesture which touches the floor, a part of the body, another dancer, an object, etc. The pattern described is step-step-lift-step-lift-lift-lift-step.

3. Now, add the direction-of-movement signs above the step strokes. The arrow pointing upward means step forward, and the arrow pointing downward means step backward.

4. Next, add floor contact information to the action strokes. These symbols go below the support or touch-gesture stroke to show how the supporting or touching foot is touching the floor. The symbol ^ represents contacting the floor with the forward part of the foot, i.e., the heel raised off the floor. If we wanted to be exact (the toe tip, the ball of the foot, etc.), we could be.

5. Now we can worry about the posture of the legs. The left and right leg action stroke columns were immediately adjacent to the leg staffline, while the two leg posture columns are one column further out. At this stage, we specify the degree of flexion of the knee. The flexion sign goes in the posture column, even with the action stroke. A straight horizontal line means a straight leg, a straight line with a slash over it (rather like a traffic sign) means "not straight", but deliberately does not say how bent, and the broken line, bent back 90 deg. from the full straight line, means bent back just like that. You will note that I used the not-straight sign to show the flexion of the legs when they stepped.


6. Next, let's show the direction of the leg. In notating the direction of a straight limb, it is natural to describe the bearing of the extremity relative to the base joint. In notating the direction of a bent limb, we can use either the extremity or the middle joint as a pointer, depending on which better conveys the posture of the limb. The direction in either case is shown by the 3D bearing symbol (a combination of an arrow and a pin) above the flexion sign, in the posture column. The position of the arrowhead on the shaft (at the end, or midshaft) tells us which pointer is in use.

In the example below, we mostly used just the extremity (foot/ankle) as the pointer (Note: we are ignoring the bend at the ankle joint, for the moment.) On count 3, the left leg is pointed forward, and lifted 45 deg. from the floor. The horizontal direction is shown by the arrow, and the vertical angle of elevation by the right side pin. On count 5, the right leg is in the same position.

On count 6, the knee stays in place but the lower leg swings back to form a right angle at the knee. This is a bent leg gesture, best notated using the knee as the pointer, since we are emphasizing that the knee position is the same as on count 5. On count 7, the knee swings further back to point straight backward, elevated 45 deg. from the floor. Note that the arrow points backward, but the pin (attached to the base of the arrow) points down and to the right. The knee is now straight.

You are not, of course, required to add the symbols in the order shown above.

Let's recapitulate the six steps: (1) draw the staff, (2) put on the action strokes, (3) show the direction of the steps, (4) indicate floor contact, (5) show limb flexion, and (6) show the direction of the gestures:

A more complete notation of a Charleston step appears below. It adds general facing and direction symbols, indications of hopping on counts 3, 5, 6 and 7, kick preparations on counts 2 and 4, arm movements, and bending and straightening at the waist.


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This web site, and all of its contents (with the exception of two animated GIFs), are Copyright 1997 Iver P. Cooper, All Rights Reserved. Permission is hereby granted to the general public to make copies of the pages for personal use, provided that this copyright notice is retained. For other use, please contact Iver Cooper for permission.

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