Laban terminology as a matrix for organising expressive experience and its relevance to DMT.

 Dancing with the Dusters

When Joan Littlewood asked Laban what attracted him to dance, he replied: “I saw the man polishing a ballroom floor with two dusters tied to his feet.

 “What a lovely job” I thought. “ That is the way I shall go”

(Newlove and Daby p.10,  2004)

To know that Laban chose to become a dancer whilst watching a man polishing the floor with 2 dusters tied to his feet would indicate that a man with this kind of thinking alone that develops a movement language, would lend itself totally to the craft of Dance Movement Therapy (DMT). I believe that it is this kind of vision and inspiration that a Dance Movement Therapist needs to hold a client group, let alone the language that Laban gave to the world of dance. The more I explore Laban and know of the way he came to develop his method the more I can understand and embody the language of Laban Movement Analysis (LMA).  Rudolf Laban was born in 1879 in Pratislava, when it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was one of the greatest innovators of his time. Laban was man with immense charisma, who changed the course of dance in the twentieth Centaury. Laban was a great teacher who never stoped learning.

Laban Movement Analysis holds intrinsic value in DMT. Through the use of the Laban language we are able to interpret and describe movement qualities of those we are witnessing in the dance.  LMA draws on the theories of effort and shape to describe interpret and document human movement. Through this common language we are able to speak with peers, colleagues and employers about the movement qualities that we witness in our client populations in a language that everyone understands. The use of the LMA also helps us to think and make quick assessments of what we see, which is a great tool when we are writing about our clients.

Laban a Way of Seeing and Experiencing

Although I am still a fledgling in the understanding of the language of the Laban Efforts, I find that if I think of the Efforts as “the storytellers”, it helps me to grasp the meaning of them. The more I do understand the more it helps me with my groups. I chose this paper because I wanted to become clearer about Laban. I found that drawing up the charts (see bellow) myself this time has given me a stronger connection to the language. Through the process of writing this paper I have began to experience LMA more fulling than ever before. I am more willing to formulate a movement experience for my client groups from a LMA perspective. This is helping me be have a sharper direction in my intervention, It is enabling me to keep a stronger focus and on track with my objectives. One of them being to affect and expand the client’s movement range.

Dunphy and Scott (2003)  talk about the importance of Laban in terms of it being a whole body, expansive in all direction and dimensions dance form.

“Our experience has indicated the merits of the Laban framework’s expressive and expansionistic approach to movement and dance for people with intellectual disabilities. Movement restrictions imposed but physical and congestive disabilities and compounded by sedentary life style and limited choices, make it particularly important that no further restrictions are placed in movement potential.”  (Dumphy, Scott p. 20, 2003)

I work with a group of women with very low energy.

Their energy is:

  • Sustained time – they generally move slowly
  • Heavy weight – They prefer to sit down and carry a lethargic demena
  • Indirect space – they seldom move directly or purposely through space
  • Bound flow – their movements as often staccato and angular with limited range

From this place I can work on simply taking the opposite polarity and choosing a variety of effort qualities

I can use:

  • Slash time – I can give them a short swimming noodles and ask them to hit the each others noodle, or the floor, or the wall this would become, sustained, direct, heavy weight. It would have an impact, I would affect their inertia and also in Riechian terms it would help to move deeper feelings, consciously or unconsciously.
  • Dab /flick  weight – conducting an orchestra to their favourite music with their hands moving from their wrist as their arms move in space in sustained time.
  • Direct Space – walking purposefully across the room. Stomping their feet would add strong weight.
  • Free Flow – Dancing with Peacock feathers to Straus blue Danube

I don’t think one can talk about Laban without adding Irmgard Bartenieff to the equation. As with many great innovative people there is someone there to help them to consolidate the inspirational, creative genius, which is what she did by giving the effort a framework. She then added her own genius that became Bartenieff Fundamental, which I have found much easier to understand and embody. This is because they begin within the body and move out. I am comfortable here, the same way I am comfortable with body Mind Centring, which are much of the same. I love the repatterning system of Bartenieff and exlproation of the development movement pattern of BMC and navel radiation. I am organically drawn to this part of a Laban rooted practice because it is also very much a part of Belly dance and is also what I use to teach bellydance. Bellydance in turn has been a great tool for me in my  DMT work. I draw on it often.

