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Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.

Dance Notes Guidelines

There are many ways to write folk dance descriptions (see Forms of Dance Notation. When you write dance notes for your personal use, they only need to be a reminder of what you saw, heard, and subsequently researched. If you are writing dance descriptions for public consumption, however, they must be polished and have some requisite information.

Here is one way that will capture all the information needed for a folk dancer who wants to view your dance notes.

  1. Correctly spelled dance NAME, with proper diacritic marks (see Special Characters). For instance, not all "chardash" dances are spelled the same. The word is Čardáš (Czardáš is also accepted) if it is Czechoslovakian; Ciardaś, Czardasz, Czardas if it is Polish; Čardaš if it is Croatian or Serbian; but Czárdás (an older spelling) or Csárdás if it is Hungarian. Understanding that, if you see a Slovakian dance name written as Horehronsky Csardas, you will know it to be incorrect on two counts – there are no diacritic marks and it's not Hungarian!
  1. The COUNTRY of origin. However, because there are teachers who are making up dances from scratch and saying they are from specific countries, I recommend that instead of the actual country of origin (as a noun), you give the adjective of the noun (such as, Croatian instead of Croatia).
  1. Correctly rendered PRONUNCIATION, at least as close as you can get with the limitations of the English language. For example, Cárdás is pronounced approximately CHAR-dahsh, with the emphasis on the first syllable because all Hungarian words are pronounced that way. "Č" is pronounced "ch," "d" is pronounced the same as an English "d," "s" is pronounced "sh." What is not all that apparent is that the á is pronounced like the "a" in father (an "a" without the acute is pronounced "aw" as in law). Even less apparent is that the "r" is slightly trilled. But with all that knowledge, there is still a subtlety in pronunciation that you would want to hear, possibly from a native Hungarian. Yet, Hungarian dance instructors simply give CHAR-dahsh as the pronunciation and leave it at that. You wouldn't go wrong by doing the same.
  1. Your SOURCE for the dance and any other pertinent details that would relate to the dance's origin. If your notes are based on someone else's notes, you could say so.
  1. Any important and informative BACKGROUND information
  1. The MUSIC available, currently or even in the past, as some folks may already have the music, whether on vinyl (78, 45, LP, 7" EP, 10" EP, etc.), CD, cassette, sheet music, etc. Give the name of the selection within the music (especially if it is different from the dance name) and other information to aid the person reading your description in locating the music (for example, record label, record number, side, and selection or track number).
  1. The FORMATION dancers are to assume prior to the start of the dance, such as "Mixed line or open cir, hands joined and held at shldr height, elbows bent in "W" pos, all facing slightly diag R toward LOD, with wt on L."
  1. The METER or time signature (if appropriate) or the number of counts per measure, as well as the underlying RHYTHM and the number of beats per count to which the dancers move. For example, "7/8: The rhythm is slow-quick-quick (3 + 2 + 2 = 7) and is counted here in three dancer's beats with the first being the longest. The tempo gradually accelerates to 7/16." If abbreviation for lack of space is paramount over information for audience knowledge, you could do what other teachers do and simply write "7/8." Dance description transcribers often combine this information with the time signature information and term them "METER/RHYTHM."
  1. Basic STEPS (step motifs) used in the dance, such as "Low Hop," "Syncopated Threes," or "Front Grapevine," with a full description of the movements. Placed once in the heading area means simple referral from the body of the description, rather than having to redo a motif each time it is encountered. For example, "HOP: This is actually a low hop (or "lift") where the ball of the ft does not leave the floor."
  1. The STYLE of the dance and/or individual step motifs, such as "During the hop-step-steps, the free leg is stiff and extended. During the walking steps, the cir does not dip (the supporting knee does not bend), but remains completely level throughout." Often, the Style section is combined with the Step motifs section and together are termed "STEPS/STYLE."
  1. The MOVEMENT DESCRIPTION section follows all the heading information. The manner of transcribing this section varies from person to person, but try to get in all of the following information:
    1. The measures (often abbreviated MEAS) by number, by figure (Fig).
    1. What musical introductory period there is (or isn't) before the dance actually begins, such as, "INTRODUCTION - 1 meas. Begin dance on vocal." This can be very important if the dance is supposed to end with the music, say for demonstration purposes or simply for the dancer's enjoyment.
    1. Descriptive figure (Fig) names, either in English or the language associated with the dance. For instance, if Fig I is composed of hop-step-step motifs moving to the right (R) counter-clockwise (CCW) around the dance area, it might be named "I. HOP-STEP-STEPS CCW" to cue the reader who wants to skim the description. If there is only one Fig, you can simply write "THE DANCE" before the step descriptions.
    1. An accurate description of the dance movements by count (ct) within each figure (Fig).
    1. If the dance continues from the beginning (beg), add a sentence to that effect, such as, "Repeat entire dance from beg."
    1. Add any VARIATION, complete with desciptive name, that might be danced below the repeat sentence.
    1. Should there be other hints that could be helpful the the dancer, add a NOTES section with that information. For example, "Leader's Options: The leader, should he feel like it, may improvise on the basic step by adding turns, spins, and other variations, such as dancing backward, knee bends, leaps, and foot slaps."
    1. If dancers are expected or encouraged to sing along with the music, think about adding the SONG WORDS (complete with the proper diacritic marks) to the bottom of the description, along with a translation.
    1. To streamline your notes, and to make them shorter without sacrificing readability, consider using standard abbreviations, dance movement, chain dance positions, and couple dance positions.
  1. Finally, be sure to add your name and the date (copyrighted if you wish) to the bottom of your description. Some instructors say, "Presented by," others say "Taught by."