notation du mouvement

János Fügedi is notator-researcher at the Institute for Musicology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and notation teacher at the Hungarian Dance Academy.
János, could you present us the history and the activities of the Institute in the field of dance research?

While dance research generally includes all genre of dance, our research is limited to the Hungarian traditional dance, or in a wider sense, to the folkdance culture of the Carpathian Basin.
The history of the Hungarian traditional dance research dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. It started with collecting description of dances, dance customs and dance life, the connecting literature, then from the mid-twentieth film recordings were also made, but very few, about a thousand meters until 1945.
After 1945 the research of folkdance got significant institutional support and about 10 years later the most important documents, the film collection consisted of 10.000 meters from about 100 villages. Since then the film archive is continuously developed, in which the leader of research, György Martin (1932-1983) played an outstanding role. Today the collection of about 370.000 meters black and white 16 mm film – an estimated playtime of 700 hours, a result of about 1500 fieldwork – is stored in the archives of the Institute for Musicology.
(I must note that the B/W film was an intentional choice: we build an archive and so far only this media proved to last longer than 100 years. Our video recordings serve as supplementary documents, perhaps the new optical-digital technology can offer a more durable solution.)
The research of Hungarian folkdance does not mean purely filming the dances of the peasant population. Beside producing the primary documents on the spot (films, photos, musical recording and interviews) the researchers realized early that recording dance on paper, dance notation must be an integrated part of their work if they want to analyze and compare dances. Labanotation was introduced as a tool for producing the secondary document category of notation since about 1950 and today the notation archive of the Institute for Musicology counts near to 1400 notated dances from the above mentioned research territory. A paper or a book on folkdances is regarded scientific in Hungary only if it’s thesis is proved by verifiable notation of documented, recorded dances. Conclusions ensure reliability exclusively this way.
Could you describe one of your latest fieldwork?

The most critical condition of a successful fieldwork is to know about, to find the villages or territories where the authentic, improvised folkdance can be found, where the knowledge on how to create these dances is still living. Few such places remained for today.
So, at fieldwork after the "dance informants" were found, the research – in optimal case – needs at least two further steps: the first is to get information on the dance customs, the dance events, the type of dances and the best dancers. We also have to find the musicians who know the melodies and the appropriate accompaniment needed. Then we agree on a second date to come back to make the recordings – the second step – a week or two later. These people usually live in small, remote villages so we go by car, and take our filming, video, sound recording, photo and lighting equipment, with all the raw material, quite a large and heavy package.
The second time the organizing usually should be repeated again, although now it needs less time, then the whole long preparation culminates in those very intensive hours when the films are made, when the dancers – sometimes after heavy persuasion (don’t forget, they are old, very old people) – perform their dances. But once they started you can not stop them: these "organized" events become real ones, they bring back long forgotten kinetic memories bound strongly to pleasant emotions; the joy of dancing is inspired by fascinating melodies, by the other dancers, the audience, the village people who gather there – and an equally essentially important inspiration comes from some vine or spirit as well …
The follow-up works are not so romantic. Films are processed, then with the musical recordings enregistered and stored in special, air-conditioned rooms. In case the result of the fieldwork is going to be published and analyzed, the dances must be notated.
During the fieldwork there is no chance to ask the creator-performer (the authentic peasant dancer) to repeat exactly what s/he did a minute ago to make on–spot notation. Since our folkdances (just as the bulk of the Carpathian basin dances) are improvised by nature, their tempo usually ranges from allegretto to presto, and they are also very complex in the use of rhythm and body parts, the only tool for notation remains the film or video recordings for later use, separate from the action of field research.
For viewing the films and analyze movements my favorite equipment is a film editing table, on which I can investigate the performance at any speed, or frame by frame or I can jog easily. Its quality is far better than that of any TV screen or monitor and is far less tiring watching it for hours.

