Monday, January 25, 2010

2004 Motif Symposium – "Laban’s Effort and Guest’s Dynamics: A Comparative Lexicon"

Submitted by Jimmyle Listenbee - January 30, 2006

[The following is reprinted from “Seeing, Doing and Writing Movement,” Proceedings of the Motus Humanus Advanced Seminar in conjunction with Motif Symposium II, July 15-18, 2004, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Edwardsville, Illinois. Jimmyle Listenbee, editor.]


Ann Hutchinson Guest's views on dance dynamics differ greatly from the effort system in Laban Movement Analysis, both in orthography and in theoretical foundations. Through presentation of a comparative lexicon and exploration of applications, this session invites participants to consider an inclusive ‘both-and’ relationship between these views of movement and dance dynamics where each system can have its uses and applications within the greater field of Laban studies.

Part I: A comparative lexicon.

This paper attempts to identify constituent meaning components of symbols within the two systems and to examine which components are common to both and which are unique to each. Theoretical assumptions are articulated, especially those concerning the inner/outer integrity of meaning in movement. Historical sources are cited. This lexicon is intended as a rudimentary reference to the two systems: definitions, overlaps, gaps and theoretical underpinnings.

Part II: Exploration of applications.

The presentation will feature movement interpretations of comparative symbols by performers with innately contrasting dynamic “signatures.” Conference participants will explore applications of the two systems through observation, notation and discussion of comparative analysis.

Contents of Paper:

1. A Common, Emerging Lexicon
2. Historically Divergent Conception of Dynamics/Effort
3. Effort and Guest-Dynamics Defined
4. Major Philosophical and Theoretical Contrasts
5. Guest-Dynamics Lexicon Defined: self & LMA terms
6. Advantages and Disadvantages of Each System
7. A Cross-linguistic Experiment


1. A common, emerging lexicon

For the purpose of writing movement motifs, Laban theorists and practitioners share a common understanding of a core vocabulary, syntax and autography . The primary architect and archivist behind its linguistic structure and lexical core – through collegial collaboration, theoretical invention, synthesis and publication – is Ann Hutchinson Guest. However, many other theorists have contributed to its structural framework and lexical content.

The common lexicon is generally known as “motif,” “motif writing” or “motif description” and is written in Laban symbols on a vertical staff, as shown in Figure 1 below.

The lexical core is amplified further by incidental symbols and integrated sets of symbols developed by various constituent institutions and individuals, some of which predate Guest’s publications, such as the Effort grid shown below in Figure 2. Some are more recently developed, such as the Shape Grid, Patterns of Total Body Connectivity and Theme Bow examples shown below in Figures 3, 4 and 5. Newly symbolized concepts are continually emerging through various states of assimilation into general use.

(The two examples shown in Figure 4 are part of the larger set of body connectivity symbols based on developmental patterning developed by Peggy Hackney and the Integrated Movement Studies (IMA) faculty. The Theme Bow in Figure 5 was developed by Charlotte Wile of the Dance Notation Bureau (DNB) and the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies (LIMS). The whole Laban community eagerly awaits Wile’s soon to be published text dealing with many issues related to this paper.)

2. Historically Divergent Conception of Dynamics/Effort

While discrete specialized areas of theory/notation (such as the analysis of pre-effort developed by Judith Kestenberg) may remain intact yet unassimilated, and while minor misunderstandings and disagreements involving details of signification and interpretation may be pinpointed (and, if not always resolved, at least defined) there is one area of the lexicon which presents a more difficult problem for integration.

The domain of Dynamics represents a real philosophical and practical divergence within the larger world of Laban studies. Since the 1950’s two separate theoretical strains have developed: Effort (concerned more with the internally motivated meaning of dynamic expression) and Guest-Dynamics (concerned more with the physical reality of dynamic expression.)

2.1. Certain key terms recur in the discussion of each system, and their variously nuanced interpretations contribute to presumptions and misunderstandings underlying the debate. The term “dynamics” is generic, used in many expressive and functional contexts, including the fields of engineering, music and kinesiology.

