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.

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.”

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.

Laban’s “Language of Space”

In Meaning in Motion, I explain that Laban’s notion of the mover’s space has two aspects: one descriptive and one prescriptive.

To better describe movement, Laban created several “geographies” of space. These give definition to the bubble of territory adjacent to the mover’s body, which Laban called the “kinesphere.” Such geographies created landmarks in the kinesphere and make the systematic description of motion in three dimensions possible.


In addition, Laban designed highly symmetrical sequences of directional change that circle through different areas of the kinesphere. These prescribed sequences of directional change provide a way to explore the kinesphere, to test balance, and to expand the range of motion.

Because Laban’s language of space relies upon geometrical models that must be imagined as surrounding the mover’s body, the spatial aspects of Laban Movement Analysis challenges many students. Consequently, in Meaning in Motion I have incorporated many creative explorations. These address the kinesphere; the Dimensional Scale; the planes; oblique mobility and the Diagonal Scale; and central, peripheral, and transverse movement. More advanced spatial sequences are notated in the appendix.

There is a lot of material in this chapter so that instructors can pick and choose what they want to emphasize in a given course. If the language of space speaks to a student, he or she will also be able to see that there is more movement material to be explored.

Laban’s Alphabet of Human Movement

In the early 20th century, before there were video cameras and smartphones, Laban recognized that dance, like music, needed a notation system to allow choreographies to be recorded.  Developing a movement notation system necessitated two steps. First, the elements that make up the “alphabet of human movement” had to be identified. Secondly, symbols to represent these elements and their combinations and sequences had to be invented.


Like all good theoreticians, Laban wanted to control the number of elements so as to make his notation system as economical as possible.  He had observed that “the dancer moves, not only from place to place but also from mood to mood.”  This observation provided two broad categories for delineating elements of movement: “Choreutics” – where the parts of the body move in the space around the body, and “Eukinetics” –  how energy is deployed as the dancer moves through space.

In delineating Choreutic and Eukinetic elements of movement, Laban’s analytic system becomes more detailed and complex.  Nevertheless, Laban’s alphabet of movement requires the observer to recognize essential similarities among actions that appear rather different.  As I write in Meaning in Motion, the effort quality of lightness “occurs in the tender stroking of a loved one’s cheek and in dusting crumbs off a table top – actions that seem to have little in common.”  Yet they share an essential effort quality.   

It can be a challenge to help college students recognize, as Laban did, that “whether the purpose of movement is work or art does not matter, for the elements are invariably the same.”  But this recognition leads on to the realization that movement is a common denominator of human action.  As life becomes ever more complex, isn’t it worthwhile to know this?

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.

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.”

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 ….

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.