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 Work in Germany

I will be teaching master workshops for Eurolab in Berlin in mid-October. The workshop theme is “Laban as Pattern Maker – Material That Never Gets Taught in the Certificate Program.”


Across three days, we will be exploring patterns in space and effort patterns. In terms of space, I aim to start with concepts that underlie Laban’s Choreutic forms, such as “rhythmic circles,” symmetry operations, and spatial intervals. Practical work will focus on embodying the Primary Scale, along with mixed 7-rings (one of the Choreutic forms that is seldom taught).

We will also explore how Laban applied symmetry and asymmetry in developing effort sequences and patterns. These little known aspects of Laban’s thinking are critical to phrasing effort changes organically and meaningfully.

During the last day of the workshop, we return to spatial themes, learning and working creatively with peripheral and transverse 5-rings, tilted planes, and an open form that Laban’s intriguingly referred to as “snakes!”

Eurolab (European Association for Laban/Bartenieff Movement Studies) has been running Certificate Programs in northern Europe since the late 1980s. By now, there is a healthy community of European Laban Movement Analysts doing very interesting work. I taught and helped run some of the early programs, so I’m very excited to be returning, to reconnect with familiar faces and meet new ones.

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 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.

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.

Experimenting With The Chemistry of Effort

Laban wrote about the “chemistry” of effort, and this provides a fertile metaphor for understanding dynamic aspects of human behavior. Chemistry investigates the building blocks of matter – atoms, molecules, and compounds. The whole material world is made of these simple elements and their interactions.

Laban effort theory is equally elegant. There are only four motion factors, but these combine to make four Drives. The eight effort qualities combine to make eight different manifestations of each drive. And then there are the “incomplete efforts.”

Testing new chemical reactions in university lab

As Laban describes, sometimes only two motion factors “give the shading to the movement.” Nevertheless, “bodily actions manifesting incomplete effort participation are expressive of a variety of inner attitudes.”

There are six “incomplete effort compounds” with contrasting qualities: awake and dream, remote and near, stable and mobile. These less intense states “appear very often as transitions between essential actions, and frequently have a recovery function.”

In the forthcoming workshop, “Expanding the Dynamosphere,” we will experiment with the chemistry of effort. We will not only work through the different manifestations of the Action, Passion, Vision, and Spell Drives, we will also test the “incomplete efforts” to see how they can build to a drive and serve as a recuperation.

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.

Laban’s Eight “Basic Actions”

Anyone with even a brief exposure to Rudolf Laban’s work will be familiar with the eight Basic Actions – float, glide, dab, flick, punch, press, wring, and slash. These functional actions are the bedrock of Laban’s effort theory.

As Laban noted, humans move to satisfy needs. Some needs are tangible – food, shelter, rest, and physical safety. This is where the basic actions come in – we employ these when working with material objects to achieve material needs.

Handyman with tools

Movement occurs in sequences, and these basic actions can be arranged to create a “scale of moods.” In the recent MoveScape Center correspondence course, “Mastering Rudolf Laban’s Mastery of Movement, we played with creating sequences of basic actions to see what kind of situations these effort changes might suggest.

In Mastery Laban notes that the “chemistry of effort follows certain rules because the transitions from one effort quality to another are either easy or difficult. 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.”

Consequently, my correspondence students were instructed to shift from floating to its dynamic opposite, punching, by only changing one effort quality at a time. It’s a great challenge — and one that takes you deeper into understanding effort.

Find out more in the upcoming MoveScape Center workshop, “Expanding the Dynamosphere” in New York City, July 29-30.

Lamb and Embodied Cognition

Laban correlated physical efforts with mental efforts, relating Space effort to Attention, Weight to Intention, and Time to Decision.  Warren Lamb added shape to this scheme, noting  that “We cannot move in making an Effort without an accompanying movement of Shaping.”

movement pattern analysis

The paths traced by the moving parts of the body lie predominately in one of three planes – in the horizontal or table plane, in the vertical or door plane, or in the sagittal or wheel plane.  Lamb related these movement patterns to cognitive processes in the following way.

He noted that “horizontally-oriented movement puts the performer in touch with what is going on around him.”  Thus shaping in the table plane relates to giving Attention.

Vertical orientation then emphasizes where the person stands “in relation to whatever he is in touch with.”  That is, shaping in the door plan relates to forming an Intention.

Finally comes the sagittal orientation, Lamb writes,“a form of decision to advance or retire from the subject matter.”  Consequently, shaping in the wheel plane is linked to making a Commitment.

Interestingly, this progression also underlies motor development.  The infant first learns to roll over (horizontal plane).  Then he pulls up to standing (vertical plane).  Finally, he walks (sagittal plane).  Perhaps these early development phases provide the sensorimotor foundation of our decision-making processes!