My Simple Method of Ballet Notation

Ballet Notation

Writing ballet down on paper. What an ordeal.

When I was younger, I used to make up little dances all the time, as most young dancers do. I would try to write them down but it never turned out too well for me.  Some of my problems were:

  • Not knowing the names of the steps/positions.
  • Not knowing how to spell the terms I did know.
  • Not knowing how to note how the steps coordinated with the counts.
  • Not knowing how to note the port de bras with the movements.
  • Not knowing how to get all this information on the paper in an organized fashion that I could later go back to, read, and comprehend.

It was a legitimate mess.

Of course, knowing how to put ballet on paper is not a requirement. However, it is helpful. As it turns out, the more I practiced doing it, the better I got. Who knew? I actually really love writing ballet now.

My Basic Method for Ballet Notation

I realize there are a couple of ballet notating methods out there and most every dancer has their own unique way to do it, but I thought I would share my way with you.  So here it goes.  Using a simple plié, I demonstrate how I write some of the basics down.

Counts are on the left side of the paper.

Example:

1-4

Choreography is a few spaces over.

Example:

1-4    Demi plié, recover — 2x

Only a few counts of choreography per line.

Example:

5-8    Preparation — Demi en dehors port de bras, finish in 2nd

1-4    Demi plié, recover — 2x

Port de bras in (parenthesis) ONLY when legs are also moving.

Example:

5-8    Preparation — Demi en dehors port de bras, finish in 2nd

1-4    Demi plié (1st), recover (2nd) — 2x

More specific counts in [brackets]

Example:

5-8    Preparation — Demi en dehors port de bras

1-4    Demi plié (1st) [1], recover (2nd) [2] — 2x

Miscellaneous info (head, eyes, etc) in {curly brackets} generally underneath the choreography

Example:

5-8    Preparation — Demi en dehors port de bras

{follow outside arm}

1-4    Demi plié (1st) [1], recover (2nd) [2] — 2x

{tilt in} {follow outside arm}

Some Additional Tips

  • I separate my choreography into sections (maybe 16 counts per section). This way it is easier to read, and easier to keep track of where I am. This is especially true when it is a larger piece involving lots of people and various groups entering and exiting the stage.
  • I put TIME STAMPS next to each section so I can easily find my place in the music.
  • I make a note of time signatures at the start of each piece (and throughout if it changes).
  • I have an abbreviation list in place so I can clearly note the steps without taking up huge amounts of space.
    • Example:  Croisé Devant (cr dv), Pirouette en Dehors (pir h), Tombé Pas de Bourrée (tpb)
  • I make a note at the start of the piece where everyone is and what their beginning position is.
    • Example:
      • G 1- Begin UL, cr dr R (allongé ordinaire)
      • G 2- Mirror G1
      • Tio- Begin in triangle CS, kneeling cr R (5th) {look under}
      • Soloist- Begin off stage DL

Some teachers may be able to keep everything in their heads, or some may only teach a class or two and not need to take notes on their choreography. But then others of us have a ton of classes performing, or are setting large scale productions, or just need to get it on paper so we don’t have to rely on our overworked brains to remember it all. Still other teachers are new and prefer to carry extensive class notes along with them as a way to feel confident. Whatever the case may be, having a system in place to put ballet on paper can be highly useful for teachers, choreographers, dancers, and students.

I am always interested to know how others notate their work. If you have useful tips or suggestions feel free to share!

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My Simple Method of Ballet Notation

5 Responses

  1. I also find it helpful when working with a large group and there are changes in positioning I draw stick figures for where the dancers should begin and end.

    Andrea Contos June 10, 2017 at 5:35 PM #
    • Andrea, thank you for your input! I think lots of teachers have figured out how to do this, so it’s such a helpful suggestion for how to organize your dancers.

      Kim Hungerford June 26, 2017 at 2:00 PM #
  2. I find filming the routines on my phone from the back saves a lot of time and helps next lesson when nobody can remember anything.

    Michel Maling June 19, 2017 at 12:58 PM #
    • Yes, absolutely! And it is so easy to do this quickly and without much time or disruption to the class. Good point!

      Kim Hungerford June 26, 2017 at 1:58 PM #
  3. I have issues remembering my own choreography as well! so happy to know I am not along 🙂
    I do record the pieces on my phone like Michel. I also write it down. Similarly I use counts on the left and short notes on the right. I will add the arms between the brackets. I think it is easier than my own way of writing it on the far right side. Different kinds of brackets is a wonderful idea!

    Yevheniya Permynova June 24, 2017 at 5:21 AM #

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