This system, designed to show dance movement in a similar way to music notation, was developed by Rudolf Benesh and launched publicly in 1955. Rudolf, an accountant who was also a gifted artist and musician, was inspired to create a reliable way of recording dance steps for posterity by his wife Joan, who was a dancer with the Sadler's Wells Ballet in the late 1940s. She would often scribble down choreographed steps for her own reference, but one problem with this method was that they were understandable to her alone. The system developed by the Benesh couple was so successful that it was adopted by the Royal Ballet and began to be taught in its School and others of its kind. The Benesh Institute was formed in 1962 to regulate the system and its use. It has now been incorporated in the Royal Academy of Dance.
Movements are shown by marks on a five-lined stave identical to that used in music. Imagine a figure, arms outstretched, placed on this musical stave. The top line is the height of the top of the head. The second line down, the height of the shoulders. The third line is at waist level, the fourth, knee level, and the bottom line represents the floor. Three basic signs are used to show the position of the hands and feet:
These are placed in the relevant position on the stave: for example, fourth position of the arms would be shown by a) a horizontal mark above the top line, and b) a vertical mark at roughly waist level, that is, the middle line.
If one wishes to notate a plié - a bending of the knees - other signs are used in conjunction with those already mentioned. These are:
- Limb bent level with body: a cross, with the horizontal line longer than the vertical one
- Limb bent in front of body: a cross, with the vertical line longer than the horizontal one
- Limb bent behind body: a cross like an x or multiplication sign
The other basic component of the system is its curved movement lines. These trace the paths made by extremities and help to show battements and various jumps.
Other, more complicated signs are added to the existing set to show intricate movements of the head and body. Details of rhythm, phrasing and dynamics are written directly above the stave, while those concerning direction, location and travel are placed below. In this way, many devotees of the Benesh system swear, it is possible to accurately notate any dance movement. There is even a Benesh Notation program for Windows.