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.

Comments on “Decoding Choreutics”

I created the correspondence course, “Decoding Laban’s Choreutics” last year for two reasons: 1) I wanted to push myself to study this seminal book deeply, and 2) now that it is back in print, I wanted to encourage other movement analysts to read it, too.


I’ve read Choreutics more than once, and it has always been my favorite of Laban’s books. I learned a lot by organizing the reading assignments, and re-reading along with fellow movement analysts. Here is what some of them had to say:

“The course provided me with a most satisfying and fulfilling re-engagement with the world of LMA.”

“I gained the chance to digest/redigest this material 30+ years hence my original training – which allowed me to bring MY experience into the mix.”

“The pace was just right. The work load was enough to be engaging but not so much as to be overwhelming.”

“The commentaries are very interesting; they add more information and insight to the writings of Laban.”

“I’m inspired to rethink how I engage my students in the Space Harmony material.”

“Decoding Laban’s Masterpiece Choreutics” starts again in October.  Register now.

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.

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.

Body or Soma?

Laban Movement Analysis allows one to approach the body both objectively and subjectively. Labanotation and motif writing provide means to analyze body actions objectively, while the somatic practice of Bartenieff Fundamentals is focused more on internal self-awareness.


Both bodily perspectives are presented in Meaning in Motion. The first section provides a terse illustration of how bodily actions are analyzed and recorded. The second section places the work of Laban and Bartenieff in the broader context of the somatics movement. A third section discusses principles and exercises of Bartenieff Fundamentals. The chapter closes with a compilation of body level concepts.

By incorporating both perspectives, instructors can tailor the “body” component of an LMA course to their specific needs. For some courses, a more basic and objective approach may be appropriate. What are the parts of my body? What are the types of actions I can do? How can I make simple sequences of actions? Studio activities around these questions can lead on to experience with simple notation or pave the way for another course in Labanotation.

Other instructors may prefer to focus on somatic dimensions. Some students relish this, others may resist. In the context of this, I have found that the key is to link the seemingly simple Bartenieff Fundamentals exercises to more dynamic and demanding movement sequences so that students experience links between body, effort, and space.

Shape as Laban Conceived It

Choreutics (space) and Eukinetics (effort) are the two broad categorical headings under which Laban grouped elements of movement. He did not single out shape as a separate category. Initially, shape was a Gestalt concept for Laban, a combination of the lines traced by the body in space and the dynamic qualities observable in these three-dimensional sequences.


Laban’s first career as a visual artist and his familiarity with Art Nouveau and abstract Expressionist theories influenced his initial description of shape as an element of dance and movement. In Meaning in Motion, I explain that Laban’s notion of the mover’s space has two aspects: one descriptive and one prescriptive. Now it is time to explore Laban’s “Language of Space”: example, Laban studied with the Swiss botanist and artist Hermann Obrist. Obrist admonished his students to understand natural objects as images “full of expressive forces, full of linear, plastic, constructive movements.”

Laban applied this notion to dance. In his first book, he noted that “the dancer observes the form of things and the movement of living creatures as to their directional tendencies.” Then the dancer translates these into gestures laden with “psychic tension.”

Consequently, the shape chapter in Meaning in Motion opens with a movement exploration based upon the shapes of natural objects, such as rocks, shells, pine cones, branches, etc. The chapter moves on to discuss a more precise definition of movement shapes, focusing on modes of shape change and shape qualities. The chapter closes with working definitions of the elements of shape.

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.”

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….