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  • Writer's pictureDarren Woodland

Laban Movement Analysis, Labanotation, and Dance Composition

This post will go over my findings and understandings around Laban Movement Analysis, Labanotation, and the relation to dance theory and composition.

Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) and Labanotation (LN) are two closely related concepts in the field of dance and other kinesthetic-related areas, created by the dance artist, theorist, and teacher Rudolf Von Laban. Both concepts have been revolutionary in our understanding and analysis of human movement, as well as how we notate, compose, and choreograph dance.

Laban Movement Analysis (LMA)

Laban Movement Analysis is a comprehensive and systematic method for observing, describing, and understanding human movement. Developed by Laban in the early 20th century (with extensions and further development by Laban’s students and contemporaries), LMA provides a framework for examining movement from various perspectives, including the physical, mental, and emotional aspects. It has applications in various fields such as dance/theatre, sports, medicine, and human-computer interaction.

LMA consists of four main components:

  1. Body: This component focuses on the different body parts involved in a movement and how they relate. The body, itself, is broken down into four parts.

    1. Initiation – the initiation of movement from different bodies and body parts.

    2. Connection – The connection between bodies and parts.

    3. Sequencing – The sequence of movements between parts of the body.

    4. Pattern – Patterns that arise between the connectivity and organization of the body.

  2. Effort: This component, also called dynamics, examines the qualitative aspects of movement, such as the energy and intention behind the movement. There are four main effort factors: Space, Weight, Time, and Flow. Each factor can exist in two polarities/versions (Fighting or Indulging). Efforts can also exist in a series of combinations, each combination having its own mix and distinct flavoring of the four main factors of Effort. These combinations exist in two forms, Drives and States. Drives are combinations of all four elements, States are combinations of just two.

    1. Space: Direct or Indirect

    2. Weight: Strong or Light

    3. Time: Sudden or Sustained

    4. Flow: Bound or Free

  3. Shape: This component describes the way the body changes its form during movement. How various body parts morph and change to support the movements of other parts. It also looks at the way the body grows, shrinks, or maintains its shape in relation to the environment and other people. There are many subcategories of shape.

    1. Forms – The static shapes the body makes as it moves.

    2. Modes of Change – The relationship and interactions between the body and the environment.

      1. Flow – The relationship between the body and itself. Self-understanding and expression of movement. “Body consciousness.”

      2. Directionality – The body and its parts are directed towards a point in the environment.

      3. Carving – Real-time or active three-dimensional (3D) interaction between the body and the environment.

    3. Qualities – Describes the way the body changes as it moves towards a point in the environment. Expanding, shrinking, advancing, retreating.

    4. Flow Support – How the body’s center or torso changes to support the movement of other extremities.

  4. Space: This component deals with various aspects of the relationship between motion and the environment it takes place. This component looks at the spatial aspects of movement, such as the direction, level, patterns, and pathways of the movement. It also considers the relationship between the dancer and the surrounding environment. Oftentimes described by Laban as a series of platonic solids. The Space category is arguably the most complex with many theories from others continually being explored within this domain. For the research, there is a heavy emphasis on the Kinesphere (the immediate area the body moves in) and Space Harmony (a practice/theory based on patterns in nature and design principles)

Labanotation (LN)

Labanotation is a symbolic system for recording and analyzing human movement, particularly dance. It was developed by Laban as a way to preserve and share choreographic works, allowing dancers and scholars to study them in depth. LN uses a combination of symbols, lines, and notations to represent the various aspects of movement, such as direction, duration, and dynamics. It is the underlying structure (characters and sentences) for a form of dance movement language. Similar to other shared languages for understanding abstract concepts, such as music notation.

The LN system uses a series of abstract symbols and staves that represent the main concepts comprised of the following elements:

  1. Direction/Levels: The direction symbols indicate the direction and level body parts must move in when performing a movement. The shape indicates the direction, while the shading indicates the level.

  2. Body part: A separate set of symbols is used to represent the different body parts that are used to perform a movement.

  3. Duration: Duration is indicated by the length of the symbols on the stave. Longer symbols represent longer durations, while shorter symbols represent shorter durations. It borrows from western music notation the measure lines that break up movement on the score and denote movement start and end (double lines)

  4. Dynamics: Dynamics are notated using special symbols that represent the different effort factors of LMA (Space, Weight, Time, and Flow).

Relation to Dance Theory and Composition

Laban's concepts have had a profound impact on dance theory and composition. LMA provides a language for describing and analyzing movement, which has helped choreographers and dancers develop a deeper understanding of their art form. It also gave them the tools to create more complex, nuanced, and expressive choreography.

LN, on the other hand, has allowed for the preservation and dissemination of choreographic works, enabling dancers and scholars to study and learn from the masters of the past. This has led to a greater appreciation for dance, as well as the development of new styles and techniques.


Rudolf von Laban. (2023, March 22). In Wikipedia.

Laban movement analysis. (2023, March 1). In Wikipedia.

Labanotation. (2023, March 21). In Wikipedia.

Motif description. (2021, March 16). In Wikipedia.

Laban notation symbols. (2021, June 11). In Wikipedia.

Space Harmony. (2021, June 11). In Wikipedia.

Crystalline Movement Studies. Visualisingmotionin3d.

Moving Space for Web - Laban Movement Analysis. Labanlabs.

NYU movement research group. Nyumovement.

Laban Movement Analysis: an Introduction for Actors | Backstage. Backstage.

Debaig, C. (2019, April 1). Using Laban Movement Analysis to create a framework of interactions [Research & Theory]. Medium.

the story of why: dance notation. Thestoryofwhy.

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