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.

 

Science-Catches-Up-Laban

 

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

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.

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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  Laban’s unpublished papers and drawings show that he continued to expand and refine his theories of human movement across the final two decades of his life.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.

Friends of Movement Study 5

Throughout this series of blogs, I have been stressing the importance of finding friends outside the field of movement study. These friends are not movement professionals themselves, nor are they “true believers” in the power and significance of movement. They are not dancers, athletes, or “Labanites.” Instead, they come with a different outlook and skill set and often need to be persuaded that there really is something to this thing called movement analysis.

Professor Timothy Colton, a political scientist at Harvard, is a case in point. We first met in 2009 when I led a colloquium  at the Naval War College on discerning leadership style through Movement Pattern Analysis (MPA). Professor Colton, who had been asked to evaluate several different nonverbal approaches to the study of leadership, asked incisive questions and maintained a skeptical position throughout the colloquium. Eventually, however, he flagged Movement Pattern Analysis as being the most promising nonverbal approach, with the caveat that more research was needed.

Professor Colton remained skeptical during subsequent meetings, which included a three-day introductory course I co-taught with Warren Lamb and a gathering to sketch a pilot research project. By the time I began making profiles of research participants in 2011, I was having doubts about the direction of the study. Nevertheless, thanks in part to Colton’s perseverance and connections, the pilot project testing the predictive validity of Movement Pattern Analysis eventually took place, with positive results that have now been published in a refereed journal. Read the results here.

When I last met Professor Colton, the shift in his attitude towards movement analysis was notable. This is not because he has become a movement person or even because having his own MPA profile has been a revelation. It is because MPA stood up to experimental testing.

Being a cognitive minority has made the Laban community insecure. But human movement is significant and it can be studied in a disciplined way. And with friends in the right places, someday what we know will enter the mainstream.

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Friends of Movement Study 4 – Daniel Ellis

F.C. Lawrence became a friend of movement study through his devotion to Laban and his visionary capacity to see the potential of this field. Daniel Ellis, a member of Lawrence’s staff, became a friend of movement study only grudgingly, and for very different reasons. Here is his story.

Daniel Ellis, an industrial engineer brought up on stop-watch studies, aggressively pursued increased productivity from the workers of client companies. Hard-driving and unrelenting to the core, Ellis was outspoken in his skepticism of everything to do with Laban. Ellis was particularly confounded when Lawrence hired Warren Lamb, still a student at the Art of Movement Studio, to work with clients. Their first assignment with a weaving company got off to a bumpy start, as Lamb describes:

Ellis “barked challenging questions at me about how was I supposed to help him, and how was he supposed to introduce me to the client, what was this ‘movement stuff’ I was supposed to do, how could it contribute anything and how on earth could a student from a place called the Art of Movement Studio know anything about industry?”

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Once on site, Lamb dived into the weaving shed and began to observe the workers, making detailed effort observations. Ellis periodically pounced, demanding to see what Lamb was notating and questioning what it meant. Lamb stood up to Ellis’s challenge:

“I could ask questions too. Was a highly Directing Effort needed to place the thread (I would demonstrate), how much pressure was required in tying a knot, was speed important – in brief what were the essential movements without which the job could not be done?”

Working with Ellis, Lamb drew up a detailed specification of the job that could be related to his movement observations. As he wrote, “there was just enough element of science about it to appeal to the engineer in Ellis, although I am sure in the end he was won over mostly by the accuracy of my assessments of any worker’s productivity, and the fact that it was based purely on movement observation.”

Ellis eventually asked if Lamb could advise on the suitability of an Office Manager. Using the same trait and factor approach the two had developed for assessing line workers, Lamb amassed about forty or fifty requirements of the job, all in movement terms. Then he observed the Office Manager and matched his observations against the job specification, offering Ellis advice on the man’s relative strength and weaknesses. As Lamb recalled, “Ellis was so impressed he always subsequently called on my advice for appointing key people in client companies. I gained a lot of confidence.”

More significantly, in facing Ellis’s hard-driving and unrelenting challenges, Lamb was able to make the vital jump from the observation and assessment of manual workers to the observation and assessment of managers. In other words, Ellis was a critical to the development of what has come to be known as Movement Pattern Analysis.

As for Ellis himself, Lamb reports that he “eventually became a great supporter and advocate,” assisting in the formation of the Laban Guild and supporting a number of Laban activities. His early death due to a heart attack “was a great loss to the cause.”

Friends of Movement Study 3 – F.C. Lawrence

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Within the Laban community, F.C. Lawrence has been regarded merely as Rudolf Laban’s “groupie.” Indeed, Warren Lamb, who worked closely with both men, observed in his unpublished autobiography that “Lawrence became so attached to Laban as to hang on his every word, promoting him (often much to my embarrassment) in guru-like terms.”

Lamb goes on to note that Lawrence “was not the most obvious candidate to partner Laban.” Lawrence was not a movement person. He was, however, one of the first management consultants in England, professionally qualified as both an engineer and an accountant. This difference in background made Lawrence an unsung yet incredibly valuable friend of movement study.

Lawrence was introduced to Laban through mutual acquaintances at Dartington Hall, where a weak and depressed Laban was recovering from his misfortunes in Nazi Germany and where Lawrence had worked as a consultant. In August, 1941, Lawrence wrote to Laban:

“In the study of movement in industrial operations we have found the utmost difficulty in making useful records, either by description or by sketches, and it seems to me that the notation you have invented for the ballet might be applied to my work with very considerable benefit.”

