Developing Dance Literacy: Integrating Motif Writing into Theme-Based Children's Dance Classes

By Bucek, Loren E. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, September 1998 | Go to article overview

Developing Dance Literacy: Integrating Motif Writing into Theme-Based Children's Dance Classes


Bucek, Loren E., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Until I became involved in the study of children's dance cognition and dance literacy, I believed that dance notation was for the few adult dancers who could read the elaborate code of shapes, patterns, and words. I believed that even fewer could write that symbolic code. I believed that the ability to make a written record of dance had value as a preservation tool, but little connection to dance learning or dance making. I now know these beliefs could not be further from the truth.

Through numerous teaching and direct-observation experiences, I have seen many school children weave their natural dance-making abilities with invented symbolic codes to present their feelings and ideas in motion. Elementary school students create, organize, describe, read, and record movements, movement phrases, and dance studies with great fluidity using a basic kinetography (movement recording) system called Motif Writing.

Based on the conceptual framework of Labanotation, Motif Writing was first introduced by dance movement theorist Valerie Preston Dunlop and further developed by Ann Hutchinson Guest (1995). Guest's groundbreaking book, Your Move: A New Approach to the Study of Movement and Dance, standardized the principles and concepts of Motif Writing, resulting in greater clarity and accessibility. Motif Writing symbols include straight, diagonal, curvy, scalloped, squiggly, solid, striped, and dotted lines, V-shapes and rectangular shapes, and open and closed circles that can be used as a mechanism in constructing and illustrating dance thought.

Motif Writing is a tool for facilitating dance content knowledge. It may be viewed as a general outline or blueprint of the person in dance space. Through Motif Writing, students can denote the where (level, direction), the when (duration, meter, pulse, tempo), and the how (strong, gentle, frenetic, percussive, soaring, bumpy, etc.). Because Motif Writing is experienced through a variety of encoding modalities - auditory (listening), kinetic (moving), visual (reading), and tactile (writing) - it has the potential to stimulate learning and to assist in understanding information. For example, when a person reads or writes dance symbols on a score, she or he feels-thinks-moves simultaneously. Responding to written symbols on a page is immediate and direct.

Throughout the United States, the integration of Motif Writing into children's dance classes in studios and in K-12 classrooms is changing the way that dance learning occurs. Movement notation symbolizes physical action and gesture in written representation. Motif Writing provides children with a way to order movement activity; to symbolize their movement ideas; and to structure feeling, thought, and motion. Motif Writing, used as a tool in learning, breaks down literacy boundaries and enables children to represent their physical intellect in written form and vice versa as the written form is represented in and through the dance itself.

Dance Making and Motif Writing as Ways of Thinking in Dance

Motif Writing can serve dance makers as a scaffolding or open-ended cognitive structure, through which movement ideas are explored, shaped, selected, reshaped, structured and transformed into dance. It is a form of mind mapping. Used in concert with physical action, Motif Writing symbology - whether read or written - integrates kinesthetic, visual, and "felt thought" (Rugg, 1963) ways of knowing.

My own work has centered on the impact that Motif Writing has on children's dance making. In early childhood, children filter basic understandings directly through sensory perception and movement play to discover, explore, imagine and represent their enlarging world view. By four years old, many children have already mastered a full, gross-motor movement repertoire (e.g., run, twist, bend, shake, jump, gallop, fall, spin, roll, and balance) that directly embodies an integrated yet spontaneous, feel-move-think (psychomotor) cognitive view. …

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