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. Choreutics in Berlin

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these solos, the freely constructed spatial melodies retained the fundamental qualities that Laban highlights in his unpublished writings on the mixed seven-rings. That is, these choreutic forms combine arabesque-like shapes that penetrate space with attitude-like shapes that encompass space.

As one participant commented to me later, this creative assignment made space harmony relevant. Rather than “received wisdom,” that is, spatial sequences taught and repeated by rote, Choreutics came alive. It became a design source for dance!

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.


For analytic purposes, these two domains had to be separately conceived. Hence, Laban created two geometrical models – one for the outer world of visible movement in space (the kinesphere) and one for the inner world of thought and feeling (the dynamosphere).


And here is Laban’s genius.  Because inner and outer are always connected in volitional action, Laban’s two geometrical models can be related. The dynamosphere can be nested within the kinesphere.  


Find out more about the brilliance of Laban’s geometrical language of movement in the forthcoming course, Decoding Choreutics.

The Mysterious Mobius

The mobius strip, also known as a lemniscate, is a unique shape having only one side and one edge.  The shape was invented almost simultaneously by two German mathematicians in 1858.  It became popular as a prop for magical parlor tricks in the late 19th century, and perhaps this is how Laban encountered it.



You can make one yourself by twisting a strip of paper and joining the ends.  A normal band (think of a rubber band or a simple bracelet) has an inner surface and an outer surface and two edges.  But the mobius strip has only one surface and one edge. That is, if you start tracing a line on the outer surface, your pencil will move to the inner surface and return to the outer surface without ever lifting the pen.  Similarly, if you start running a finger along one edge and circuit the strip twice, you travel along both edges without interruption.


In other words, the outer becomes the inner and the inner becomes the outer.


Laban writes about lemniscates in Choreutics and even maps a couple in the kinesphere using direction symbols.  Does Laban mean for this to be taken literally, as a spatial trace-form?  Of is this a symbolic form?  Find out more in the forthcoming MoveScape Center course, “Decoding Choreutics.”

Psychological Dimensions of Effort 2

In relation to the psychological aspects of effort, Laban also drew upon C.J. Jung’s theory of personality types. Jung posits four “Functions of Consciousness”  – sensing, thinking, feeling, and intuiting. Sensing tells you that something exists.  Thinking tells you what it is.  Feeling tells you whether it is agreeable or not.  Intuiting tells you whence it comes and where it is going.


Laban hypothesized that these psychological functions are embodied through each of the four motion factors. The motion factor of Weight relates to sensing; Space, to thinking; Flow, to feeling; and Time, to intuiting. These correlations start to make sense when related to the effort Drives.

In each of these Drives, three motion factors combine, while one factor is latent. By extension, when embodying each of these different drives, the mover suspends one of the four psychological functions.  

For example, in the Action Drive (Space, Weight, Time), the mover suspends the psychological function of feeling, which Laban relates to the motion factor of Flow.  Action Drive tends to be employed in practical working tasks, where the focus is on getting the job done, regardless of how one feels about it.

In contrast, in the Passion Drive (Weight, Time, Flow), the mover suspends the psychological function of thinking, which Laban relates to the motion factor of Space. When someone is in a highly emotional state, they often lose focus and become disoriented.

The links that Laban proposes between effort and functions of consciousness offer additional inroads to embodying and comprehending the links between body and mind. Find out more in the forthcoming workshop, “Expanding the Dynamosphere.”

Flow Changes Everything

When flow takes the place of another motion factor, Laban wrote, “the expression is more intense” and the whole configuration “gains new meaning.” In the Mastery of Movement correspondence course, we tested Laban’s assertion.

Readers were asked to choose one of the transformation drives – either Passion or Vision or Spell. They were to work out the eight effort quality combinations of that drive and then embody each mood.