Kinesphere: the area that the body is moving within and how the mover is paying attention to it.

I love the term Kinesphere. We can take the Efforts and apply them to a persons Kinesphere and we can see by looking at the body part separately and as a whole what is happening. We can see the connection they have to their movement qualities and help them to understand what they are by mirroring back to them and then expanding then and giving them back.

In conclusion, through doing this paper I am much the wiser and more confident with Laban MA. This is also because over the years of simple keeping it in mind even when I did not feel it flowing, has helped me to find my way into it. I think the penny has nearly dropped as my shorthand teacher used to say, When the penny drops.

Laban System of Efforts

Polarities / Factors
Time Quick / Sustained
Weight Heavy / Light
Space Direct / Indirect
Flow Bound / Free


Effort Qualities

Time Weight Space Flow
Press Sustained Heavy Direct Bound
Punch Quick Heavy Direct Bound
Dab Quick Light Direct Free
Flick Quick Light Indirect Free
Slash Quick Heavy Indirect Free
Wring Sustained Heavy Indirect Bound
Float Sustained Light Indirect Free
Glide Sustained Light Direct Free
Light <> Strong          Indirect <> Direct         Urgent  <> Sustained          Bound  <> Free
Light Indulgent/expansive intention in weight Delicate of fine to touch
Strong Fighting/condensing intention in weight Having an impact
Indirect Indulgent/expansive attention in space Flexible, multi-overlapping foci
Direct Fighting/condensing attention in space To the point, aimed, blunt
Urgent Fighting/condensing decision in time Spark-like excited, rushed
Sustained Indulgent/expansive decision in time Leisurely, prolonged, endless
Bound Fighting/condensing emotions or continuity Careful restrained, controlled
Free indulgent/expansive emotions or continuity Abandoned, uncontrolled, unlimited
A combination of equal parts of 2 Effort Elements
Weight + Flow Dream State Light/Free. Strong/Free. Light/Bound, Strong/Bound
Space + Time Awake State Indirect/Sustained, Direct/Sustained, Indirect/Urgent, Direct/Urgent
Time + Weight Rhythm State Sustained/Light, Sustained/Strong, Urgent/Light, Urgent/Strong
Space + Flow Remote State Indirect/free, Indirect/Bound, Direct/Free, Direct/Bound
Time + Flow Mobile State Urgent/Free, Urgent/Bound, Sustained/Free, Sustained/Bound
Weight + Space Stable State Strong/Direct, Strong/Indirect, LIght/Direct, Light/Indirect
A combination of equal parts of three Effort Elements
Action Drives: Equal parts of Space, Weight & Time. Only Acton Drives are provided with individual names for each combination
Strong Weight + Direct Space + Urgent Time Punch Action Drive
Light Weight + Direct Space + Urgent Time Dab Action Drive
Strong Weight + Indirect Space + Urgent Time Slash Action Drive
Light Weight + Indirect Space + Urgent Time Flick Action Drive
Strong Weight + Direct Space + Sustained Time Press Action Drive
Light Weight + Direct Space + Sustained Time Glide Action Drive
Strong Weight + Indirect Space + Sustained Time Wring Action Drive
Light Weight + Indirect Space + Sustained Time Float Action Drive
Transformation Drives
Weight + Time + Flow Passion Drive
Time + Space + Flow Vision Drive
Weight + Space + Flow Spell Drive



Dumphy, K & Scott, J (2003) Chapter 2, Creative dance using a Laban-based approach, Freedom to Move, Maclennan + Petty