Forrestine Paulay

by Susan Tobin

Forrestine Paulay collaborated with Alan Lomax in creating the method of cross-cultural dance analysis known as Choreometrics. A former dancer, she is a movement analyst, teacher, and consultant in cross-cultural movement style. She is also a co-developer of the Laban Effort/Shape training program, which together with physiotherapist Irmgard Bartenieff and Martha Davis, she taught at the Dance Notation Bureau in New York in the early 1960s. Paulay studied Rudolf Laban's system of movement analysis with Bartenieff, one of Laban's foremost pupils, who had applied his principles of human movement patterns and movement education to physical therapy, dance therapy, and movement-oriented psychological research. She also worked with psychiatrist Judith Kestenberg's Developmental Study Group, in which she broke ground by demonstrating the importance of Pre-Shaping in movement as comparable to that of Pre-Effort. Paulay, Bartenieff, and Kestenberg traveled to England to study Laban's work in Effort with Lisa Ullman, Marion North, Warren Lamb, and others who had worked with him prior to his death in 1958. Bartenieff and Paulay joined Lomax's Performance Style Project in 1965 and contributed a chapter to the book Folk Song Style and Culture (1968). 

Forrestine PaulayForrestine Paulay was born in Manhattan Beach, California. She fell in love with dance at age three when she watched her older sister dance. When she was four, the family relocated to Hemet, California, because her father, an attorney, needed to live further away from the sea for health reasons. Their new home was a 10-acre farm where Paulay recalls they harvested "apricots, walnuts, and grapefruit, and raised and showed registered Jersey cattle." She graduated early from High School, and then studied dance for two years in Los Angeles with distinguished ballet teachers Rozelle Frey and Mia Slavenska. Initially a ballet dancer, she later moved to modern dance. Upon her marriage she moved to Connecticut where she taught movement in the Drama Department at Yale, while her husband, a future cardiologist, was enrolled in medical school. Subsequently they moved to New York where Paulay performed with Nona Sherman. 

When Paulay and Bartenieff joined Lomax's Choreometrics Project they brought with them the Laban Effort/Shape system, a well-tested qualitative method for evaluating and recording the dynamics of movement. For the next four years they collected and viewed filmed examples of work and dance from hundreds of cultures and, through a rigorous comparative process, adapted the Laban principles that had been used to reveal intra-cultural or individual difference in movement style into variables that could facilitate perception of intercultural variation. One of the ideas the Choreometrics team set out to test — and which necessitated the acquisition of an enormous amount of documentary footage from a variety of sources — was that dance epitomizes the style of movement widespread in a tradition, particularly that which once powered the main productive activities in pre-industrial societies and eras. They therefore also collected and examined film of people at work. It was found that, by and large, dance mirrors the movements necessary to carry out the main recurrent tasks of subsistence which are or once were fundamental in those particular societies and times. 

In 1970 when Bartenieff left, Paulay became Associate Director of the Choreometrics Project, and through the early 1970s she and Lomax further expanded the Choreometrics system. They developed the coding system; assembled, selected, and analyzed the film samples; trained coders; analyzed data; and produced four documentary films, Dance and Human History (1970), Palm Play (1977), Step Style (1977) and The Longest Trail (1984), and an accompanying teaching handbook. The films have now been reissued with new material by John Bishop on the DVD Rhythms of Earth, and are available from Media Generation. Paulay and Lomax also coauthored an unpublished book, World Dance. 

From 1984–85 Paulay worked with Alan Lomax and Roswell Rudd on The Urban Strain, a study of American popular music and dance that used the techniques of both Cantometrics and Choreometrics to analyze film and recordings made commercially throughout the twentieth century. In addition to the Cantometrics descriptors, new ones were required for the novel vocal and orchestral techniques and effects, often enhanced or created by electronic technology, of twentieth century popular music. The study showed that crossovers between African and European-derived performance modes produced many innovations in music and dance, and that signature combinations of African and European expressive systems actually did emerge in every decade.

Paulay was actively involved with Lomax's work until his stroke in 1996, and she still consults with ACE on Performance Style Research and Choreometrics. She has her Ph.D. in therapeutic counseling and is now a focusing-oriented psychotherapist using movement and energy work in private practice in New York. She is a student of the philosopher/psychologist Eugene Gendlin's "Philosophy of the Implicit", and also a teacher in training in the Diamond Approach spiritual path. 

