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

Laban Prevails

Laban Prevails

At the recent Bartenieff Symposium, Martha Davis lamented the loss of seminal works in nonverbal communication research.  During the 1960s, there was lots of money for research. While she assisted Irmgard Bartenieff at Albert Einstein Day Hospital, other researchers such as Ray Birdwhistell, Albert Scheflen, and William Condon would drop by for informal discussions of what they were doing.Today, no one reads their work; current students are advised not to read research it wasn’t done in the last five years.


But Laban prevails.Read More

Choreutics in Berlin

Choreutics in Berlin

During a recent master class in Berlin, I introduced the “mixed seven-rings.” These Laban scales are analogous to the major diatonic scales in music. Participants were instructed to use the seven “signal points” of the scale as if they were musical notes and to compose a “spatial melody” in four measures. 

Students could use the signal points in any order and make them any duration. Individuals could embody the specified directions in any way they chose. Yet, interestingly, when we watched these solos, the freely constructed spatial melodies retained the fundamental qualities that Laban highlights in his unpublished writings on the mixed seven-rings.Read More

Creating a Language For Movement


Around 1913, Rudolf Laban contemplated a career change from visual art to dance. But he recognized that unless a means could be found to record movement, dance was condemned to remain an ephemeral and consequently trivial art.


In developing a language and symbol system for dance and movement, Laban thought visually. The theoretical models he developed are geometrical, not linguistic. This is both the beauty and the challenge of Laban Movement Analysis.


In recognizing that human movement is a psychophysical phenomenon, Laban saw that his language of movement had to capture two domains – the physical actions that unfold in the space of the outer environment and the movement of thought and feeling as these evolve in the inner world, coloring physical actions and making them expressive.Read More

Science Catches Up With Laban


The ancient Greeks knew that there were only five three dimensional symmetrical shapes – the tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron, and icosahedron. The first four shapes occur in nature, in various inorganic crystals. But the icosahedron appeared to exist only in mathematicians’ imaginations.



However, as Dr. Eugenia Cheng noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, once electron microscopes were invented [circa 1930], “we discovered that many viruses, in fact, have icosahedron structures.” Since the latter discovery around 1950, Cheng adds, modern uses for the icosahedral shape have been found, such as geodesic domes and soccer balls.Read More

Space: The Final Frontier


Laban’s notions of space are the most difficult to understand and to embody for many movement analysis students.  Laban himself had to perform some mental gymnastics to capture the disappearing trace-forms of natural movement.  Fortunately, he left a guidebook – Choreutics (aka – The Language of Movement).


Choreutics has always been my favorite book by Laban – but it is not an easy read.  Consequently, I developed an “old school” correspondence course in 2016 –“Decoding Rudolf Laban’s Masterpiece, Choreutics.” Back by popular demand, this course takes readers on a guided tour of this fascinating book.Read More

Comments on “Decoding Choreutics”


I created the correspondence course, “Decoding Laban’s Choreutics” last year for two reasons: 1) I wanted to push myself to study this seminal book deeply, and 2) now that it is back in print, I wanted to encourage other movement analysts to read it, too.

I’ve read Choreutics more than once, and it has always been my favorite of Laban’s books. I learned a lot by organizing the reading assignments, and re-reading along with fellow movement analysts. Here is what some of them had to say:

“The course provided me with a most satisfying and fulfilling re-engagement with the world of LMA.”

“I gained the chance to digest/redigest this material 30+ years hence my original training – which allowed me to bring MY experience into the mix.”

“The pace was just right.Read More