History of SignWriting

Chapter 1: DanceWriting
The Early Years: 1966-1974

SignWriting comes from DanceWriting. It stems from a "movement notation system". It was not invented from a prior knowledge of signs or signed languages. Nor is it connected to any one signed language, but instead records them all with the same symbols.

In other words, you do not have to know what signs mean to write them, since the system records "body movement". With SignWriting, signers can not only record their own signed languages, but foreign signed languages as well.

Of course, as SignWriting is used by more and more people, certain "linguistically based" writing conventions are developing. But from the historic perspective, DanceWriting was the "forerunner" to SignWriting. Now SignWriting far exceeds DanceWriting in the number of users.

Other dance notation systems have recorded the movements of signed languages in the past (as experiments), but SignWriting is different, because it is used by hundreds of people, mostly Deaf, all over the world. In 1997, SignWriting is becoming the "written form" for signed languages in 14 countries.

Below you will find a brief listing of some of the more important events in the early history of Dance Writing, which lead to the invention of SignWriting...
1966
DanceWriting Begins

Valerie Sutton, an American, at age 15, was in professional ballet training. She invented a stick figure notation system for recording ballet steps, for her own personal use.

1970-1972
Records Historic Danish Ballet Steps
Sutton moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, at age 19, to train with teachers of the Royal Danish Ballet. At that time, the world-renowned, historic ballet steps of the Royal Danish Ballet, called "the Bournonville Schools", were being forgotten for lack of recording. Sutton used her personal dance notation system to record and preserve these historic dances. The project stimulated the improvement of the writing system.

December, 1973
Sutton Movement Shorthand, The Classical Ballet Key, Key One
by Valerie Sutton. This was the first DanceWriting textbook. It is an historic record of how the system was originally invented. Within one year after publication, this first text was out-of-date because of improvements in the system. No longer in print.

Fall, 1974
DanceWriting Taught To The Royal Danish Ballet

Eight week course taught to 30 dancers, by special invitation from Ballet Master, Flemming Flindt.

Fall, 1974
Danish Newspaper Articles About DanceWriting Stimulate SignWriting
Sign Language researchers at the University of Copenhagen read about the system and asked to see a demonstration. See next page...

History of SignWriting


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Questions? Write to:
Sutton@SignWriting.org