Laban Movement Analysis

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Laban Movement Analysis (LMA), sometimes Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis, is a method and language for describing, visualizing, interpreting and documenting all varieties of human movement. It is one type of Laban Movement Study, originating from the work of Rudolf Laban and developed and extended by Lisa Ullmann, Irmgard Bartenieff and Warren Lamb, among others. In addition to that , many derived practices have developed with great emphasis on LMA methods. LMA can be considered a branch of somatics.

It uses a multidisciplinary approach, incorporating contributions from anatomy, kinesiology, psychology and other fields. One of the most widely used systems of human movement analysis, LMA is used by dancers, actors, musicians, athletes, health & wellness professionals such as dance/movement therapists, physical and occupational therapists, psychotherapists, as well as in the areas of peace studies, anthropology, business consulting and leadership development.

Laban Movement Analysis is generally divided into these categories:[1]

On a more macro level LMA looks at the categories in terms of phrasing, and themes of opposites:

  • Mobility/Stability
  • Inner/Outer
  • Function/Expression
  • Exertion/Recuperation

Labanotation (or Kinetography Laban), a notation system for recording and analyzing movement, is used in LMA, but Labanotation is a separate system, regulated by separate professional bodies.

Laban Movement Analysis practitioners and educators who studied at LIMS, an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD), are known as "Certified Movement Analysts" (CMAs). Other courses offer LMA studies, including Integrated Movement Studies, which qualifies "Certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysts" (CLMAs).

On a stylistic note, terms which have specific meaning in the system are typically capitalized (though this convention is not universally adhered to). Thus there is a difference between "strong weight effort" and "Strong Weight Effort": The former is an ordinary English phrase with a variety of connotations, the latter is a LMA jargon referring to one of the two configurations of Weight Effort, a qualitative category of movement expression.


The body category describes structural and physical characteristics of the human body while moving. This category is responsible for describing which body parts are moving, which parts are connected, which parts are influenced by others, and general statements about body organization. The majority of this category's work was not developed by Laban himself, but developed by his student/collaborator Irmgard Bartenieff, the founder of the Laban/Bartenieff Institute in NYC, through the "Bartenieff Fundamentals" (sm). The Body category, as well as the other categories, continue to be further developed through the work of numerous CMAs, and applied to ever extending fields, such as: fitness, somatic therapies, rehabilitation, dance technique, and more.

Several subcategories of Body are:

  • Initiation of movement starting from specific bodies;
  • Connection of different bodies to each other;
  • Sequencing of movement between parts of the body; and
  • Patterns of body organization and connectivity, called "Patterns of Total Body Square Connectivity", "Developmental Hyper Movement Patterns", or "Neuromuscular Shape-Shifting Patterns".

Bartenieff Fundamentals are an extension of LMA originally developed by Irmgard Bartenieff, the Founder of the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies (LIMS) – NYC, who trained with Laban before moving to the USA and becoming a physiotherapist and one of the founding members of the American Dance Therapy Association.


Laban Effort graph
Laban Effort graph with effort elements labeled

Effort, or what Laban sometimes described as dynamics, is a system for understanding the more subtle characteristics about the way a movement is done with respect to inner intention. The difference between punching someone in anger and reaching for a glass is slight in terms of body organization – both rely on extension of the arm. The attention to the strength of the movement, the control of the movement and the timing of the movement are very different.

Effort has four subcategories (Effort factors), each of which has two opposite polarities (Effort elements).[2]

Effort Factor Effort element (Fighting polarity) Effort element (Indulging polarity)
Space Direct Indirect (Flexible)
Weight Strong Light
Time Sudden (quick) Sustained
Flow Bound Free

Laban named the combination of the first three categories (Space, Weight, and Time) the Effort Actions, or Action Drive. The eight combinations are descriptively named Float, Punch (Thrust), Glide, Slash, Dab, Wring, Flick, and Press. The Action Efforts have been used extensively in some acting schools, including ALRA, Manchester School of Theatre, LIPA and London College of Music to train in the ability to change quickly between physical manifestations of emotion.

Flow, on the other hand, is responsible for the continuousness or ongoingness of motions. Without any Flow Effort, movement must be contained in a single initiation and action, which is why there are specific names for the Flow-less Action configurations of Effort. In general it is very difficult to remove Flow from much movement, and so a full analysis of Effort will typically need to go beyond the Effort Actions.


While the Body category primarily develops connections within the body and the body/space intent, the way the body changes shape during movement is further experienced and analyzed through the Shape category. It is important to remember that all categories are related, and Shape is often an integrating factor for combining the categories into meaningful movement.

There are several subcategories in Shape:

  • "Shape Forms" describe static shapes that the body takes, such as Wall-like, Ball-like, and Pin-like.
  • "Modes of Shape Change" describe the way the body is interacting with and the relationship the body has to the environment. There are three Modes of Shape Change:
    • Shape Flow: Representing a relationship of the body to itself. Essentially a stream of consciousness expressed through movement, this could be amoebic movement or could be mundane habitual actions, like shrugging, shivering, rubbing an injured shoulder, etc.
    • Directional: Representing a relationship where the body is directed toward some part of the environment. It is divided further into Spoke-like (punching, pointing, etc.) and Arc-like (swinging a tennis racket, painting a fence)
    • Carving: Representing a relationship where the body is actively and three dimensionally interacting with the volume of the environment. Examples include kneading bread dough, wringing out a towel, avoiding laser-beams or miming the shape of an imaginary object. In some cases, and historically, this is referred to as Shaping, though many practitioners feel that all three Modes of Shape Change are "shaping" in some way, and that the term is thus ambiguous and overloaded.
  • "Shape Qualities" describe the way the body is changing (in an active way) toward some point in space. In the simplest form, this describes whether the body is currently Opening (growing larger with more extension) or Closing (growing smaller with more flexion). There are more specific terms – Rising, Sinking, Spreading, Enclosing, Advancing, and Retreating, which refer to specific dimensions of spatial orientations.
  • "Shape Flow Support" describes the way the torso (primarily) can change in shape to support movements in the rest of the body. It is often referred to as something which is present or absent, though there are more refined descriptors.

