Whitney E. Laemmli F'15

Whitney E. Laemmli
Assistant Professor
Society of Fellows in the Humanities
Carnegie Mellon University

Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships 2015
Doctoral Candidate
History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania
The Choreography of Everyday Life: Rudolf Laban and the Analysis of Modern Movement

This project examines an understudied—but powerful—recording technology that migrated from Germany to the United States in the 1930s and became a fixture in corporate boardrooms and doctors’ offices by the 1950s. In 1928, German choreographer and amateur physiologist Rudolf Laban embarked on a quest to inscribe dance on paper. This dissertation follows “Labanotation” from its entanglement with Nazi Germany through its improbable popularity in corporations, anthropological expeditions, and psychiatric hospitals in the US during the 1950s and 1960s. Ultimately, Labanotation succeeded so spectacularly because it suggested the possibility of universal communication at moments in which political, economic, and cultural upheavals threatened to create dangerous societal divisions. Moreover, in creating a notation system capable of turning any movement into easily analyzable data, Laban’s work not only served to preserve a fading past, but opened up new possibilities for the literal choreographing of modern life.