Extensive conversations between Alan Lomax and Forrestine Paulay, and Lomax, Paulay, and Roswell Rudd were recorded on tape and can be heard in our Discussions and Interviews and Lectures catalog. 

Transcription of Interview of Forrestine Paulay by John Bishop (2006) for the DVD Rhythms of Earth (2008) 

Paulay: As a dancer, I learned so much about meaning of dance through this Project. When I came into the work, I thought of meaning as the meaning to me, as the dancer. I thought of it as also the meaning of the particular piece, or the meaning of the particular ballet, and this is fairly typical of dancers, and they've been quite concerned about retaining that meaning. But when I think about what I saw in terms of what I was just describing — ike the villagers in France dancing and turning their hands and then seeing them turning the wine — meaning takes on another whole dimension, and it doesn't in any way undermine the importance of dance or its meaning. What it does is — it gives its roots in living, and it really is about what is important in life — to live in this culture that we're living in. So meaning reverberates into the whole of life experience. It's not just, "I am going to express myself," it's, "I am expressing myself and all the rest of this — about who I am and how I live and how I survive." It isn't just the particular expertise of this individual: it's how this individual has expertly digested and projected the whole of the culture. It actually produces something much more significant, when one understands that. Dance has much more significance, not less, when looked [at] within this framework. 

I got involved with Alan's work because he was a student of Birdwhistell's; and, after he had begun to get findings from the Cantometric Project, he wanted to test the communications hypothesis that if you look at other expressive forms, you'll find analogous patterns — if you look at the same level. He was looking at dance as communication within the framework of anthropology: culture. So he was surprised, because he didn't find any correlations for the metric system in Cantometrics; and Birdwhistell, his teacher, suggested that song style was not a primary communication but was derived perhaps from dance. And so that's when he said, "Well, all right, so, lets's look at dance." 

It was Birdwhistell who actually suggested that the Laban system of movement analysis might be the most appropriate for looking and finding the level of pattern that would correlate with the kind of pattern that he'd been finding in Cantometrics, and, perhaps, because it was a more primary system of communication than song, he might find out something about meter. 

One of the other reasons why Alan wanted to look at dance is because, when he listened to song performance, he could sense in it something about the body — the physical stance that produced that kind of sound — and he wanted to see it, and he wanted to make it more than just something abstract, like a sound, but he wanted to put the bones and the flesh on it, literally. 

At that time Irmgard [Bartenieff] and I had been teaching classes along with a third person [Martha Davis] at what was then called the Dance Notation Bureau. And Alan called up and said he wanted someone to look at dance and to help develop a system for looking at dance cross culturally. So Irmgard came on to the Project and brought me with her. 

Irmgard studied some of Laban's work, which was called "Effort" at that time (it's Laban-Lamb, actually), and I had gone to England with her and had studied there with Marian North and some of the major teachers of the Laban work. So, we were not doing the Laban Notation, but we were doing something called "Effort," which, as our work was done here, became something called "Effort/Shape," because we were interested — and perhaps as dancers — interested not only in the specific energy underlying the impulse or the carrying out of an action but the actual shaping of the whole body and its relationship to space. So when we came on the Project, it wasn't really to use Laban Notation, because it wasn't to record movement so it could then be read by and re-performed by anyone. We were interested in the qualities of movement. So the Effort /Shape work was particularly suited, on one level, for the study that Alan wanted. On another level, it wasn't suited at all, because Effort/Shape was being used within a culture to look at cultural differences among individuals. 

So, when we first started looking, we got so much detail. I can remember looking at the Georgia Sea Islanders. We were fascinated, because we were seeing the differences between all the individual performers, and we were noting all of that. And, very excited, Irmgard and I came to Alan and said, "Look, this is happening here! And this performer is different from that!" And Alan is sitting there thinking, "Oooh" (or I thought he was thinking, "Oooh"). Clearly something was not the way he had hoped we were going to be bringing our findings to him. And that's when we also began to get an education from Alan. This work that he is doing is on a different level. We're not looking for individual creativity, individual differences in emotional expression, but we were looking — and he was looking — for what kind of patterns really differentiate large groups of people from each other. OK? 

