Movement and Social Affiliation

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.”

Japanese women wearing bright kimono dance in a parade

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.  Tribal and national dances are created through the repetition of such effort configurations as are characteristic of the community.  These dances show the effort range cultivated by social groups living in a definite milieu.”


The whole practice of dance ethnography rests upon this premise.  In her recent study of nihon buyo and Japanese body culture, Tomie Hahn affirms that dance “can reveal how a community attends to the world and constructs its identity and art from shared sensibilities, shared sensual orientations.”


For Laban, this essential relationship between self and community is reflected in movement.  In particular, the actor needs to be aware of the role of effort in portraying the character’s place in a society at a specific historical moment.  


Find out more about how Laban applies this notion to the mastery of movement on the stage in the forthcoming MoveScape Center correspondence course.

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.


The metaphor of battle also plays a role in Laban’s conceptualization of human effort.  In Laban’s dynamic framework, each of the four motion factor manifests as one or the other of two contrasting effort qualities.  Four of these effort qualities indicate the mover’s indulging attitude towards Weigh, Time, Space or Flow; the other four effort qualities reveal fighting attitudes, in which the mover appears to be struggling against Weight, Time, Space, or Flow.        


In Mastery of Movement, Laban applies these metaphors to develop a continuum of personality types, noting that “The fighting against or indulging attitude towards a motion factor form the basic aspects of the psychological attitudes of hatred and love.  So it is useful if the artist realizes how these two poles of emotion are related to other forms of inner attitude, and how their relationship is mirrored in the movements of different characters.”


Find out more about Laban’s movement metaphors in the upcoming MoveScape Center correspondence course, “Mastering Laban’s Mastery of Movement.

Laban and Work Movement

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.

Railway workers repairing rail


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.  These combined factors yield “Eight Basic Actions” – Floating, Punching, Gliding, Slashing, Dabbing, Wringing, Flicking, and Pressing.  Laban introduces the fourth motion factor, Flow, in his discussions of work actions and psychological dimensions of effort.  But these discussions are suggestive at best.


Now in its 4th edition, Mastery of Movement was first published in 1950 under the title, The Mastery of Movement on the Stage. Laban takes effort theory beyond the workplace in this book.  Nevertheless, the effort components of Weight, Time, and Space provide a foundation for his discussion of the stage as “the mirror of man’s physical, mental, and spiritual existence.”  Laban begins his explication of effort with the Eight Basic Actions, but develops this into a full theorizing of “incomplete efforts” (a.k.a. effort states or combinations of only two motion factors) and the “transformation drives” (the Vision, Passion, and Spell Drives, in which Flow replaces one of the other motion factors).


For Laban, Flow seems to transform functional actions into various expressive moods that carry the mover up the Hierarchy of Needs – from tangible aims that sustain individual existence towards intangible values that transcend mere survival.


How does Laban apply these ideas for the stage performer?  Find out in “Mastering Laban’s Mastery of Movement– starting in early March.


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. Put simply, Maslow’s model differentiates human needs based on sustaining personal existence from those aimed at transcending personal existence; that is, his hierarchy divides the tangible from the intangible motivators.

In Beyond Words, we drew upon Maslow’s ideas as a way to survey different roles of movement in human life. Lying along a continuum from the functional to the expressive, we identified four key areas: movement in work (the productive function), movement in war and sports (the protective function), movement in a social display (the communicative/affiliative function), and movement in worship (the transcendental function).

In interesting ways, Laban’s own theories and studies of movement touch upon all four areas. Find out more in the next series of blogs.

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.

Unlocking Laban’s Legacy

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.

Consequently, I am launching the Advanced Movement Harmony project later this year. With measured steps, I intend to present the Choreutic and Eukinetic sequences identified by Laban in comprehensible forms that can be embodied. Many of these effort and space sequences have been published, by Laban and by others. But these representations are scattered, and in some cases, very difficult to understand, let alone embody.

So stay tuned. More about this project as the year unfolds!

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.

