Breakdown Harmonica

Lead Research Organisation: Roehampton University
Department Name: Dance


Breakdown Harmonica is a research project focusing on analysing, understanding, and communicating this dance to dance scholars and practitioners as well as researchers from movement and computing disciplines exploring means of automated, qualitative analysis of human movement .

The primary source material for the project is the dance Harmonica Breakdown (1938) choreographed by Jane Dudley. Dudley was for many years a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company before becoming Director of Contemporary Dance at the London Contemporary Dance School in 1970.

Recognised for her choreography that 'fuses politics and modern dance', Harmonica Breakdown (1938) is one of Dudley's most notable works. Accompanied by a harmonica blues score by musician Sonny Terry, the dance takes as its subject matter the 'struggles of African American workers during the Dust Bowl'. According to Dudley, Harmonica Breakdown is 'a dance of misery-and defiance rising out of it'. Sheron Wray was for many years a member of London Contemporary Dance Theatre and worked closely with Dudley. Dudley set the dance on Wray and bequeathed it to Wray on her death. Wray continues to stage the dance around the world. The Harmonica Breakdown was filmed by Darshan Singh Bhuller (Dance Film, 1995) as part of an Arts Council film project (; it has, however, yet to be examined through movement notation or mapped via current digital technologies. This project aims to record the dance in these technologies, to investigate questions related to motion capture typical of each system, and examine how these technologies compliment each other.

Finally, we intend to produce a dynamic chorographic score that combines motion capture data, LMA scores, and oral/physical transmission of the dance by Wray.

Planned Impact

Our project intends to discover the extent to which traditional Laban Movement Analysis can be supplemented by digital movement capture to help learners embody movement. Almost any field of human activity requiring detailed examination of the manner in which the human body travels through space could provide useful material for our study. But we have chosen dance (over sport) because it will provide us with an end product both illustrative of technique and enjoyable to see.

Dance is the ideal vehicle for communicating our findings beyond the usual academic circles. It also provides a process that is accessible at any stage of its development.
We plan to use various methods (e-flyers, workshops, etc.) to maintain awareness of our progress among identified audience of interested parties, with results examined at ICKL, 2017. At each stage we will show how what we are learning is of benefit to a broad range of movement-oriented parties from physiotherapists to ten pin bowlers.


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