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.”

Living Fully in Three Dimensions

As bipeds with mobile shoulder and hip joints, human beings have a wide range of motion available.  Yet physical challenges, such as the force of gravity and our heavy heads, limit the extent to which we actively tap fully three-dimensional movement. And mental habits can also limit our access to space.


Rudolf Laban succinctly identified two cognitive maps of space. The first is the dimensional cross and the cardinal directions of up and down, right and left, forward and backward. Laban relates these movement directions with stability.



In contrast, Laban also identified four diagonal lines of motion. Think of these as radiating lines that connect the opposite corners of a cube or rectilinear room. Laban relates these sharply tilted lines with mobility.


Then Laban makes an interesting observation. Since most movements are neither completely stable or totally mobile, “the trace-forms of living matter” follow trajectories that lie between the dimensions and diagonals.


Laban went on to develop lengthy sequences of movement that follow these deflected pathways. These lines of motion, which are more subtle than normal cognitive maps of space, are mentally challenging.  Moreover, they physically test balance and range of motion.


Nevertheless, Laban’s choreutic models encourage living fully in three dimensions.  Find out more in the forthcoming MoveScape Center correspondence course.

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.


Based on an easy schedule, participants will read the Preface, Introduction, and first 12 chapters of Choreutics.  A set of study questions will be provided for each reading assignment.  When each reading assignment has been completed, participants will receive a commentary that I have prepared, providing background context and elaborating on Laban’s themes.   


Think of this as a “great books” course designed to help movement specialists explore space with both body and mind.  Find out more….

Advancing Laban’s Ideas in the Movement Studio

During the recent MoveScape Center workshop, “Expanding the Dynamosphere,” in New York City, we all had an “ah ha” moment about Laban’s effort theory. Here is how this insight unfolded.

Laban identified four effort drives. Of these, the Action Drive is the best known, for it deals with practical movements involved in working with tangible objects. The other three drives – Vision, Passion, and Spell – are called “transformation drives.” These are more subtle and complex effort combinations that have less to do with physical actions and more to do with mental activities such as thinking, feeling, and willing.


For Laban, mental activities also involve moving. I’m sure he would agree with Mabel Ellsworth Todd, who wrote “For every thought supported by feeling, there is a muscle change.” Laban obviously characterized the combination of space, time, and flow factors as the outward embodiment of visionary states of mind – those mental acts of following a line of thought, steadily concentrating, soaring on the wings of imagination, catching a sudden insight, coming to a gradual realization, and so on.

Yet, when workshop participants were asked to identify associations with the various combinations of Vision Drive, they kept coming up with practical actions, like throwing darts and quenching fires. They reverted to physical actions that were not visionary in the least.  

This made us all realize that while we movement folk complain about the mind/body split, we tend to privilege the body over the mind. This sometimes leads us to think about effort in strictly physical terms.  

Laban was way ahead. He realized that movement is a psychophysical phenomenon. And he stuck to this view, finding effort in thinking, feeling, and willing as well as in acting.

Teaching Laban’s Effort Theory

Laban’s theory of the dynamics of human movement (effort) is deceptively simple. There are only four motion factors (Weight, Time, Space, and Flow) and eight effort qualities. But the theory becomes much richer because different combinations and sequences of effort qualities express very different states of mind.  


It is difficult to convey this richness in a semester-long course.  And I think that is okay. Students should not believe they have mastered all there is to know about  Laban in only a few weeks.  The key is to spark curiosity and a desire to continue to learn about movement expression.

Consequently, while Meaning in Motion is meant to be an introductory text, there is more material than can be covered in one semester.  For example, the chapter on Effort not only introduces the four motion factors and eight effort qualities.  It also covers all the states and drives, providing suggestions for creative explorations of these more complex dynamic expressions.

In explaining effort as expression, I discuss the psychological correlations that Laban drew with the motion factors and the basic phrasing pattern of preparation, exertion, and recuperation.  These notions are also linked to a reflective movement exploration.

Increasingly I have come to feel that it is important for students to understand relationships between states and drives – how states build to a drive or provide recuperation from a drive.  This is obviously more advanced material, but the adequate explanation is incorporated in the chapter on effort as well as in appendix material to help students begin to “think in terms of effort.”  

This was always Laban’s admonition.  Thinking in terms of effort requires a conceptual shift from focusing on what is done to appreciating how the movement is done.

Effort and Human Potential

“We live only part of the life we are given,” writes Michael Murphy in The Future of the Body.  “Growing acquaintance with once-foreign cultures, new discoveries about our subliminal depths, and the dawning recognition that each social group reinforces just some human attributes while neglecting or suppressing others … suggests that we harbor a range of capacities that no single philosophy or psychology has fully embraced.”


Rudolf Laban would certainly agree.  “Preference for a few effort combinations only results in a lack of effort balance,” Laban notes.  “New dances and new ideas of behavior arise by a process of compensation in which a more or less conscious attempt is made to regain the use of lost or neglected effort patterns.”

If we live only a part of the life we are given, it is because we habitually use only a few effort combinations. To me, the great benefit of effort study is to experience, if only fleetingly, other ways of being in the world.

While I was first studying Laban Movement Analysis, I had a profound experience embodying an effort combination of the Spell Drive.  I momentarily became someone else and glimpsed an unfamiliar inner landscape.  This was not a part of the world that I normally inhabit.  Maybe I didn’t really want to live here.  But it was wonderful to discover a new realm of experience and to realize that I could consciously choose to enter this new world simply by moving in a certain way.

To me, the study of effort is the study of human potential, a chance to access a greater range of capacities that are not just physical in nature, but personal, psychological, and perhaps even spiritual.

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 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….

The Dynamosphere: Effort Maps in 3-D

The “dynamosphere” is a three-dimensional model of effort relationships. Laban chose a cube for depicting effort kinships. Cate Deicher and I will be exploring these relationships in the forthcoming workshop, “Expanding the Dynamosphere.


Many people are familiar with the way Laban positioned the eight basic actions (floating, gliding, pressing, punching, etc.) at each of the eight corners of the cube. Whimsically, Laban likened this effort model to a “town with a good many cross-roads and squares between houses in which the effort microbes live.”  He goes on to add, “It is a curious peculiarity of this city that near relatives dwell nearer to each other than more distant relatives, and these live nearer than strangers or enemies. Hostile effort microbes, who have no effort constituents in common, live at diametrically opposite sides of the city.”

Laban’s dynamospheric action map depicts these relationships.   But effort theory goes well beyond the eight basic actions, to incorporate the three transformative  Drives (Passion, Vision, and Spell), as well as six “incomplete actions” or effort states (Dream, Awake, Near, Remote, Stable and Mobile) and the four elemental motion factors (Weight, Time, Space, and Flow).  Laban also used a different cubic model to depict kinship relations among all these elements and effort combinations.

This little-known cubic model not only summarizes Laban’s whole effort theory, it also maps organic transitions between effort moods.  It is a wonderful resource for building effort phrases.  Find out more in the forthcoming Red Thread workshop.

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 ….