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Motif Notation

The use of Motif provides an accessible link to movement for participants of all ages and skill levels; it is applicable to any technique, style or genre of dance or other movement forms. Motif provides an easy introduction to dance literacy through the visual symbols and clear movement vocabulary.

Motif Notation, also known as Motif Description and Motif Writing, is closely related to Labanotation. They use most of the same symbols and terminology, have a similar format, and both record fundamental components that are found in all styles and forms of movement.

Ann Hutchinson Guest, the developer of Rudolf Laban’s system of Kinetography for which she coined the name “Labanotation”, began to explore using the notation symbols in a freer way while teaching children in New York City in the 1950s.  The experience inspired her to identify the list of prime movement actions universal to all movement forms.  After research, she codified what she felt to be the ABC’s of movement, now termed the Movement Alphabet®.

In England, a freer use of the Labanotation symbols arose when Valerie Preston-Dunlop was teaching Laban to physical education teachers. It was one of these teachers who suggested the very appropriate name, Motif Writing. This led to Valerie’s development of the usage, and to the subsequent publication in 1967 of her books on the subject entitled Readers in Kinetography Laban, Series B, Motif Writing for Dance.

In 1971, Guest further developed her exploratory and creative use of the Motif symbols. She recognised the need for complex movements to be deconstructed to their most basic with focus on the key elements. As a result she produced the textbook entitled Your Move - A New Approach to the Study of Movement and Dance published in 1983.

The main difference between Labanotation and Motif Notation is the type of information they communicate. Labanotation gives a literal, all-inclusive, detailed description of movement, so it can be reproduced exactly as it was performed or conceived. In contrast, Motif Notation depicts just core elements.  A Motif score might convey the overall structure and intention of a dance improvisation, but allows the individual performing the movement to decide how that movement should be carried and therefore allows for a creative approach in dance notation.