Juliette Kando is a dancer, choreologist, author on fitness and health, and Fellow of the Benesh Institute at the Royal Academy of Dance.
Self awareness is self knowledge. To what degree do you recognise and accept your behaviour, character traits and personality? Where is your individual place in the world? Self awareness usually involves complicated thinking processes in order to improve success rates and to better cope with emotions. Over-thinking and ad infinitum analysis often leads to confusion. This article introduces choreology (movement notation) to help increase self awareness from a more simple non-verbal, physical perspective. So what is choreology?
What is Choreology?
Invented in 1956 by Rudolph Benesh, choreology or movement notation is a method to write down human movement. Similar to how music is written in music notation for composition, prosperity and performance, choreology is a non-verbal and universal language to observe, study and to perform human movement and dance. While choreology is most widely used in the recording and staging of dance works, it has also been used in movement therapy, anthropology and ergonomics and, by its very nature, is an extremely valuable tool to increase self awareness. Like music notation, because it is non-verbal, people from any country speaking any language can learn, communicate and understand each other with choreology.
Advantages of Using Choreology to Increase Self Awareness
The advantages of understanding the basics of choreology to increase self awareness are many fold. By the time you come to the end of this article, even without being fully trained as a choreologist you will have increased self awareness with the following choreological attributes:
- The Matrix - A Single Moment in Time
- Viewpoint - Self Perspective
- Three Dimensional Awareness
- Redundancy Avoidance
- Postural Self Awareness
- Direction and Interaction
All the above tools will help you increase self awareness from a non-verbal, non-analytic point of view. The greatest strength choreology has to offer is its logic and simplicity. Bypassing verbal language is a huge short-cut to convey important concepts about self awareness. So let us begin by introducing the matrix which, in choreology, carries you at all times throughout your life.
The Matrix - A Single Moment in Time
The matrix is a single moment in time, a time frame which contains the body (the self). In choreology a succession of time frames are written along the 5 lined stave to describe movement flowing through time. The awareness of living in in a continuum of matrix frames helps an individual to live more in the present. So how do five simple lines manage to contain the entire body? – the entire self?
The Five Lines
The five lined stave or matrix contains the human body. Each line represents a certain hight on the body to plot where the limbs are in relation to the rest of the body.
- The bottom line is the floor
- The second line is the knee line
- The third line is the waist
- The fourth line the shoulders
- The top line is the top of the head
Plotting the Limbs
Benesh figured that if one plots where the extremities are (the hands and feet) on the matrix, the rest of the limbs automatically follow. For example in the above notation the subject is standing with the feet close together and the arms stretched out fully sideways at shoulder height.
The Three Basic Signs
Now let us see how Benesh overcame the problem of writing body movements in three dimensional space onto two dimensional paper or nowadays onto two dimensional digital screens. To this end he introduced the three basic signs for the extremities (the hands and feet) which describe positions and movements performed by the limbs either
- In Front or
the body matrix.
The Three Basic Signs in Practice
The above notation contains the use of all three signs in a simple movement sequence. Try to read it. A short description is at the end of the article.
Viewpoint – Self Perspective
Choreology is read from behind so that the right side is on the right and the left side on the left. Reading the notation feels like the reader is in the matrix following the written movements kinetically in his/her own body. What better way to increase self awareness than to be physically literate, to be able to consciously and precisely feel ones own body moving about in day to day living? For now let us look at to how many more marvels Benesh had up his sleeve to help us become more self aware.
Three Dimensional Awareness
The 3 dimensions are officially called the frontal, sagittal, and transverse planes but those words are difficult to remember, let alone memorise which plane is which. In choreology we call them "Yes", "No" and "Maybe".
- “Yes”, for the sagittal plane
- “No” for the transverse plane
- “Maybe” for the frontal plane
By performing those actions with the head, the three dimensions can easily be practiced and remembered.
Movements of the Trunk and Head
As shown in the illustration above, no less than seven basic signs are used in choreology to cover movements of the trunk and the head in three dimensional space. Why? Because each dimension can go in two opposite directions, namely:
- in the sagittal plane the “yes” motion can go down or up
- in the transverse plane the “No” motion can go to the left or to the right and
- in the frontal plane the “Maybe” movement can go left or right
That makes six basic body signs. In addition, the neutral sign (I) is used to revert back to the neutral position when required. Total:7
The four spaces between the lines make room for the "Body Signs" (as opposed to the three basic signs which are used for the limbs). The body signs in the spaces take care of balance and movements of the trunk including the pelvis, the spine, the neck and head.
- The bottom space is used for off balance tilts from the floor upwards
- The second space is for the pelvis
- The third space for the ribcage and upper spine
- The fourth space takes care of the neck and head
The head cannot actually move of its own accord. All movements of the head are performed by the muscles in the neck.
In addition to describing movements of the head, the body signs are also used in any of the four spaces on the matrix, depending on where they are placed, now you can move the pelvis, the lower back, the ribcage, upper back and neck in all three dimensions (and many combinations thereof which are discussed elsewhere). That means you can use them for the pelvis to shake your hips or do belly dancing. Or the body signs can be used to perform side bends in the upper body or neck rolls to loosen neck and shoulder tension etc. Try to read the next example.
The Body Signs in Practice
On the Down Side
Learning about all three dimensional options certainly increases your self awareness in daily life. We all live in three dimensional space but how many are aware of which dimension overwhelmingly dominates our physical habits and behaviour? Well, because during most actions performed in day to day living the eyes focus on buzzy hands holding phones, eating, working at a desk etc., unfortunately, the majority of the population lives and acts predominantly in only half of one of the 3 dimension! Described in choreology that is the forward and down sign of the sagittal plane, the downward “yes” movement. Don’t you sometimes wish you could be more like a flower that focusses upwards throughout the day following the rays of light? Now that you are a little more self aware of how you take advantage (or don't take advantage!) of the three available dimensions let us look at how choreology can simplify our approach to the human body which carries your "self" throughout your lifetime.