So, we went back, and we looked again. And we looked and we looked, and we looked at a tremendous amount of footage. We gathered footage from all over, in order to begin to say: What is the level of pattern that we've got to look for that's going to make the kinds of distinctions that one intuitively felt when one looked at cultures as varied as the Eskimo and the Tajik? Or the Tibetan herders that you [John Bishop] so beautifully filmed? 

And we would look at — not only at the dance — but we were looking at the work, because, by looking at the work, we began to see patterns that resembled — that related to — that seemed to feed the creative development of the dance within the culture. And we found that by looking at the dance first and then looking at the main kinds of work activities, the main kinds of social gatherings in the culture, we began to see pattern at the level that began to differentiate one culture from another and not one individual from another. 

In Choreometrics we really were looking at the level that people were presenting as, "This is who I am." In other words, people were presenting themselves as wanting to be seen. The dance performance was public performance — it's meant to be seen. So, we were looking at what Alan always used to call "the good and the beautiful." 

We tried to find a way of describing it that was simple and that if we told someone else about it in those words they could say, "Oh, yes, well, I can see that, too!" So we started by putting together a working film that had examples from the different cultures, and we would show it to different people and say, "Ok we're going to look at how the torso is used here," for example. That became one of the major distinguishers in the Choreometrics Project. Just how is the torso used? Is it used as one solid piece, or are segments of the torso articulated? We called it "one unit" (torso) versus "multi-unit" (torso). Then we made some finer distinctions in there, because we found those interesting, and we developed a scale, where we could see certain differences, whether, say, it was more in the upper torso that was used versus the pelvis; or whether there was a play between the pelvis and the upper torso; or whether it was basically the torso being used pretty much as a solid unit; but, was there an emphasis on the diagonal in the torso, which showed a little more differentiation? So this is how we set up the first coding system. So that was the step with the pilot film that we used, and then we began to do some coding — we got in certain students to come and code. And we were seeing — were we getting a reasonable amount of consensus? We did consensus studies fairly early on to see if the measures that we were looking at were measures that everyday people, people without a lot of movement training, could also see. 

This never could have been done without computers. And in the beginning it was extremely laborious. Punch cards had to be made from all the data that we coded and then flipped into the mainframe, and then — we had rooms filled with data. Alan would spend hours pouring through these datasheets, just hours, and looking at the pattern that was coming out. It was an enormously important part of the project that really only Alan could do. 

He had done the Cantometrics, and because he had worked intimately with Irmgard and me "looking at the footage" and then later on with me and we often coded together. So he really — he knew what it meant. And he would pour through that, and he'd look at the numbers and he'd call me, and I'd be coding. He'd call me and say, "Look at this!" And I'd see this stream of numbers and patterns and such. And he'd say, "Look what's happening here! Look what this is showing!" He'd just be so excited as findings would come out like this. He would find the findings in all of this the data. 

He was looking for correlations. Well, he would look at that, but he would also look at correlations between the Choreometric results and the Cantometric results (which he knew). He would look at the correlations between Choreometrics results and the societal results (he had done the work on George Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas, so he had that information). And correlations were run between Choreometrics, the Ethnographic data; Choreometrics, Cantometrics; Choreometrics, the Phonotactics (the other work that he did); Choreometrics — and he did some work with breath [Minutage]. So, all the various systems and things that he looked at — he would put those together and look at the correlations. And he would find that certain parameters would correlate with Cantometrics; certain parameters would correlate with the social data; certain parameters would correlate with Cantometrics and the social data. So this is what he was looking at. [It was] enormously complex work that he was doing. 

What is so exciting about this system is that it is open: and someone can take our correlations, and they can run them against whatever else they're looking at, if they're looking cross culturally. They can also take what they're looking at within a culture and run it against the cross-cultural system and see, "Ah! Where does that fit in?" Where does what they are looking at fit in this whole other work that we did? And that can give other kinds of information to someone who is looking at the cultural level. 

So one of the things that studying the Choreometrics system and really exposing oneself to the variation of the world "what it does is — it brings to consciousness what one is using unconsciously and the measurements that one is constantly applying, all the time — as a culture member we're constantly applying the measures from our own culture and we're looking at these things. It's looking at these cultures, so that one can find the true significance of dance: what you're actually doing there — when you're dancing.