Since this discussion has expanded to include methods of working out dance choreography
without using computers (or live dancers), here's a description of my method.
First off, I much prefer using diagrams to using props. With diagrams if you think you
made a mistake somewhere--for example if a supposedly good sequence doesn't end with
dancers in the correct progressed position--then you can easily go back and check your
work. With props, as soon as you move them, you lose the history of where they were.
Second, both for ease of writing and ease of reading, I like to keep my notation pretty
terse, but not so terse as to be cryptic. That is, my diagrams shouldn't be cryptic
*to me* if I look at them the next week or the next year, even if they might be cryptic to
someone who doesn't know my conventions.
To diagram a dance sequence, I make a series of diagrams showing dancers'
configuration at various points in the sequence, starting with the configuration at the
start of the dance. In between each two successive diagrams, I write the figure(s) that
the dancers would do to move between the configurations they show. I might also draw a
large arrows from each diagram to the next.
For contras, I make the length of the line go horizontally across the page. I happen to
have picked the convention of putting the top of the set at the left (similar to what
Larry Jennings does in _Give-and-Take_ and opposite to what Cary Ravitz does in the notes
I cited in an earlier message). For squares I use "caller's view"
orientation, with couple 1 nearest the bottom of the page.
To represent dancers, I use numerals "1", "2", "3", ... for
the gents/larks and corresponding letters "A", "B", "C", ...
for the ladies/robins, so that A and 1 are partners, B and 2 are partners, etc. I happen
to have the positions of the letters in the alphabet well memorized, so I can immediately
recognize, for example, that 7's partner is G and vice versa without having to count.
Single digits and letters are more compact, quicker to write, and (at least for me)
quicker to read than something like "Lark 1" with a box around it.
I typically use odd numbers and the corresponding letters for the "active" (#1)
couples and even ones for the "inactives", so that the starting position of a
duple minor contra would look like this:
1 B 3 D 5 F ...
A 2 C 4 E 6 ..
(If you're not seeing corresponding letters and numbers aligned directly above and
below each other, It's probably because you're viewing in a variable-pitch font.)
For a Becket dance, I might not be certain of the direction of progression when I start
diagramming, but in any case I put the odd-numbered couples 1A, 3C, etc. on one side of
the set and the even-numbered ones other. For a single-progression dance with no
out-of-minor set action, it suffices to follow couples 1A and 2B. For dances with
out-of-minor set action, I might start by tracking a foursome partway down the set--for
example, 3CD4 or 5E6F--and then bring in more dancers an needed (more on "bringing in
dancers as needed" below). If I need to show dancer I (partner to 9), I write the
capital letter "I" in a style easily distinguished from the numeral 1 (one). In
the unusual case of needing numerals as hight as 10 or higher, I'd put the digits
close together so they couldn't be misread as denoting separate dancers. I don't
think I've ever needed the letter O (partner to 15), much less needed to show more
than 26 couples.
When I want to show the direction a dancer is facing, as I usually do, I put a little dot
next to the digit or letter, in front of where the dancer's nose would be. Regardless
of dancers' facing directions, I always write the digits and letters in their normal
right-sude-up orientation. To show a hand or arm connection, I draw a short line segment
between the characters for the dancers involved. I sometimes draw a little straight or
(more commonly) curved arrow to indicate the path a dance is about to take or has just
taken. For common and familiar figures, such as "right and left through" or
"circle left 3/4", I rarely need such arrows, but they can be useful for showing
unusual figures (e.g., the distinctive figure in "The Devil's Backbone") or
for analyzing the flow of certain transitions (e.g., poussette to hey in
In the middle of a duple-minor set, away from the area of end effects, dancers in
adjacent foursomes should be in identical configurations with corresponding dancers having
letters or numbers that are "off by 2". For example, if dancer 6 is in some
position in one foursome, dancer 8 should be in the corresponding position in the next
foursome don the set and dancer 4 should be in the corresponding position in the next
foursome up the set. Similarly the actions of, say, dancer E should be paralleled by
dancer G in the next foursome down and dancer C in the next foursome up. I use this fact
in two ways. First, if I see that I have drawn two adjacent foursomes where corresponding
dancers aren't in the "off-by-2" relation (except as expected on account of
dancers reaching an end of the set and turning around), then I know I should go back and
look for where I made a mistake. Second, when a progression or an out-of-minor set action
makes me want to want to bring in new dancers--that is, to start showing dancers that I
haven't been tracking from the start of the sequence--the off-by-2 rule tells what
dancer will show up in a given spot. For example, a dancer encountered in a corresponding
position to, say, dancer D (who I have been tracking) but one foursome down must be dancer
In the preceding paragraph, I referred to departures from the off-by-2 pattern "as
expected on account of dancers reaching an end of the set and turning around," but I
didn't say exactly what pattern *is* expected in that case. It's pretty easy to
work it out, and any readers who don't know it already will learn it best if they work
it out for themselves.