“Flowering Trees,” a page from Remy Charlip’s Air Mail Dances.
Have you ever wondered how dance instructions were preserved for posterity before film? Traditional dance notation is a type of shorthand used to make graphics recognizable as living movement through graphic symbols and figures, path mapping, numerical systems, and letter and word notations. As Edward Tufte writes in his book Envisioning Information (1990) it shows “how to reduce the magnificent four-dimensional reality of time and three-space into little marks on paper flatlands.”
A page of Beauchamp-Feuillet notation, circa 1721. In this case, a male dancer on the left and a female on the right begin upstage, facing downstage. In the first moments of this dance, the couple starts with feet at different angles, with the heel of the back foot touching the floor. Time value is indicated by lines that cross over the central line of direction. Beauchamp-Feuillet was useful mostly for representing a series of movements that were already recognized and encoded. It was difficult to indicate precise arm movements.More: Paris Review