understanding patterned movement

Topic: Dance structures


Nick, as a scientist by training, profession and upbringing, has always taken an interest in dance structural analysis methodologies[1], where structure is the organisation and arrangement of the parts in a system of dancing. In participative dance genres the focus often is on the repetitive patterning and the relationships between movement groupings. His feeling is that this might be the place for scientific minded logic to integrate with the process of dancing (whatever that might be). In many ways this is true, but in many respects he still has misgivings over the idea of any universal method and notation, and is concerned that this often leads an outsider’s notation of the dance “product”.

Within the southeast European traditional dance context the works of Anca Giurchescu[2] and Martin[3][4] are good examples of applying logical concepts to certain genres of dance. I have touched on some aspects of my questioning in a number of conference papers, dance meetings.

I learnt from practical science and engineering to keep one’s understanding as simple as possible and not to bind up the logic in complex words. These posts are designed to be short and to the point, starting from the basics, without wide referencing to previous history of academic discussions and conventions.


  1. Kaeppler, Adrienne Lois & Dunin, Elsie Ivancich (editors) (2007). Dance structures: perspectives on the analysis of human movement. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.
  2. Giurchescu, Anca & Bloland, Sunni (1995). Romanian traditional dance: a contextual and structural approach. Mill Valley, California: Wild Flower Press.
  3. Martin, Gyorgy & Pesovar, Erno (1961). A structural analysis of the Hungarian folk dance (a methodological sketch). Acta Etnografica, 10: pages 1–40.
  4. Martin, György & Pesovár, Ernő (1963). Determination of motive types in dance folklore. Acta Ethnographica Scientiarium Hungaricae, 12: pages 295–331.

Bob Leibman’s notation of weight-shift patterns in Balkan dances

Bob Leibman (a mathematician by profession) formulated a system based on his research of southern and western Balkan dances. Using Bob Leibman’s system to notate step “weight changes” we end up with a simple concept that generally remains invariant between different variants within a family of dances – for example Serbian Kolo 0111, Romanian Hora 1101, the ubiquitous Balkan dance 011 etc.

Meter in dance and music

This blog note explains the way I (as a partially competent musician) have rationalised the concept of ‘meter’ from the perspective of dancing (at which I am more competent). The problem to somehow mediate between a dance concept and the established de facto western classical musical understanding of ‘meter’. From …read more

Variation or improvisation?

At academic meetings the themes of ‘improvisation’ and the ‘individual’ are common, but what does this actually mean in the context of a chain dance? Here I summarise the three logical constructions that could be termed ‘improvisation’. First construction … non-Western music, in which one cannot really distinguish between improvisation …read more

Defined by concept and rules

Western classical works in music and dance are generally quite tightly fixed and rigid compositions, which can be notated, and are played or danced near identically every time. However, this is not typical of social dancing and many forms of music. … establish the rules according to which a dance …read more