Advancing Laban’s Ideas in Virtual Space

Moving oneself and observing others move are the best ways to learn about movement, but not the only ways. Recently I’ve been experimenting (successfully!) with correspondence courses.


It may seem counterintuitive that something as “old school” as a correspondence course can advance Laban’s work. But I, and nearly 40 readers on five continents, have been finding that this a great way to approach two of Laban’s most seminal books, Choreutics  (aka The Language of Movement) and Mastery of Movement.  

Choreutics primarily focuses on the space and shape aspects of movement, while Mastery deals more with body and effort. I subdivide each book into six assignments, with orienting questions, movement activities, and observation tasks. Students and I correspond via email regarding these assignments. In addition, I provide written commentaries on each chapter of the respective book.

Beginning in late October, MoveScape Center is offering the course “Decoding Rudolf Laban’s Masterpiece, Choreutics.” The course will end before Christmas, with an extra week off in the middle for Thanksgiving. Find out more.  

Advancing Laban’s Ideas

I am dedicated to advancing Laban’s thinking – on the printed page, in the real space of the movement studio, and in the virtual space of the internet. I’ll be working in all three areas this autumn.


Irmgard Bartenieff observed that Laban’s life was “one great unfinished symphony.” She wanted her students to understand that Laban’s notation and movement analysis systems did not come about all at once. According to Irmgard, Laban was counting on future generations to carry the study of movement forward.

Of course, I think Laban developed his ideas to a greater extent than generally recognized.  Laban’s unpublished papers and drawings show that he continued to expand and refine his theories of human movement across the final two decades of his life. Unfortunately, he did not live to see this mature theoretical work published.

I have published some of Laban’s mature theories in The Harmonic Structure of Movement, Music, and Dance. But his notions are not entirely easy to grasp just by reading about them. Consequently, I’ve been developing additional approaches to make these exciting concepts more concrete. Find out how in the following blogs.

Shape as Laban Conceived It

Choreutics (space) and Eukinetics (effort) are the two broad categorical headings under which Laban grouped elements of movement. He did not single out shape as a separate category. Initially, shape was a Gestalt concept for Laban, a combination of the lines traced by the body in space and the dynamic qualities observable in these three-dimensional sequences.


Laban’s first career as a visual artist and his familiarity with Art Nouveau and abstract Expressionist theories influenced his initial description of shape as an element of dance and movement. In Meaning in Motion, I explain that Laban’s notion of the mover’s space has two aspects: one descriptive and one prescriptive. Now it is time to explore Laban’s “Language of Space”: example, Laban studied with the Swiss botanist and artist Hermann Obrist. Obrist admonished his students to understand natural objects as images “full of expressive forces, full of linear, plastic, constructive movements.”

Laban applied this notion to dance. In his first book, he noted that “the dancer observes the form of things and the movement of living creatures as to their directional tendencies.” Then the dancer translates these into gestures laden with “psychic tension.”

Consequently, the shape chapter in Meaning in Motion opens with a movement exploration based upon the shapes of natural objects, such as rocks, shells, pine cones, branches, etc. The chapter moves on to discuss a more precise definition of movement shapes, focusing on modes of shape change and shape qualities. The chapter closes with working definitions of the elements of shape.

Effort Relationships

At its best, human movement flows smoothly and gracefully in organic sequences.  The proportion of our limbs and the structure of our joints determine the way movement sequences unfold in the kinesphere.  As Laban notes, “a movement makes sense only if it progresses organically and this means that phases which follow each other in a natural succession must be chosen.”


Laban was also concerned with the natural succession of effort moods in the dynamosphere.  Exertion obviously requires effort; Laban found that recovery also involves effort.  Moreover, he discovered that the patterning of this basic shift is far from simple.  As Irmgard Bartenieff explained, “the complexity of phrasing is increased as the Effort factors of the actions include more variations.”

This led Laban to propose a “law of proximity” for effort changes, based on the similarity or dissimilarity of their component effort qualities.  He observed that “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.”

Laban went on to map organic effort patterns.  These “modulated” phrases are wonderfully fun to embody.  Find out more in the upcoming workshop, “Expanding the Dynamosphere,” July 29-30, in New York City.

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.”

Psychological Dimensions of Effort 1

Rudolf Laban recognized that the four motion factors (Space, Weight, Time, and Flow) characterize both physical and mental effort.  He associated Space with attention, Weight with intention, Time with decision, and Flow with progression.

Laban saw these mental efforts as both preceding and accompanying “purposive actions.”


Warren Lamb went on to refine these correlations of physical and mental effort in relation to a decision-making process.  He found that through the careful observation of an individual’s movement patterns, a unique decision-making profile can be discerned. Recent research has confirmed that Movement Pattern Analysis provides a reliable prediction of how an individual will apportion his or her time and energy across the processes of giving attention, forming an Intention to act, and taking that decision to the point of Commitment.

MoveScape Center is offering an “Introduction to Movement Pattern Analysis” this summer. This seminar, limited to six participants, not only covers the core theory and practice of Movement Pattern Analysis (MPA), it also allows each participant to have his/her own profile constructed by the instructor.  

Over the past 75 years, MPA has helped thousands of people work more effectively, both individually and in teams. Find out more….

Effort Range: Home Base and New Territory

“A healthy human being can have complete control of his kinesphere and dynamosphere,” according to Rudolf Laban.   This suggests that a wide range of motion is both desirable and achievable.

And yet, each of us has effort and shape preferences that define our way of being in the world. These familiar movement patterns anchor us; they provide a “home base.” 

On the other hand, it’s fun to move beyond this comfort zone and experience novel dynamic moods and places.  This summer, MoveScape Center workshops provide both — a chance to revel in the comfort of home base and/or the opportunity to explore unfamiliar movement landscapes.  


In the “Introduction to Movement Pattern Analysis” three-day seminar, you will have your own movement profile constructed.  You will learn more about your unique effort and shape range and how these movement patterns relate to decision-making processes.  This seminar draws upon the work of renowned movement analyst, Warren Lamb, to illustrate how movement study enhances the understanding of self and others.

In the “Expanding the Dynamosphere” two-day workshop, you will explore new movement territories, visiting the lands of Action, Passion, Vision, and Spell.  The emphasis is on awakening movement imagination, expanding your dynamic range, and finding new paths for greater expressivity.

It’s your choice – the comforts of home?  New frontiers?  Find out more ….

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!