Labanotation: Wikis


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Laban is a way and language for interpreting, describing, visuallising and notating all ways of movement. Created by Rudolf Laban, LMA draws on his theories of effort and shape to describe, interpret and document human movement. Used as a tool by dancers, athletes, physical and occupational therapists, it is one of the most widely used systems of human movement analysis.

Extended by the work of Irmgard Bartenieff, the system is known also as Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis or Laban Movement Studies and comprises:

Qualified practitioners are known as "Certified Movement Analysts" (CMAs) or "Certified Laban Movement Analysts" (CLMAs).

On a stylistic note, terms which have specific meaning in the system are typically capitalized. Thus there is a difference between "strong weight effort" and "Strong Weight Effort". The former is an English phrase with a variety of connotations. The latter is LMA specific vocabulary referring to one of the two configurations of Weight Effort, a qualitative category of movement expression.


Laban Movement Analysis

Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) is an outgrowth of Laban's theories that comprises four main categories: body, effort, shape, and space. LMA/BF is the integrated study of Laban and Irmgard Bartenieff's embodiment of his theories.



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 body parts;
  • Connection of different body parts to each other;
  • Sequencing of movement between parts of the body; and
  • Patterns of body organization and connectivity, called "Patterns of Total Body Connectivity", "Developmental Movement Patterns", or "Neuromuscular Patterns".


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, each of which has two opposite polarities.

  • Space: Direct / Indirect
  • Weight: Strong / Light
  • Time: Sudden / Sustained
  • Flow: Bound / Free
Laban effort graph

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 to train 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. 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, 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.


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. Like with music, Space Harmony sometimes takes the form of set 'scales' of movement within geometric forms. These scales can be practised 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-Euclidian geometry and physics has evolved.

The applications of LMA/BF, originally directed toward the performing arts, have been spreading to many and new exciting fields, such as peace studies, anthropology, business consulting, leadership development, psychotherapy, health & wellness, and more.

Anatomy and kinesiology

The system involves no departure whatsoever from conventional anatomy and kinesiology.


Labanotation uses abstract symbols to define the:

  • Direction of the movement
  • Part of the body doing the movement
  • Level of the movement
  • Length of time it takes to do the movement[1]

The shapes of the symbols indicate nine different directions in space and the shading of the symbol specifies the level of the movement.

Labanotation is a record of how you move so that you can do the same thing again and again. The symbols are placed on a vertical staff, the horizontal dimension of the staff represents the symmetry of the body, and the vertical dimension time. The location of the symbol on the staff defines the body part it represents. The centre line of the staff represents the centre line of the body, symbols on the right represent the right side of the body, symbols on the left, the left side.

The staff is read from bottom to top and the length of a symbol defines the duration of the movement. Drawing on western music notation, Labannotation uses bar lines to mark time measures and double bar lines at the start and end of the movement score. The starting position of the dancer can be given before the double bar lines at the start of the score.

Spatial distance, spatial relationships, transference of weight, centre of weight, jumps, turns, body parts, paths, and floor plans can all be notated by specific symbols.

Although the abstract symbols represent Laban's work on shape, Laban's theories of effort (see Laban Movement Analysis) can also be represented in Labanotation. The four effort categories are:

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

and they appear in the notation as an effort graph:

Laban effort graph

The basic difference between Kinetography Laban and Labanotation is how the system is perceived:

It is this difference that explains the differing interpretations of the notation by the two groups.

Labanotation is used in a variety of settings including Laban Movement Analysis, dance notation, documentation and reconstruction, Movement analysis, Robotics, Human movement simulation and Human movement synthesis.

Motif Description is a subset of Labanotation that depicts the overall structure or essential elements of a movement sequence.

Bartenieff Fundamentals(sm)

Bartenieff Fundamentals(sm) 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.

A set of concepts, principles and exercises that apply Laban’s movement theory to the physical / kinesiological functioning of the human body, the BF include:

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


There is one main institution dedicated to Laban's work: the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in New York (US).

The Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies - LIMS NYC was established by Irmgard Bartenieff in 1978 as an organization for Laban & Bartenieff movement studies in all walks of life and offers the title of CMA(Certified Movement Analyst) through graduate level Certification Programs.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ "Handbook for Laban Movement Analysis" Written and Compiled by Janis Pforsich. copywrite Janis Pforsich 1977

External links


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