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Laban Movement Analysis and Bartenieff Fundamentals Improve Quality of Movement

Laban Movement Analysis provides a framework to understand, analyze, and describe both the structure and meaning of how humans move. Dancers, athletes, and physical and occupational therapists use this human movement analysis to analyze and improve movement abilities.

Images of a woman moving | Laban Movement Analysis

Rudolf Laban: Effort and Space

Rudolf Laban was a dancer and choreographer in the early 1900s who developed a system of dance notation called Labanotation and developed two of the four major components now taught as Laban Movement Analysis: Effort and Space.

Effort describes the quality of movement by identifying the type of energy used in the movement. For example, punching someone and reaching for a glass require extending the arm in the same basic way, but the intention of the movement is different. Effort looks at a movement's subtle characteristics with respect to the intention of the mover. Effort has four subcategories:

  • Space: Direct / Indirect
  • Weight: Strong / Light
  • Time: Quick / Sustained
  • Flow: Bound / Free

Combining the Effort categories of Space, Weight, and Time creates eight Effort Actions: Dab, Flick, Float, Glide, Press, Punch, Slash, and Wring. The Flow category is responsible for ongoing motions.

Laban also developed the concept of Space to describe the location, amount, and symmetry of the external space used during a movement. Looking at movement in relationship to the environment and to spatial patterns, pathways, and lines of spatial tension, Space pays attention to:

  • Kinesphere: The area in which the body is moving and how the mover is paying attention to it.

  • Spatial Intention: The directions or points in space that the mover is identifying or using.

  • Geometrical observations: Where the mover is performing the movement, with an emphasis on direction of movement, placement in space of the movement, and so forth.

See Beyond Dance: Laban's Legacy of Movement Analysis for an introduction to Rudolf Laban's life and work and how his work has become a part of other fields, such as movement therapy, early childhood development, and communications.

Warren Lamb: Shape

Laban's student, Warren Lamb, developed the third major component of Laban Movement Analysis: Shape. The way the body changes shape during movement indicates the movement of the body’s internal components in supporting or influencing external activity. The subcategories of Shape are:

  • Shape Forms: Static shapes that the body takes.

  • Modes of Shape Change: How the body interacts with the environment and the body's relationship the environment. Shape Change has three modes:
    1. Shape Flow represents the body's relationship to itself.
    2. Directional expresses the body's relationship toward a part of the environment.
    3. Carving represents the active, three-dimensional interaction of the body with the environment's volume.

  • Shape Qualities: The way the body actively changes toward in relation to some point in space, as in Opening, Closing, Rising, Sinking, Advancing, Retreating, Spreading, or Enclosing.

  • Shape Flow Support: How changes in shape the shape of the torso support movements in the rest of the body.

Irmgard Bartenieff: Body

The fourth major component of Laban Movement Analysis, Body, describes the structural and physical characteristics of the human body while it moves. Body is the contribution of Laban's student Irmgard Bartenieff to Laban Movement Analysis and is also the basis for Bartenieff Fundamentals, a series of movement sequences that deal with mobilizing the body efficiently in its environment and preparing it to perform a wide range of movement qualities and shapes.

Bartenieff, who became a physiotherapist in the U.S., took Laban’s movement theory, applied it to how the human body functions, and developed a set of concepts, principles, and exercises, including:

  • Breath Support
  • Core Support
  • Center of Weight/Weight Transference
  • Dynamic Alignment
  • Initiation and Sequencing
  • Effort Intent
  • Rotary Factor
  • Spatial Intent
  • Developmental Patterning and its Support for Level Change

Bartenieff Fundamentals looks at patterns of organizing body connections:

  • Breath is the key to life and its connections and the baseline for flow effort and shape change.

  • Core to distal connectivity is about setting up a theme of relationship of all six limbs around the center. This connectivity necessitates the core becoming stronger and more connected and also becoming aware of your distal edges. This pattern is the start of differentiation.

  • Head-tail (spinal) connection is about the connection of upper to lower and gaining a vertical axis for being upright. This pattern is the beginning of goal orientation - you in relation to "out there."

  • Upper-lower (homologous) push patterns are about grounding yourself and brings in the ability to "get away" and separate the self from others. Reach and pull patterns bring in the ability to move into relationship, to move into the world, to go into space beyond yourself.

  • Body half (homolateral) patterning is about experiencing polarities. Stability on one side supports mobility on the other. This patterning also coordinates hand-to-mouth capabilities and eye tracking.

  • Cross-lateral (contralateral) is about complexity, and all the other patterns underlie it. This pattern makes spiraling and transverse movement possible and integrates right and left brain functions.

Why study Bartenieff Fundamentals? To see how movement patterns do or don't help you in everyday life. To reclaim the role of movement patterns in the efficient functioning of your body. To reclaim the possibilities of total expressivity. To open new possibilities. To sense, feel, and attempt to understand what is fundamental in your own organism and what is fundamental to how you move and relate in the world.

Laban Movement Analysis Training

The two main institutions that teach professional programs in Laban Movement Analysis are the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London and the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in New York. Qualified practitioners are Certified Movement Analysts (CMAs) or Certified Laban Movement Analysts (CLMAs).

Sources — Rudolf Laban Movement Analysis

About Rudolf Laban

Au, Susan, "A Man of Movement: Rudolf Laban, 1879-1958," Dance Magazine, June 1979, p. 102.

Hackney, Peggy, "Remembering Irmgard, "Contact Quarterly, Winter/Spring 1993, p. 13.

Hamburg, Janet, "Applying Body Therapy to Dance and Sport," Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, May/June 1992, p. 48.

Lauffenburger, Sandra Kay, "Efficient Warm-ups: Creating a Warm-up that Works," Journal of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, April 1992, p. 21.

Madden, Peter, and Judy Gantz, "Laban Movement Studies: A Program in Body-Mind Education," The Educational Forum, Fall 1989, p. 117.

Myers, Martha, "Irmgard Bartenieff’s Fundamentals," Dance Magazine, March 1983, p. 88.

Siegel, Marcia B., "Profile: Irmgard Bartenieff," The Kinesis Report, Summer 1980, p. 1.

Siegel, Marcia B., "The Touch," The Soho News, September 15, 1981. 

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Image Credit: Alexander Potapov/PhotoXpress