Exciting Times in the Laban Archive

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. During this time, I learned how Laban worked as a theorist. I glimpsed how he was developing and extending his thinking about human movement.  And I began to see how these new ideas could be brought to life in the movement studio.

In these ways, the past has animated my present and future. I’m dedicated, not just to replicating Laban as we know him, but to pushing the envelope and seeing how his ideas can be tested and extended.  

I’m doing this by encouraging close reading of Laban’s masterworks – Choreutics and The Mastery of Movement.  I’ll be offering two correspondence courses this year – the first on Mastery of Movement; the second on Part 2 of Choreutics (which really does have to be decoded!). Find out more.

More Archival Traces of Bartenieff

Irmgard Bartenieff’s letters to Rudolf Laban, as I mentioned in the previous blog, also reveal how she adapted to American culture and redefined herself as a professional – moving beyond dance into physical therapy, dance therapy, and dance anthropology.

More Archival Traces of Bartenieff

In a letter to Laban dated July 21, 1944, Irmgard wrote:

“I went into my work with the sick abnormal body with this curiosity, and I discovered, while always working with the sick as well as with the average untrained working person, how deeply buried the joy and understanding of movement is in most people – to a degree that we really cannot be astonished about the small audiences dancers get.”

Later, in her letter to Laban dated October 12, 1947, Bartenieff added:

“As you probably remember, this ‘insulated’ business of what we used to call ‘Kunsttanz’ [art dance] has never fully given satisfaction to me – I am much rather an artisan with good tools and alert senses to perfect and understand movement in its many manifestations and work with many different people. And for that here in America is ample opportunity.”

The Laban community is very fortunate that so many archival traces are still available for study. There is still much to be learned from the pioneers of our field. Find out more in the next blog.

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….

Archival Traces of Irmgard Bartenieff

However, what I discovered among correspondence in the archive had more to do with Bartenieff herself. Among the treasures is a draft or a copy of a letter she wrote to Rudolf Laban in October 1947. By this date, Irmgard had been in the U.S. for over a decade and practicing physical therapy for at least five years.The letter deals with her work rehabilitating victims of the polio epidemic, primarily children.

In writing to Laban about this work, Bartenieff notes that she has also started a dance class for convalescent children, and this work in dance is making her happy. Then, in a moving passage, she writes:

“Once one has experienced with a deepening awe what it does to a human being when the language of the limbs has become blurred or distorted [through acute paralysis] one seems to develop an intensified sense of rhythm and harmony, and the job of rehabilitation seems incomplete unless the elements of play and dance are included in some form.”

What a wonderful expression of the therapeutic value of dance!

Movement Study Anniversaries — Past and Present

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.

Movement Study-Anniversaries

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. A gala party followed, which also honored dance notation pioneer and LOD founder, Ann Hutchinson Guest, on the happy occasion of her 99th birthday.

Looking forward, the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies (LIMS) is celebrating its fortieth anniversary with a conference in New York City May 31- June 2. Since 1978, the Institute has carried the mission of preserving, teaching, and advancing Laban-based movement studies.

As a member of the Founding Board of LIMS and one of the honorary conference chairs, I look forward to the event, which will not only honor movement analysis pioneer Irmgard Bartenieff but also highlight the many applications of movement study in all walks of life.

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.  

Celebrating Janus in January

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. Given the time and resource intensive nature of archive work, this is a major step forward. Hopefully, the catalogue of this archive will become available online later this year.

Through similarly epic preservation efforts, the archives of movement analysis pioneer Irmgard Bartenieff are now housed, catalogued, and publicly accessible in the Special Collections of the Performing Arts Library at the University of Maryland, College Park.  

In addition, the archives of Motus Humanus, an Anglo-American professional organization for Laban Movement Analysts, have also been transferred to the National Resources Centre for Dance. A partial donation of material made in 2017 will be followed by additional donations in 2018, including monies for preservation and cataloging.

And that’s not all – find out more about landmarks of 2017 in the next blogs.