Lawrence followed up by sending his chief assistant to meet Laban. Then a one-week course in notation for Lawrence’s niece was arranged. Encouraged by the outcomes of these encounters, Lawrence invited Laban to collaborate in a factory study. Due to the seeming success of this collaboration, Lawrence and Laban signed a business agreement in January 1942.

This series of events reveals a great deal about Lawrence. He developed his working relationship with Laban through a series of carefully measured steps designed to test the possibilities in practical ways. (Lawrence was, after all, an engineer and an accountant!) At the same time, his very willingness to involve a “dancer” in something as conventional as industrial time and motion study demonstrates Lawrence’s own dissatisfaction with existing methods and his open-minded search for new approaches.

The unlikely partnership of Laban and Lawrence proved to be synergistic, with each man’s talent and background complementing the other’s. As I describe in Movement and Making Decisions, the “Industrial Rhythm” practices they jointly pioneered enhanced job satisfaction, minimized fatigue, and simultaneously increased efficiency. Moreover, their work laid the foundation on which Lamb subsequently developed Movement Pattern Analysis.

Much of what has occurred in the history of Laban-based movement study would not have occurred without Lawrence. Although it is a little known fact, Lawrence’s collaboration with Laban enabled Laban to demonstrate that he had income-producing employment. Without this, as a foreign national in the U.K., Laban might well have been deported. As Lamb notes, the meeting with Lawrence not only lifted Laban “from the remnants of his depression,” it gave Laban a focus a beyond dance. This chance to study human movement in an entirely different context allowed Laban to deepen and extend his theories of human effort, and to test and confirm, with Lawrence’s guidance, his notion of effort/space affinities.

Lawrence was undoubtedly pivotal in the first publication addressing Laban’s ideas in English, their co-authored book Effort (1947). Moreover, Lamb confirms that Lawrence “took a leading part in the formation of the Laban Guild and in the Board of Trustees of the Art of Movement Studio and was probably more influential than Laban in establishing the visionary objectives usually attributed to Laban himself.”

In his tribute to F.C. Lawrence, delivered at Dartington Hall in 2008, Warren Lamb closed with the following musings on the future of movement study:

“Where do we go from here? Seek funding for a research institute? Become more established in academia? Give first priority to training more practitioners? Establish research programmes together with other researchers in brain-mind study, neurophysiology, or in some major interdisciplinary study? If Lawrence were here now he would take action of some sort. It would be forty years ahead of its time, it would be inadequately funded, and it would be dismally marketed. But the vision would be right.”

Friends of Movement Study 2 – Eden Davies

Eden Davies’s introduction to movement study began in 1965 when she started to work for Warren Lamb’s English consulting firm. Lamb appeared to her to be a successful young businessman with a remarkable method of assessing aptitude. Davies’s job was to sit in while Lamb interviewed clients, discuss the notes Lamb had taken (“neat hieroglyphics with verbal notes like ‘raised left arm’”), then write a report for the client. She only caught glimpses of another side of the businessman – through photos of him as a dancer and references to summer movement schools.

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Nevertheless, Davies remembers that in the three years she worked with Lamb, “I understood I was witnessing a remarkable talent. At the same time I was all too aware that it was impossible for me to explain to others what I knew to be effective without it sounding like a gimmick.”

In the 1990s Davies began to work with Lamb again when he asked her to collaborate on a book. Now, she recalls, “I began to understand the theory of Movement Pattern Analysis. We would discuss movement and its promotion and how to get the word out to a wider audience.”

Since that time Davies has done a great deal to get the word about movement out to a wider audience. The initial collaborative project with Lamb became Davies’s first book, Beyond Dance (Routledge, 2005). This was followed by a book and CD Rom documentation of Lamb’s work (An Eye for Dance by Dick McCaw, 2006) and Lamb’s final book, A Framework for Understanding  Movement: My Seven Creative Concepts (2012). Both of these works were produced by Davies’s publishing firm, Brechin Books.

In addition, Davies has generously hosted introductory courses on Movement Pattern Analysis and meetings of Movement Pattern Analysts on her estate in southwestern England. She has been equally generous in her support of the Warren Lamb Archive, housed with the Rudolf Laban Archive at the National Resource Centre for Dance (University of Surrey, U.K.) and in assisting the Warren Lamb Trust.

In recognition of all she has done, Motus Humanus is presenting its first, “Friend of Movement Study” award to Eden Davies at the “Lamb Legacy Lives” celebration this May.

Friends of Movement Study 1 – Kaoru Yamamoto

MoveScape CenterWhile developing ideas for the book on movement observation and analysis that became Beyond Words, I knew that I did not want the text to be narrowly focused for a movement audience of dancers and athletes. I wanted Beyond Words to be a book for anyone whose professional activities involved face-to-face interactions with people, a text that could help professionals of all sorts understand the nonverbal dimensions of human interactions.

If the book were to succeed, I needed a collaborator, someone who was sensitive to movement and, at the same time, able to contribute other professional skills and perspectives. I managed to persuade Professor Kaoru Yamamoto, an educational psychologist and experienced writer and editor, to take on this project. He has been my friend, my partner, and a friend of movement study ever since.

In addition to his labors as co-author of Beyond Words, Dr. Yamamoto is a founder of Motus Humanus and has served on the Board for over two decades. He has been generous in contributing time, energy, and professional expertise. He uncomplainingly handles administrative chores, teaches in advanced seminars, advises on research grants, and shares his considerable writing and editing experience on publication projects.

Dr. Yamamoto has not become a movement analyst himself, and, if anything, maintains a critical perspective on the state of the field. Sometimes this is challenging. It is much more comfortable to hang out with like-minded folks, especially if you belong to a cognitive minority. But as the following blogs demonstrate, our best friends not only provide generous support – they also challenge us to dig deeper and go farther.