The next lesson in increasing self awareness with choreology is simplicity. Although the human body (the self) is usually considered to be an extremely complicated affair approached with lots of incomprehensible medical and anatomical jargon, as far as body language or human movement is concerned, the body is a lot more simple than that. In choreology the human body basically consists of four limbs, a head and a trunk! As explained earlier, the four limbs are notated by plotting their respective extremities at the right height and width on the matrix and movements of the trunk, which consists of the pelvis, the torso, the neck and head, are described in 3D in the spaces between the lines.
Another valuable asset which helps increase self awareness is that Benesh insisted on what he called “redundancy avoidance” which means that if nothing is written, nothing moves. If nothing moves or nothing changes, nothing is written. With regard to the first picture of the matrix above, nothing is written in the spaces. That means that the subject is standing in a perfectly balanced neutral position, looking straight forward with perfect pelvic alignment and perfect upper back and neck posture (with the arms spread out at shoulder height). Were we to notate how the majority of the public stands in say an airport queue, the picture would look very different. The picture would look something like the next notation.
Postural Self Awareness
In a more philosophical sense, Benesh's principle of redundancy avoidance can save one much unnecessary thinking and worrying about the self by following the saying "If it ain't broken, don't ix it".
On the Up Side - Feeling the Matrix
Now you can get up from the screen for a minute (actually only 8 slow counts), and feel your matrix for yourself. Imagine yourself standing in the matrix as shown in the starting position in the next notation.
- You are standing feet close together and the arms dropped by your sides.
- Over 8 counts, lift up the arms sideways all the way up until your hands are above your head.
- At the same time, you slowly lift the head to look up at the ceiling or the sky.
We could also add the notation for breathing in deeply on the way up and out on the way down but I won't bother you with that today. Just breathe.
Did you make sure, while performing the arm lift, that none of your bits deviated from the "level sign"? Did you perform the sequence purely in the "Maybe" plane (/ and \)? Now you understand what it is like to be in your own matrix and are hopefully aware that the matrix is always with you, trying to filter out unnecessary (redundant), damaging movement behaviour.
To get a deeper insight into choreology take the time to watch the entire playlist of 6 short videos posted by choreologist Robyn Ryman on her YouTube Channel.
Direction and Interaction
Choreology has one sign to determine which way you are facing in relation to a particular location. The direction sign is written immediately below the subject’s position on the matrix. Now say that you are again standing in an airport queue in the large hall containing all the check-in counters. In relation to the counters most people in the queue are facing forward towards the counters. Anyone not facing the counters would be deviating from this direction. In this way you can always be aware of which direction you are facing. Or can you? Which body part actually determines your direction?
The Direction Sign
Which Body Part Determines Your Direction?
Well, most of you would say that your direction is the direction you are “facing”, the direction you look at. But consider this: you may be walking along the pavement while looking to wave hello to a friend across the street. Therefore you may be “facing” your friend while walking in a different direction. After many years of research and debate with his team Benesh established that the body’s centre of gravity, the pelvis determines the direction a subject is facing. Here again verbal language is incorrect. The direction you are facing should be called the direction you are “pelvis-ing”!
Direction in Body Language
Being aware of one’s direction comes in useful to increase self awareness, especially when interacting with other people and the implications of direction in body language. For example, if you are talking to someone and they do not face you directly, that means they are not really very interested in what you are saying. A couple that just had a row go to bed back to back. There are many other examples of the importance of being aware of one’s direction in the link “Direction in Body Language” at the bottom of this article.
Here is the Picture Again
Description of the Movement in the Above Picture
Here the subject is standing in a stride with the left foot in front and the right foot behind the body matrix. Indicated by the movement lines, the arms move from where they were in the starting position (hanging loose by the side of the body) to lifting them sideways up to shoulder height. Note that nothing is written in the second frame in relation to the floor line. Redundancy avoidance tells us that because the feet have not moved while the arms are moving, they are not written again. So in the second frame the feet remain in the same stride as written in the starting position. Are you aware that it has taken me over 50 words to write down verbally what choreology can do in two simple notations?
The universal non-verbal language of choreology helps increase self awareness by the simple fact that the matrix is always with you. This awareness gives you the skill to observe others and yourself in a unique, simple, non-verbal way. The idea of the matrix which carries your body at all times, makes you self aware of all your day to day actions at any single moment in time in three dimensional space. Plus, now you can consciously choose a particular direction to improve communication skills.
Of course there is a lot more to learn about increasing self awareness with choreology than can be covered in this article. Knee and elbow bends, turning and jumping, timing, traveling, relationships, dynamics (the quality and expression of movements and actions) are but a few topics that could not be covered here. To find out more, watch the 6 video playlist above and follow the links below for further reading or more serious study. Long distance courses are available too.
Please leave your thoughts, comments and questions below.
- What is Choreolgy
- How to Cure Neck Pain with Movement Notation
- Certificate in Benesh Movement Notation
Ros on March 04, 2020:
Very well -explained, clear and concise and so useful in so many fields. This is a nice approach to self-awareness using the notation. Ergonomics could make good use of this.
Eliane mirzabekiantz on March 03, 2020:
A very interesting approach and so well explained. I have l lived with the choreology for many years and it has opened so many doors ! I encourage any of you to try for yourself.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 01, 2020:
Informative and a well researched hub on this topic. I learned a lot from your hub in detail and a nice presentation
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 01, 2020:
Quite interesting. The ideas make a lot of common sense. I think I will try to incorporate these.