You have been working in the field for around 15 years. Have you noticed an evolution of the status of traditional dance, and how dance research do follow this evolution?
"An evolution of the status of traditional dance" – the question is two-folded, depending on what we regard traditional dance.
The authentic traditional dance, the living culture of peasants is declining fast. The last generation of the Hungarian population still holding this knowledge is around 70, and the chain of transmission was broken – therefore this special expertise will disappear with them in the near future. Our research is focusing on these dances and we try to preserve as much of it as possible. Unfortunately we are very limited in support, we are especially behind in technical level.
From another point of view, traditional dance is cultivated in the urban communities in Hungary in the frame of the folkdance revival movement, which is booming: there are numerous amateur and professional folkdance ensembles, the "dance houses", that is traditional dance clubs represent a vivid urban subculture of young people. A great achievement is that folkdance has just recently been lifted into the curriculum of institutional education, therefore folkdance teachers are trained in large number at the Hungarian Dance Academy.
Though my main problem with the folkdance revival is that there was no real transmission. Urban folkdance only copy frozen forms and is unable to create organic new ones. This is the reason why the whole revival movement urges us, researchers to supply newer and newer material for their needs, or even they go themselves to make "research" to get new "source", new "inspiration". They learn the motives, the short, characteristic movement sequences and the rules of using them, the rules of improvisation. But no one can create new motives or new rules.
I do not want to go into deep dance aesthetic analysis, but we have to be aware of how perfectly a folkdance motive is designed, how expressively it reflects the dancers’ "life feeling" and emotions, how the common use formulated it until it could be spread and accepted in the tradition.
The motives and the structure is apparent, but the process of creation is secret. The last generation still actively possesses this knowledge – families of good dancers have their own motives, inherited from father to son, while they can and do perform the common ones as well. How were these "private" motives created? Why is the present urban generation literally unable to create one single, real folkdance motive? What research can do beside preservation is exactly this: discovering the unique, secret procedure. Considering the second part of your question, in case of success our research would not follow evolution but re-initiate it.
A number of traditional dances integrate improvisational practices. How do you deal with this feature in your notations.
I think the improvisation in folkdance uses something basically different approach from modern dance. Folkdance is heavily structured, there is no improvisation in the motives, the short movement patterns are set. The improvisation happens in which sequence the dancer uses these motives, and sometimes the sequence requires a slight modification of the original motive. Sometimes a basic motive can be augmented or diminuated, but almost never as part of the improvisation: such motives become set blocks to build the improvised sequence.
By concept I usually notate every little movement – the more improvised is a dance, the more detailed is the notation. A later analysis can decide what can be regarded basic motive, varied motive, whether there are any rules in improvisation, or the sequence is created just by chance. To get to right conclusions we have to investigate many performances of the same dancer, many performances of different dancers from the same village or from a larger territory, but in each case notation is essential: without it there is no chance to trace the changes and "tricks" of the dancers. Especially that of good dancers, who intentionally strive to perform always differently. Investigating improvisation needs also a thorough knowledge of the dance and the dancer as well.
The result of your and your colleagues’ work is archived, but often published as well. In the field of ethnochoreology could you give us an overview of the publishing activity in Hungary?
The very vivid publication activity is the reason why a full time folkdance notator is needed in the center of traditional dance research, at the Institute for Musicology. Hundreds of articles were published mainly during the past fifty years, which are at last summarized in monographs or general overviews on research subjects.
The monographs can be grouped into three main types.
The "easiest" ones are the regional monographs, which introduce the dances and dance life of a village or a larger ethnic region. Most of our publications come from this genre, here I give only some very limited number of examples, mentioning only books (see the references at the end of this interview): Martin 1955, Halmos 1988, Martin 1999, Kaposi 1999, Takács–Fügedi 1992, Ratkó 1996.
Another category is the type monographs which deal with only one dance type. The most valuable piece of this series is Martin’s (1979) monograph on the Hungarian circle dances and its European relations. But Lányi’s (1983) book also should be mentioned on the man circle dances and Pesovár’s (1997) work on the history and types of the Hungarian couple dances.
The third group of monographs is focusing on outstanding dance personalities, whose natural talent manifests in exceptional dance performances. An example of this type is Karsai–Martin (1989), but new volumes will be released soon.
At last I would mention two books which give general overview on the Hungarian folkdance tradition. Pesovár–Lányi (1974) concentrated on the dances themselves, and published the notation of 40 dances, selected from all the types and regions of the Hungarian population. A representative selection of studies were collected in the 6th volume of the series on Hungarian folklore on the main types of Hungarian dances and their history (Dömötör 1990). This volume as well is richly supported with Labanotation.
We are quite behind in releasing video material of our field research, although presumably it is the most valuable part of our collection. The reason is not purely technical. Being researchers of a scientific organization, we are expected to publish, and in academic circles only the textual type of publication is accepted, and not the moving picture forms. I think it should be changed very soon, and I will make some steps into this direction.
You are also teaching notation at the Hungarian Dance Academy. How notation fit in the pedagogical framework of the Academy?
A sensible question. Bitter enough, the ballet leadership of the Dance Academy openly denies the need for Labanotation. Fortunately folkdance in Hungary has been using notation so extensively that it could not be excluded from the teacher training – it can be thanked primarily to my late beloved master, Mária Szentpál, to the outstanding ethnochoreologist György Martin and his notator colleague Ágoston Lányi.
Even so after almost two decades of teaching I start to realize the problems and the causes of ineffectiveness of notation education.
I experience that notation is "dangling" alone among the other classes. We teach notation for the sake of notation knowledge, which is used only to reconstruct notated dances – the snake bites its tale: experts make notation for specialists. While we do not have enough time to teach notation up to the level where it really can be used, notation education focuses on sings, rules and orthography instead of stressing the movement analytical aspects which effectively could be used in the other fields of dance education. Since notation is not applied by the most important practical classes where the movement material and methodology is taught, no wonder students feel notation unnecessary.
We have to understand the fact as well, that dance notation is a subject where the declarative knowledge (notation syntax and analysis) refers to and require typically procedural knowledge (dancing), which is very unusual, "uncomfortable" for dancers: there is a large gap between the textual representation (notation) and the usually unconscious memory representation of movement. Even for a skilled dancer translation from notation into movement is difficult and s/he feels it slow. Besides notation gets more and more circumstantial as couples, objects, generally outer references are involved.
In my view these two main problems show the direction of modification in notation use and education. On the one hand notation should be integrated in all possible ways into other subjects. I think this integration in itself will demand modification of the system use. At the Hungarian Dance Academy we have already started it, and I have excellent partners, such as Zoltán Farkas, Péter Lévai and others in the field of dance teaching methodology. On the other hand the methodology of notation education itself should be improved, and perhaps the system changed, simplified, approaching better the general memory representation of movement. But both directions of educational development need elaborated plans, experiments, effort, support and plenty of time. Perhaps a century later we can point out some definite improvements…


