Movement, Magic, and Transcendence

dancer dervish

The magical powers of movement fascinated Laban.  Two anecdotes recounted in his autobiography highlight his keen interest – the first was observing a folk dance meant to make warriors immune to wounds; the second was witnessing Sufi rituals in which dancers actually stabbed themselves but the wounds closed immediately.  Laban mused, “Belief in a magic that conquers nature was surely just foolishness, a childish superstition – but even so, wasn’t there something great, something immense hidden behind it?”


This reflection, or perhaps quest, is reflected in many of Laban’s theoretical writings, where he hints at the spiritual value and transcendental power of movement.  Read More

Movement and Social Affiliation

Japanese women wearing bright kimono dance in a parade

As many anthropologists have pointed out, human beings are social creatures.  From infancy, and throughout life, we crave love, self-esteem and the positive recognition of others.  We need to feel that we belong somewhere – in a couple, a family, a club, or an identifiable sub-culture.  As Maslow notes, we “hunger for a place in a group” and will “strive with great intensity to achieve this goal.”

Surely belongingness passes into Laban’s realm of “intangible values that inspire movement.”  Interestingly, Laban links effort with “the growth of man’s communal sense.”  He reasons that “man’s desire to orientate himself in the maze of his drives results in definite effort rhythms, as practiced in dancing and in mime.  Read More

Laban and War


Rudolf Laban’s father was a general in the Austro-Hungarian Army. As Laban writes in his autobiography,  “My father taught me the life of a soldier, which fascinated me almost as much as did the arts.” Subsequent events show that the life of the artist won.  Nevertheless, Laban drew on his military background when it came to theorizing dance and movement.

As Gwynne Dyer asserts, for almost all human history, a battle “has been an event as stylized and limited in its movement as a classical ballet, and for the same reasons:  the inherent capabilities and limitations of the human body.”  Laban concurs, drawing parallels in Choreutics between the cardinal dimensions, the five positions of ballet, and protection of the vulnerable areas of the human body as mirrored in the opening movements of fencing.Read More

Laban and Work Movement

Railway workers repairing rail

The ground-breaking efficiency studies done by Rudolf Laban and F.C. Lawrence in British industry are well-known. The critical role these observations of work movement played in the development of Laban’s effort theory is far less understood.  But a careful reading of Mastery of Movement, Laban’s most complete explication of effort, reveals this to be the case.


In 1947, Effort, jointly written by Laban and Lawrence, chronicled their discoveries studying work movement.   Effort deals exclusively with the Action Drive – combinations of the motion factors of Weight, Time, and Space.  Read More

Movement and Human Needs


“Man moves in order to satisfy a need,” Rudolf Laban writes in the Introduction to Mastery of Movement.  “It is easy to perceive the aim of a person’s movement if it is directed to some tangible object. Yet there also exist intangible values that inspire movement.”

Laban returns to the theme of tangible and intangible motivations several times in Mastery.  In many ways, his notions of the motives that spur human movement echo Abraham Maslow’s theory of a Hierarchy of  Needs.Read More

Unlocking Laban’s Legacy

Unlocking Laban’s Legacy

I began my blogs this year by looking back. Now I want to look forward – to how the past accomplishments of pioneers of movement study can enrich present and future generations.

Rudolf Laban’s assertion that human movement has a harmonic structure analogous to musical harmony is one idea I would like to see taken seriously enough to be tested. While I have presented Laban’s notions in detail in The Harmonic Structure of Movement, Music, and Dance, this is not enough.Read More

Exciting Times in the Laban Archive

Exciting Times in the Laban Archive

For most dance and movement people, glistening with sweat and reveling in the joys of embodiment, research in a dusty archive must sound like one of the dullest pastimes ever. Few things are as exhilarating as dancing, but discovering things in an archive can also be exciting. I ought to know.

I spent seven years (with time out for good behavior!) doing research in the Rudolf Laban Archive at the National Resource Centre for Dance in England. I was perusing Laban’s unpublished writings and drawings.Read More

Archival Traces of Irmgard Bartenieff

Archival Traces of Irmgard Bartenieff

Prior to the Bartenieff Symposium last year, I arranged to peek at a few files in the newly accessible Bartenieff Archive at the University of Maryland. My aim was to look at correspondence between Warren Lamb, Judith Kestenberg, and Irmgard. I think of these three leading figures in the field of movement study as a triumvirate of minds. While they each did their own thing, they also studied and worked closely with one another. There must have been a fascinating cross-fertilization of ideas….Read More

Movement Study Anniversaries — Past and Present

Movement Study-Anniversaries

Continuing the January theme of looking back and forward, 2017 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Language of Dance Center UK and the twentieth anniversary of the Language of Dance US. The LOD centers are dedicated to the promotion of movement literacy by linking dance notation with creative dance exploration and education.

To commemorate these milestones, a celebration was held on October 28, 2017, at the Royal Academy of Dance in London.This event included a free workshop followed by a panel discussion on applications of the Language of Dance in the UK, US, Mexico, and Japan.Read More

Celebrating Janus in January

Celebrating Janus in January

January is named after the Roman god Janus. As the god of beginnings, transitions, and endings, Janus is usually depicted with two faces, one looking to the future and one to the past. To celebrate the god of this month, I will begin a new year of blogging with some reflections on the previous year.  

2017 was marked by progress in preserving the history of movement analysis. Materials contributed to the National Resource Centre for Dance at the University of Surrey by Rudolf Laban’s gifted protégé, Warren Lamb, have now been preserved and catalogued.Read More