Vladimir Ivanovich Stepanov

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Vladimir Ivanovich Stepanov (1866 - 1896), was a dancer at the Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg. His book, L'Alphabet des Mouvements du Corps Humain, published in Paris in 1892, was the first music system ever made. This Alphabet of Movements of the Human Body is a notation that encodes dance movements with musical notes instead of with pictographs or abstract symbols. Stepanov breaks complex movements down to elementary moves which single parts of the body can make. These basic moves are then enciphered as musical signs. It was through this method of dance notation, improved upon by Alexander Gorsky, that many ballets from the great choreographer Marius Petipa were notated. Today this method is preserved in the Harvard University Library Theatre Collection and is known as the Sergeyev Collection.

Stepanov wrote his book from an anatomical perspective. The movements were written in terms of joints of the body, along with flexion, extension, rotation, direction and adduction. After taking an anatomy course, he continued his studies in Paris. Once it was adopted by the St. Petersburg school he was given the title, Instructor in Movement Analysis and Notation. Sadly, Stepanov died at the age of 29. After his death, however, his system continued to develop.

After Stepanov's death, one of his colleagues, Alexander Gorsky, printed Table of Signs in Stepanov Notation. This publication was a slightly more developed version of Stepanov's original work. Many other variations of Stepanov notation were made following this, such as Conte notation and Nicholas notation.

How Stepanov Notation Works[edit]

Alexander Gorsky published Stepanov’s method. In that publication he said, “Poses or Movement lasting two units of time we notate with signs called halves (½) as they are made up of two quarters. Poses or movements lasting four units are notated with two half notes connected by arches.” This is Alexander explaining his colleague's notation. In Stepanov notation he was able to write down turns. The way he would do it would be in terms of numbers, he would but all the different numbers of turns (in order) and line the up the way we wanted the dancer to turn them. For example, if there were a line that had 1, 2, and 3 on it in a straight line, then the dancer would turn three times in that straight line. If there were a circle with 0 at the top and going clockwise with 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, the dancer would know that they had to do 5 turns and to do those turns while moving in that circle. There would be a space on the paper indicating where the audience is as well. With Stepanov notation you could also annotate arm movements. You would do this by looking at what looks like music notes that have streaks around them; those streaks resemble the arm and how the dancer is supposed to move them and the notes are there because the arms change different beats.

Stepanov Notation Advantages[edit]

Stepanov’s system is fairly simplistic and does not require you to learn many signs to understand it. In addition, using his system, it is possible to show more than one movement at a time. It is a great approach to describe body movement from an anatomical point of view.

Stepanov Notation Disadvantages[edit]

Trying to figure out which direction the body is facing can be difficult as you have to completely memorize what ‘greater than’ or ‘less than' mean in terms of the direction your body is facing. Some might also call the translation from some manuscripts for ballet steps crude in a way. It is very hard to really get all the details in one movement down on paper.


  • Fifteenth Century to the Present. N.p.: n.p., n.d.Google Books. Web.
  • Guest, Ann Hutchinson. Choreographics: A Comparison of Dance Notation Systems from the
  • Gorsky, Alexander. Two Essays on Stepanov Dance Notation (Translated from Russian into English by Roland John Wiley). New York 1978.
  • Stepanov, Vladimir Ivanovich. Alphabet of Movements of the Human Body (Translated from French into English by Raymond Lister, 1892). Cambridge 1958.