Group of contemporary dancers performing on stage

The Vision Drive combines the motion factors of Space, Time, and Flow (the motion factor of Weight is latent). Cate Deicher, who will be co-teaching the July workshop, “Expanding the Dynamosphere,” with me, explored the Vision Drive. She has graciously allowed me to share her descriptions of what each combination felt like…

I went to a Merce Cunningham exhibit this past weekend and saw footage of Merce dancing. His movement seemed to be a lot about Vision Drive. Those images have stayed in my mind, so I chose that drive.  I’ve also been thinking about Iceland. I was there 40 years ago and will be going back soon.  So this is a combination of Merce + Iceland.

1) free+indirect+decelerating:  I take pleasure in leisurely exploring the incredible, charmingly, unfamiliar landscape.

2) free+ direct+decelerating:  I see an unusual patch of color in the stony landscape, and want to get a closer look.  As I approach it I take my time to enjoy how the shading of color changes with the movement of the clouds.

3) free+indirect+accelerating:  In the harbor, a strong gust of wind scatters a flock of seabirds in the sky above. I try to keep track of all of them as they circle about.

4) free+direct+accelerating:  I scoot quickly, gleefully away from Geyser as it begins to bubble up.

5) bound+indirect+decelerating:  We’re entering an ice cave.  The ground is icy, but there is otherworldly light that is reflected all around.

6) bound+direct+decelerating:  I’m approaching Geyser.  It’s a stunning display, but I’ve been told that sometimes you can feel and observe fissures starting to form in the earth.  I’m careful about this, I also want to be able to flee if I start to feel the ground rumble. Still, I’m fascinated by Geyser; my whole body is trained upon this spectacle.

7) bound+indirect+accelerating:  I know there are no birds here, so I feel a bit threatened by something that just flew by me from out of nowhere.  Where did it come from?

8) bound+direct+accelerating:  I shudder and dash to the shelter of the bus stop as the cold, heavy rain begins to fall.

Experimenting With The Chemistry of Effort

Laban wrote about the “chemistry” of effort, and this provides a fertile metaphor for understanding dynamic aspects of human behavior. Chemistry investigates the building blocks of matter – atoms, molecules, and compounds. The whole material world is made of these simple elements and their interactions.

Laban effort theory is equally elegant. There are only four motion factors, but these combine to make four Drives. The eight effort qualities combine to make eight different manifestations of each drive. And then there are the “incomplete efforts.”

Testing new chemical reactions in university lab

As Laban describes, sometimes only two motion factors “give the shading to the movement.” Nevertheless, “bodily actions manifesting incomplete effort participation are expressive of a variety of inner attitudes.”

There are six “incomplete effort compounds” with contrasting qualities: awake and dream, remote and near, stable and mobile. These less intense states “appear very often as transitions between essential actions, and frequently have a recovery function.”

In the forthcoming workshop, “Expanding the Dynamosphere,” we will experiment with the chemistry of effort. We will not only work through the different manifestations of the Action, Passion, Vision, and Spell Drives, we will also test the “incomplete efforts” to see how they can build to a drive and serve as a recuperation.

Find out more….

Just Add Flow

Laban’s well-known basic actions combine the movement factors of Space, Weight, and Time. However, the whole mood of an action changes when Flow replaces one of these motion factors. Then the functional action is transformed into a visionary, passionate, or spell-binding mood.

Laban admits that “even when man sets about a working job and his bodily actions have to fulfill practical functions they are distinguished by personal expression.”

Colored splashes on white background

However, when flow takes the place of another motion factor, “the expression is more intense.” According to Laban, this is because “These configurations build up individual units in which the single constituent part submerges entirely.” Thus the whole gains a new meaning and importance. In other words, the Vision, Passion, and Spell drives are distinctive moods in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, just as green, while being composed of blue and yellow, is a distinctive color all its own. This is where Laban’s effort theory, composed of only four motion factors and eight contrasting effort qualities, blossoms into a multi-colored landscape encompassing both function and expression.

In the forthcoming workshop, “Expanding the Dynamosphere,” we will start with the basic actions and organic sequences of these actions. Then we explore the transformation drives – Vision, Passion, and Spell. Find out what happens to the chemistry of effort when we just add flow!

