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A different career option.

I was fifteen years old when I made my way to the south of France to study dance at Rosella Hightower's Centre de Danse International, a conservatory with training that includes academic study in addition to a variety of dance disciplines. During my first summer there I learned that there was a way to write dance, but even though this technique, known as dance notation, was stimulating intellectually, I was going to be a dancer and therefore had no serious interest in it.

A couple of years later, during a rehearsal, I pinched a nerve in my spine; even though I was in pain, I continued dancing. No one was going to take my role away from me! Only when I sat down and couldn't stand up again did I realize that it was time to see a doctor. Although I had hurt myself badly, I believed that therapy, albeit painful, would get me back on my feet. My back was a little stiffer, but I could still dance.

By the time I was twenty-three, the joy of dance was as strong as ever, but the grueling schedule of class, rehearsal, and performance was making the pain unbearable. I no longer had a choice; my career as a professional dancer came to on abrupt end often only five years.

What were my options? My ties to the dance world were too strong to abandon. I didn't think I had accumulated enough experience to become a ballet mistress. Perhaps I could teach or coach or try my hand at choreography. Or I could also branch out into such related fields as stage management or fund-raising. Even though these are all wonderful options, they were not for me.

Then I remembered those informal lessons in notation at the Centre de Danse International and I knew I had found my niche. Here was a way to continue to be part of the dance world. I would be able to stage works, so I could still "dance," but without the pain. I would still be working with professionals in the environment that was my second home - the studio. Whether I was watching a work that I had helped stage or watching a new piece I had notated, the applause at the end of the performance would be as gratifying as it would have been if I were standing onstage in the spotlight.

All of this became reality during my four years as company Labanotator for Paul Taylor. I have staged works at the Paris Opera, La Scala in Milan, and as far away as Australia, with some of the most notable dancers of our time in the costs. I have notated dances of David Parsons, Alwin Nikolais, Martha Clarke, and Alvin Ailey. I have worked with Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and White Oak Dance Project. And when the audience applauds, I know I have been an important part of what they are appreciating.

I made the transition into notation because of an injury, it was not necessarily a choice I would have made had I been able to continue dancing. But now, even if I could go back, I would not change my present life.

For fifty-two years the Dance Notation Bureau has been documenting Western theatrical dance. The result is a library of over 500 scores that comprises major works of such masters as Balanchine, Humphrey, Limon, Taylor, and Tudor, and such younger choreographers as Laura Dean, Bill T. Jones, Elisa Monte, and Moses Pendleton. Compared to the written word or to music, dance notation is still in its infancy, but no other generation of dancers has had the opportunity to literally hold their history in their hands.

Currently, there is more work available than there are notators. The growth potential is great in education as well as in the professional arena. With a little imagination and c lot of incentive a young person can go a long way in this field. if you are interested in computers you could create the next generation of notation software notating a Broadway show would be a first for the dance captain who knows notation-adapting notation to be used specifically in the context of anthropology or physical therapy awaits the person who is knowledgeable in these disciplines and is notation-literate. Planning for your future is crucial as even under the best of circumstances, a performing "lifetime" is very short.

Being a notator is a challenging and exciting career. Staging a work for a major company takes authority, skill and a secure knowledge of movement, not only for demonstrating the choreography but also in shaping the performance stylistically to reflect the choreographer's original intention. In notating a work you become a part of history in a unique way. You become the liaison between the choreographer and future generations allowing future dancers to re-create the works for performance, and enabling them to analyze the genius of some of the greatest choreographers of our time.

In these difficult financial times dance notation would not be surviving if it did not have a valid place dance world. Preservation, documentation, and the passing on of our dance heritage are becoming more and more vital as age, illness, or the imminent demise of some companies become factors in the race against time, As dance moves rapidly towards the twenty-first century, it is becoming increasingly clear that documenting and preserving its past are intimately connected to its future.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:dance notation
Author:Aberkalns, Sandra
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 1, 1996
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