The majority of the Shape category was not developed during Laban's life, but added later by his followers. Warren Lamb was instrumental in creating a significant amount of the theoretical structure for understanding this category.


Main article: Space Harmony

One of Laban's primary contributions to Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) are his theories of Space. This category involves motion in connection with the environment, and with spatial patterns, pathways, and lines of spatial tension. Laban described a complex system of geometry based on crystalline forms, Platonic solids, and the structure of the human body. He felt that there were ways of organizing and moving in space that were specifically harmonious, in the same sense as music can be harmonious. Some combinations and organizations were more theoretically and aesthetically pleasing. As with music, Space Harmony sometimes takes the form of set 'scales' of movement within geometric forms. These scales can be practiced in order to refine the range of movement and reveal individual movement preferences. The abstract and theoretical depth of this part of the system is often considered to be much greater than the rest of the system. In practical terms, there is much of the Space category that does not specifically contribute to the ideas of Space Harmony.

This category also describes and notates choices which refer specifically to space, paying attention to:

  • Kinesphere: the area that the body is moving within 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 of where the movement is being done, in terms of emphasis of directions, places in space, planar movement, etc.

The Space category is currently under continuing development, more so since exploration of non-Euclidean geometry and physics has evolved.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ EUROLAB European Association for Laban / Bartenieff Movement Studies Website
  2. ^ Laban, Rudolf, and Lawrence, F. C. Effort. (1947). London: MacDonald and Evans.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bartenieff, Irmgard, and Dori Lewis (1980). Body Movement; Coping with the Environment. New York: Gordon and Breach.
  • Hackney, Peggy (1998) Making Connections: Total Body Integration through Bartenieff Fundamentals, Routledge Publishers, New York. ISBN 90-5699-591-X
  • Laban, Rudolf (1926). Choreographie. (German) Jena: Eugen Diederichs. (Unpublished English edition translated by Evamaria Zierach and Jeffrey Scott Longstaff [1993]
  • Laban, R. (1963). Modern Educational Dance. 2nd edition revised by L. Ullmann. London: MacDonald and Evans. (First published 1948).
  • Laban, R. (1966). Choreutics. Annotated and edited by L. Ullmann. London: MacDonald and Evans. (Published in U.S.A. as The Language of Movement; A Guide Book to Choreutics. Boston: Plays.)
  • Laban, R. (1975). Laban’s Principles of Dance and Movement Notation. 2nd edition edited and annotated by R. Lange. London: MacDonald and Evans. (First published 1956.)
  • Laban, R. (1980). The Mastery of Movement. 4th edition revised and enlarged by L. Ullmann. London: MacDonald and Evans. (First published as The Mastery of Movement on the Stage, 1950.)
  • Laban, R. (1984). A Vision of Dynamic Space. Compiled by L. Ullmann. London: The Falmer Press.
  • Laban, R., and Lawrence, F. C. (1947) Effort. London: MacDonald and Evans. (4th reprint 1967).
  • Lamb, Warren (1965). Posture and Gesture; An Introduction to the Study of Physical Behaviour. London: Gerald Duckworth.
  • Lamb, Warren, and Turner, D. (1969). Management Behaviour. New York: International Universities Press.
  • Lamb, Warren, and Watson, E. (1979). Body Code; The Meaning in Movement. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Moore, Carol Lynne (1982). Executives in Action: A Guide to Balanced Decision–making in Management. Estover, Plymouth: MacDonald & Evans. (First published as Action Profiling, 1978.)
  • Moore, Carol Lynne and Kaoru Yamamoto (1988). Beyond Words. New York: Gordon and Breach.
  • Newlove, J. & Dalby, J. (2005) Laban for All, Nick Hern Books, London. ISBN 978-1-85459-725-0
  • Newlove, J. (1993) Laban for Actors and Dancers: Putting Laban's Movement Theory into Practice, Nick Hern Books, London. ISBN 978-1-85459-160-9
  • Ullmann, Lisa (1955). Space Harmony VI. Laban Art of Movement Guild Magazine. 15 (Oct.): 29-34.
  • Ullmann, Lisa (1966). Rudiments of space-movement. In Choreutics, by R. Laban, annotated and edited by L. Ullmann (pp. 138–210). London: MacDonald and Evans.
  • Ullmann, Lisa (1971). Some Preparatory Stages for the Study of Space Harmony in Art of Movement. Surrey: Laban Art of Movement Guild.
  • Ullmann, Lisa (1975). Some hints for the student of movement. In Modern Educational Dance, by R. Laban; 3rd edition revised and edited by L. Ullmann (pp. 108–134). London: MacDonald & Evans.

External links[edit]