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.


Laban began using the icosahedron as a 3-D longitude and latitude for the human kinesphere in the 1920s. This crystalline shape seems to belong uniquely to the morphology of living organisms. Was Laban prescient?  Why did the icosahedron become his favorite shape for mapping human movement? Find out more in the upcoming correspondence course, “Decoding Choreutics.”

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

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.

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.

Space Toys

Mel Brooks had Spaceballs (a Star Wars parody); I have Space Toys.

I’m not kidding. One way to bring Choreutics to life is with good geometrical models. Whenever I’m in a toy shop (or the children’s section of a museum shop), I’m always on the lookout for the newest geometrical toys.

Space Toys via Movescape Center

To be honest, I’m always on the lookout. At the moment, geometrical forms are fashionable as decorative items. I just went to Hobby Lobby to buy pastel paper and walked out with a stellated icosahedron….


In “Bringing Choreutics to Life” I will share some of my “finds.” I will also show participants how to make models out of inexpensive materials.


Come play with my space toys.


Find out more….


“Space Harmony” – A Misnomer?

Rudolf Laban liked to coin new words to designate the movement theories he was developing. During the very fertile period of his career in Germany (1919-1929) he coined two words: “Choreutics” —dealing with the spatial forms of movement, and “Eukinetics” —dealing with qualities of kinetic energy.

Laban spent the final two decades of his career in England (1938-1958). During this period he Anglicized his movement terminology. His Eukinetic theories were presented under the term “Effort,” and Choreutics became known in Laban training programs as “Space Harmony.”

Illustration of woman meditating, symbol flower of life

Close examination of Laban’s posthumously published masterpiece, Choreutics, suggests that “Space Harmony” is a misnomer. As presented in this work, “Choreutics” does not deal only with space. It also addresses the body, effort, and shape.

Indeed, only four of the twelve chapters concentrate on spatial form. Three chapters address the body, four chapters discuss effort, and one chapter introduces notions of shape.

When carefully examined, it is clear that Choreutics is a description of movement harmony, not “Space Harmony.” Laban states this clearly in the Preface, where he defines “choreutics” as “the practical study of the various forms of (more or less) harmonized movement.”

In “Decoding Laban’s Choreutics,” the Tetra seminar beginning in March, I take participants on a guided journey through this mysterious book. This journey of discovery can be done without leaving the house, but not without leaving one’s arm chair.

Find out more…


The Mystery of Laban’s Masterpiece, Choreutics

labanChoreutics has always been my favorite book by Rudolf Laban, although it is by no means the most accessible of his writings. The text is prone to sudden jumps, from practical movement description to mystical metaphysics. Moreover, other mysteries surround this work.

For example, Laban wrote Choreutics during 1938-39, as he convalesced at Dartington Hall following his timely escape from continental Europe to England. According to his colleague Lisa Ullmann, Laban intended for the book “to introduce his ideas on movement and dance to an interested reading public in Britain.” Laban must have had the ideas in mind for some time, for the subject matter builds on his earlier German book, Choreographie, published in 1926.

Laban worked fervently on the book, and Louise Soelberg, a member of the Jooss Ballet also in residence at Dartington, worked equally hard to make Laban’s English sound English. The work was nearing completion in June 1940, when the onset of the war forced the closing of Dartington Hall and the dispersal of resident artists, including Laban. He gave the manuscript to his Dartington benefactors, Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, for safe keeping.

The post-war years brought Laban better health and more opportunities for work and development of his ideas. According to Lisa Ullmann, Laban no longer felt the need for a book introducing basic concepts, and so, he abandoned the manuscript for Choreutics.

Ullmann’s explanation is no explanation, because Choreutics is not a basic treatise. It is an important theoretical work that carries forward Laban’s ideas about movement in space, ideas that are not fully expounded in any other of his subsequent publications in English. Why he abandoned any attempt to publish remains a mystery.

Fortunately, Dorothy Elmhirst did not abandon Choreutics. Several years after Laban’s death, she returned the manuscript to Lisa Ullmann and encouraged her to have it published. And in 1966, this masterwork finally became appeared, filling a vital gap in Laban literature.

Effort and Human Potential

Since the discovery of neuroplasticity (the lifelong capacity of the human nervous system to regenerate and form new neural pathways), we aging Baby Boomers have been admonished to reinvent ourselves and learn new things, presumably so we will stay young forever.