Dömötör, Tekla (ed.) (1990): Magyar néprajz VI. Népzene, néptánc, népi játék. (Hungarian folklore. Vol. VI. Folk music, folkdance, folk games.) Akadémiai Kiadó. Budapest.

Halmos István – Lányi Ágoston – Pesovár Erno (1988): Vas megye tánc- és zenei hagyománya. (Dance and music tradition in county Vas.) Szombathely.

Kaposi Edit (1999): Bodrogköz táncai és táncélete 1946-1948. (Dance and dance life in region Bodrogköz.) Planétás. Budapest.

Karsai Zsigmond – Martin György (1989): Lorincréve táncélete és táncai. (Dances and dance life in village Lorincréve.) MTA Zenetudományi Intézet. Budapest.

Lányi, Ágoston – Martin, György – Pesovár, Erno (1983): A körverbunk. Története, típusai és rokonsága. (The circle verbunk. Its history, types and relations.) Zenemukiadó. Budapest.

Pesovár, Erno (1997): A magyar páros táncok. (The Hungarian couple dances.) Planétás. Budapest.

Martin, György (1955): Bag táncai és táncélete. (Dances and dance life in village Bag.) Néptáncosok kiskönyvtára 16-18. Muvelt Nép. Budapest.

Martin, György (1979): A magyar körtánc és európai rokonsága. (The Hungarian circle dance and its European relations.) Akadémiai Kiadó. Budapest.

Martin, György (1999): A sárközi–Duna menti táncok motívumkincse. (Motives of dances from Sárköz at Danube.) Planétás, Budapest.

Pesovár, Erno - Lányi, Ágoston (1974): A magyar nép táncmuvészete. Néptánciskola I-II. (The dance art of Hungarians.) Népmuvelési Propaganda Iroda. Budapest.

Ratkó, Lujza (1996) : A tánc mint tradíció a nyírségi paraszti kultúrában. (The dance as tradition in the peasant culture in region Nyírség.) Sóstói Múzeumfalu Baráti Köre. Nyíregyháza Sóstófürdo.

Takács, András – Fügedi, János (1992): Gömöri népi táncok. (Folkdances from region Gömör.) Madách. Bratislava.


Interview by e-mail, July 2002, by Marion Bastien