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….

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!

The Geometrical Alphabet of Space Movement

The Geometrical Alphabet of Space Movement“We can understand all bodily movement as being a continuous creation of fragments of polyhedral forms,” Laban claimed.  We set out to test this in the Prototypes project.

As I note in The Harmonic Structure of Movement, Music, and Dance, Laban’s polygonal rings are best thought of as “spatial ‘prototypes’ from which dance sequences can be constructed, just as musical scales are ‘model’ tonal sequences from which melodies and harmonies are composed.”  Just as only part of a scale may be found in a musical composition, Laban asserts that fragments of his polygonal prototypes can be found in choreographed movements.

Laban’s assertion was first tested by Valerie Preston-Dunlop.  In 1979 she found fragments of choreutic forms in Martha Graham’s Lamentation and Diversion of Angels and in Jose Limon’s Choreographic Offering.

We found fragments of Laban’s prototypes in a technique class combination choreographed by OU faculty Travis Gatling.  In this sequence, he traces the front edge of the horizontal plane with both arms, then swings the right arm in what at first seems to be a cycle in the sagittal plane.  Closer examination reveals this to be a fragment of a peripheral five-ring, for the arm veers out of the sagittal plane to side high, right back middle, and side low before coming to rest in forward middle.  This fragment of a five-ring captures the normal range of motion for the arm more accurately than a purely sagittal cycle.

We also found fragments of Laban’s prototypes in improvised movement.  As OU faculty Tresa Randall repeatedly tilted and turned, her arms traced slanted circles identified by Laban as “girdles.”   From these tilted spins, Tresa also stabilized temporarily by stretching along a diameter of either the sagittal or vertical plane.

Unexpectedly, we found further corroboration of Laban’s observations in Marina Walchi’s improvisation.  Find out more in the next blog.

The “Laban Prototypes” Project

Laban ChoreuticsIn 2008, Professor Madeleine Scott and I ran a choreutics-based research project at Ohio University.  The project examined Laban’s claim that fragments of the choreutic forms (aka spatial scales and rings) compose a fundamental alphabet of human movement.

The examination had two parts.  First, we set out to duplicate some of the choreutic forms that Laban represented as geometrical line drawings.  Motion capture technology is able to produce a similar kind of record, for it captures the dancer’s movement as a linear tracery of light, allowing one to see the trace-forms of the dance without the dancer.  Secondly, dance class sequences, spontaneously improvised dance passages, and excerpts of a choreographed work were also recorded using motion capture technology.  In addition to the MOCAP recordings, video recordings, taken from front, back, both sides, and above provided additional data for analysis.

The following blogs describe the research process and preliminary findings.