What is Laban Movement Analysis?
If we look at a movement, let’s say someone sitting down, which in reality is a lot of movements, LMA would look at how the mover sat. What was the quality, the relationship to space, the shape of the body and the inner support and neuromuscular connectedness of the person moving.
LMA describes the following four areas of movement and how they relate to each other:
- Space – this area looks at how the mover uses space. It describes where the movement goes in space, up or down, left or right, backward or forward or a combination of these?
- Effort – describes the quality of movement. It asks, is it delicate like a movement you would use to catch a bubble or forceful like putting your foot down? Does it have a sense of urgency like trying to catch a glass before it hits the floor as it falls from the counter or sustained like lounging in the sun on a sultry summer’s day? Is it direct and focused like someone in your face making a point or diffuse like a vague indication of a direction? Or is it controlled, like when you remove a splinter from a friend’s foot? Does it have a sense of freedom and abandon like spreading seeds to the wind? What combinations of these does it use? Effort is the world of expression through quality of movement.
- Shape – looks at the way that the body moves through space. It can be flat, round, spiraling, piercing. When sitting in the crowded back seat of a car people narrow the shape of their body to fit into the available space.
- Body – here we look at the underlying organization or connectedness or disconnectedness in the body.
The next time you are in a public place like a café, where you can watch people, take a look at someone and notice what you see. If there is someone sitting at a table holding a sandwich moving their hand up and down toward their mouth, you are seeing the space.
You may look at the person holding the sandwich and see that they are holding it with a delicate touch as if it were fragile, or gripping it as if to prevent it from escape and see the effort.
Should you notice that someone seems to be encircling his food as he eats as if to prevent someone from stealing it, you would be noticing the shape of the movement.
If the person lifts the sandwich and you see an impulse that starts in their feet and travels through their legs to their pelvis, through their spine to their arm, then you are noticing the body level. How the movement is supported, or how one part of the body is connected with another is described by the body level.
LMA is about perceiving human movement. Seeing the complexity of a simple action like eating a sandwich is almost overwhelming. LMA provides a language that can be written in symbols that helps make complex actions comprehensible. It facilitates awareness and deepens movement experience.
LMA is applied in a wide variety of contexts from the performing arts like dance, theatre and voice, to a growing field in education that uses movement as a basis of learning. It is an increasingly recognized foundation to sports training and sports medicine, and is part of effective animation. It shows up in the board room in corporations, and organizational development work to help work flow, and personnel development. Political analysts, animal trainers and therapists, including movement therapists are using movement analysis as part of their practice and research.
The area of LMA that focuses on the body level is called Bartenieff Fundamentals. It was developed by the former dancer, Irmgard Bartenieff, using the principles of Rudolf Laban and her own experience as an occupational therapist restoring people’s ability to walk who were affected by muscular paralysis caused by polio.
Within Bartenieff Fundamental’s framework we will look at what Peggy Hackney (1998), a long-term student of Irmgard, calls the six developmental movement patterns. These patterns, based in part on the work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, are a basis for psychological and physical development. This is the area of my study. In the class that I taught at the Process Work Institute we were able to cover the first four. They describe patterns of connection through the body. In the order in which they happen they are:
- Breath – the organization of the whole body around the breath. For example, growing and shrinking with the breath. Stop reading for a moment and notice your breathing. Notice how breath changes the inner space of your body.
- Core-distal – a starfish-like experience of the center related to the limbs. For example, actively curling your whole body into a ball, like a fetal position. Or radiating out from your center, like in the example above when we unfolded the deeper experience of the soldier and my client felt ‘an intense center with rays coming out of it’.
- Head-tail – the relationship of your head to your spine through your back all the way to your tail. Imagine sticking your head far out a window.
- Upper-lower – the upper half of your body works with itself and the lower half works with itself, they can do different tasks. Notice this the next time you stand up from sitting, your legs push you up but your arms might be holding something.
- Body-half – the right side works with itself and the left side works with itself. Remember getting into a car, stepping in with one leg as you reach for the steering wheel with the arm of the same side of your body, then pulling your other leg in as you close the door. Getting into a car without this one is difficult.
- Cross-lateral – the upper right and lower left relate and the upper left and lower right relate. You can think of this one making an ‘X’ from your right hand to your left foot and from your left hand to your right foot. If you are confused by this, don’t worry, it’s the most complex but very versatile. If you want to experiment with it point across your body with your right hand into the upper left-hand corner of the room you’re in. Golf swings rely heavily on this connection as does simple walking with the right leg going forward at the same time as the left arm.
For each new pattern to be successful the former one needs to be established. Looked at as important parts of developing physiology, these patterns help us develop pathways for movement that facilitate the motor skills that allow us the physical and psychological functioning to flourish in life. Life skills and emotional development go hand in hand with movement development. They are also doorways into dreaming or other worlds of experience.
An Example at the Market
Let’s consider a scene that my husband, Joe Goodbread and I recently witnessed at the weekly farmer’s market. The Portland Farmer’s Market is a festive event with farmers selling their produce, home-cooks selling canned delicacies, food vendors with pastries, cheeses, and jams. Flowers delight the eye. It is a great hit with children when the balloon man creates swords, flowers, fanciful headgear, or dogs made from balloons. And the music – all day there is one band after another starting with the opening bell at 8:30 in the morning. Children jump, bounce, thump, squat, and squeal with delight as they dance to the music. They practice flying in their games jumping off of benches. It is a community event in our neighborhood.
One recent Saturday the first early morning band was missing. The market officials usually discourage busking, but because there was no band playing they didn’t seem to be interrupting the performers. A couple of men were playing guitars and singing in a rough, atonal, Bob Dylanesque style. If I could remember the words they’d be something like, ‘I don’t want to do it and you can’t make me’.
I was surprised to hear a little girl ask her mother if she could dance to this music. Her mother said yes and helped her find a space where she would be safe. The youngster listened to the music.
I watched as she listened. I wondered what she would hear that was danceable in this seemingly un-danceable music. After a pause she took a breath and it looked as if she would never stop. From some place inside of her she started to grow and expand. The movement spread through her from deep within her belly, her arms lifting upward twisting her little body in a spiral that reached toward the heavens. She was totally lost in the experience and it was captivating to see her follow herself in a purity and authenticity of expression that any professional dancer would envy. For me, the music, the market with its veggies, and community spirit dropped away, leaving this precious connection between the little girl and something that seemed to be calling her, moving her from inside.
It is this experience of connection between us and something larger that I am interested in. In my classes I have been looking at how the developmental movement patterns give ready access to these experiences especially when we are in the role of a facilitator. As facilitators, we are asked to follow experience. Depending on the situation, we are asked to facilitate both our own and our client’s awareness in a way that supports the person or group in both their everyday reality and in the largest or deepest sense of who they are. When someone comes to us with a problem, like the person I saw who was disturbed by bath towels on the floor, I want to be able to help them solve the problem in the everyday world and also connect with their deepest self. We are most able to do this as facilitators when, in addition to being who we are in our everyday world, we have some access to our deepest selves.Tags: movement