This is, of course, hard advice to follow.  Not everyone wants to take up scuba diving or have a second career. Moreover, we are creatures of habit.  And one hallmark of skilled movement is that it has become, at least in part, automatic.

The common, everyday movements we make are the hardest to change.  We ascribe little significance to such habits until they are interrupted.  I speak from experience.  I postponed microsurgery for a herniated disk, not because I was afraid of the surgery, but because I dreaded the aftermath – six weeks of no bending, twisting, or lifting!

To prepare for these restrictions, I not only had to rearrange my home, I also had to rehearse moving in a different way.  Avoiding twisting and lifting didn’t seem so hard, but no bending?  How many times a day did I bend my back without even noticing?

Nevertheless, as Rudolf Laban explains, man “has the possibility and advantage of conscious training, which allows him to change and enrich his effort habits.”  This kind of change can almost be thought of as a meta-effort, or what Laban calls “humane effort.”  This is the effort applied to overcome habits and to develop more desirable qualities and inclinations.

Laban continues, “We are touched by the suggestion of quasi-humane efforts of devotion, sacrifice, or renunciation displayed by animals.  Such may or may not have a foundation in fact.  But we take it for granted that every man is able, and even almost under an obligation, to foster such kinds of effort.”

These quotes are taken from Laban’s book, The Mastery of Movement.  But he is not merely discussing the mastery of movement, he is also addressing the mastery of the self.   Or I should say “selves.”  For our humanity rests, not only on the reiteration of an embodied identity based on effort patterns, but also on our capacity to change movement habits through humane effort, and by so doing, change ourselves.

Effort and Assertion

Every voluntary human movement involves applying energy to change the position of the body.  Energy can be applied in many different ways.  Rudolf Laban referred to these various qualities of kinetic energy as effort.  Similarly, the moving body can trace many different shapes as it traverses space.  Consequently, the human beings possess a richer range of motion than most other species.   As Laban observes, “When jumping the cat will be relaxed and flexible.  A horse or a deer will bound wonderfully in the air, but its body will be tense and concentrated during the jump.”   A human being, however, “can jump like a deer, and if he wishes, like a cat.”

Voluntary movement is intentional. Thus our bodies serve as an immediate means of acting on the environment to our satisfy needs.  We must make an effort to act.  However, according to Warren Lamb, “Effort goes with Shape organically…. The fact is we can never do Effort without Shaping and, if we emphasise the Shaping we still have to make an Effort.  The two are a duality, inseparable from each other, and fundamental to balance.”

Though fundamentally inseparable, it is possible for an individual to place more emphasis on effort than on shape, or vice versa.   This differential emphasis will characterize how the individual goes about acting in the world.

For example, Warren Lamb found that when a person emphasizes effort, he or she takes a more assertive approach.  Being assertive is commonly seen as being direct in claiming one’s rights, insistent, demanding and even aggressive.  In movement behavior terms, however, being assertive simply means applying one’s bodily energies to make things happen. The assertive person will believe that almost anything can be accomplished if he or she maintains focus and applies enough pressure at the right time.

This is the effect of an effort emphasis focused outwardly, on doing.  But effort also plays an important role in the inner life.  I take up this subject in my next blog.

Insight and Effort Observation

Have you ever had the experience of wondering “what is it about that guy”? It’s the kind of wondering that takes place when someone rubs you the wrong way but you just can’t put your finger on why that is.

I had that experience some years ago when my son was in grade school. He had a teacher, who by all reports was brilliant, but during communications with this man I had the regular experience of feeling very put-off. It’s not that the meetings were full of bad news; in fact this teacher gave a mostly positive reports on my son. So what was it that was bothering me?

At the same time I was puzzling over this, I was teaching a course in Laban Movement Analysis at Alverno College in Milwaukee. It was at a point during the semester when we were delving into effort and effort phrasing, and this turned out to be the key to answering my question. The troublesome teacher turned out to be an excellent example of impulsive phrasing!

He would consistently begin his sentences with sudden, rather strong emphases that were mostly evident in his voice, but also to a certain degree in his body. I realized that it was his manner of “front-loading” his phrasing that caused me to feel uncomfortable… a very valuable insight given that this was a teacher my son would have for several more years, and with whom I needed to have a productive relationship.

Effort phrasing in all its richness, will be part of our exploration of dynamics in the Tetra seminar. Maybe it will answer some questions about “that guy” for you. Register by March 1 for the early registration discount.