Demons Into Goddesses Through Effort Magic

Laban personifies each of the eight basic actions in Mastery of Movement. He characterizes Floating (all indulging qualities of Weight, Time, and Space) as the Goddess and Punching (all fighting effort qualities) as the Demon. He goes on to note that it will not be difficult for the actor or dancer to depict these characters, for we “remember the age-old symbolism of love’s soft floating movements, and of the violent and abrupt movements of hatred.”

During the recent MoveScape Center Mastery of Movement Beautiful girl following butterflies on a mountaincorrespondence course, Rebecca Nordstrom created a sequence of basic actions and imagined this movement sequence as a scenario involving the Demon and the Goddess. It is a beautiful example of how imagination can bring Laban’s effort theories to life.


Becky has graciously allowed me to share her scenario….

Scale of moods order: Punch, slash, wring, press, glide, dab, flick, float.

A demon looks at the large oblong object that mysteriously appeared in his lair. First, he strikes it with his fist, punching repeatedly to try to break it open. He then slings it violently and repeatedly around the room sending it crashing into the walls, floor, and ceiling (slashing). When that doesn’t work, he grabs it in his hands and tries to twist it open with great force (wringing). Lastly, he leans against it with all his force trying to crush it (pressing). Exhausted, he collapses into a heap and falls asleep.

Out of a hole at one end of the object a veiled figure slowly, gently and steadily emerges (gliding). Once free of the object the figure quickly but gently pokes at the surrounding veil with long delicate fingers and toes (dabbing). Once loosened, the veil is gently but quickly tossed aside with flicking gestures.

Now completely free of the veil, the figure begins to spread its wings and gently, delicately rises. As the butterfly goddess knew, she was only able to emerge from her chrysalis cage with the help of the unsuspecting demon. She hovers over his sleeping body to whisper her thanks before floating gently out of his lair and into the bright sunshine.

Laban’s Eight “Basic Actions”

Anyone with even a brief exposure to Rudolf Laban’s work will be familiar with the eight Basic Actions – float, glide, dab, flick, punch, press, wring, and slash. These functional actions are the bedrock of Laban’s effort theory.

As Laban noted, humans move to satisfy needs. Some needs are tangible – food, shelter, rest, and physical safety. This is where the basic actions come in – we employ these when working with material objects to achieve material needs.

Handyman with tools

Movement occurs in sequences, and these basic actions can be arranged to create a “scale of moods.” In the recent MoveScape Center correspondence course, “Mastering Rudolf Laban’s Mastery of Movement, we played with creating sequences of basic actions to see what kind of situations these effort changes might suggest.

In Mastery Laban notes that the “chemistry of effort follows certain rules because the transitions from one effort quality to another are either easy or difficult. In ordinary circumstances, no sane person will ever jump from one quality to its complete contrast because of the great mental and nervous strain involved in so radical a change.”

Consequently, my correspondence students were instructed to shift from floating to its dynamic opposite, punching, by only changing one effort quality at a time. It’s a great challenge — and one that takes you deeper into understanding effort.

Find out more in the upcoming MoveScape Center workshop, “Expanding the Dynamosphere” in New York City, July 29-30.

Beyond First Impressions

first impressionThe very first time we encounter a stranger, we derive an impression based on the person’s physical attributes and body language.  Then rapidly and without conscious or logical control, we form a judgment  – is the person positive, negative, or neutral?

The capacity to make snap judgments is probably essential to our survival.  Yet first impressions are notoriously unreliable and often prejudicial.  The real character of an individual is revealed over time – not in a single encounter, not in a single action, but in a moving pattern and embodied way of being.

To me the genius of Warren’s Lamb’s Movement Pattern Analysis has to do with its emphasis on discerning patterns of movement behavior.  Movement is so slippery, disappearing even as it occurs.  I think this is why most movement perception occurs below the level of conscious attention.  However, although it is ephemeral and slippery, movement occurs in patterns.  And if we take the time to pay conscious attention, we can detect these patterns and begin to make judgments that go much deeper than the first impression.

Want to find out more?  Join the Introduction to Movement Pattern Analysis course beginning in March.