2.1.1 ‘Dynamics’ describes the changing, impelling ,driving, relationship of energetic forces or powers that give movement its expressive quality.

2.1.2 ‘Energy’ is defined as force, power, potency, dynamic energy. Energy is measurable: a unit of energy is an erg; energy consumption can be measured in calories.

2.1.3. A ‘Quality’ is a characteristic describing the nature of a thing.

2.1.4. ‘Force’ is power, sometimes with the additional implication of being weighty, convincing, and/or meaningful.

2.1.5. ‘Weight’ is the heaviness, pressure, load, massiveness, value and/or gravity of a thing. Weight is measurable in pounds.

2.2. Effort. The notion of Effort, first articulated by Rudolf Laban in Mastery of Movement, then investigated by himself and Lawrence through functional application, and further developed by Irmgard Bartenieff, Warren Lamb, Vera Maletic, Carol-Lynne Moore, Marion North, Valerie Preston–Dunlop and others, is the basis for description of dynamics in most Laban-based certificate and degree granting institutions including
Columbia College/Chicago
LIMS/New York
University of Surrey
2.3. Guest-Dynamics. The system of dynamics first touched on by Knust and Sigurd Leeder, further explored by the International Council of Kinetography Laban (ICKL), and greatly expanded during the past two decades by Ann Hutchinson Guest, herein referred to as Guest-Dynamics), is the basis for description of dynamics in Language of Dance® (LOD).

2.4. Why two systems?

2.4.1. The community at large already recognizes each. Labanotators at the DNB use both Effort and Guest-Dynamics in scores. Symbols for each are included in American notation software, LabanWriter. Vera Maletic has published a method for incorporating both and/or either into motif notation on a vertical staff.

2.4.2. Certified [Laban] Movement Analysts (CMAs), schooled primarily in Effort analysis may ask, “Why incorporate another system for noting dynamics when our subtle, broadly tested rubric has already proven itself applicable and valuable in so many diverse situations?” On the other hand, practitioners of LOD may question “Does the Effort system address the role of body mass in qualitative expression?” and, “If so, then how so?”

2.4.3. My answer in writing this paper is that
  • Each system offers creative and analytical perspective not included in the other;
  • They may be partially understood in terms of each other; and
  • Facility with both (and with any additional emerging systems) will only enrich our already magnificent and generative language.
3. Effort and Guest-Dynamics defined

3.1. Effort

3.1.1. I will define Effort here as “The complex inner attitudes of a human being expressed through his/her observable movement.”

3.1.2. Effort is analyzed through subtle changing configurations, both simultaneous and sequential, of four factors, each on a continuum, which describe attitudes toward:
  • flow (free to bound),
  • weight (light to strong),
  • time (sustained to quick), and
  • space (indirect to direct.)
3.2. Guest-Dynamics:

3.2.1. Guest defines her system of dynamics as “the ebb and flow of energy [in the body], how energy is used and to what degree.” “…’how’ [an] action is presented, the quality, the texture, i.e., the dynamic content.” (Guest. 2004. Ch. 1, p 24)

3.2.2. Theoretical base: PAR

theory is based on the notion of PAR, which is defined as:
  • The level of energy required or expected for the functionally efficient performance of any given movement in a given situation.
  • The base reference, individually established for each movement event.
Dynamic qualities are conceived and notated as being above or below the imaginary horizontal line of PAR, in reference to the vertical line of gravity depicted in Figure 6 below. Various qualities are symbolized by dots inside bows above and below PAR. Black dots and symbols indicate a large amount; white dots and symbols indicate a large amount.

The Guest-Dynamics lexicon under consideration in this paper comprises
  • Accents (strong and slight), which are always sudden;
  • Emphasis (and its opposite counterpart “unemphasized”) which both rely on various contrastive factors;
  • Gravity Dynamics (uplifted, buoyant, weighty, heavy), which relate to the awareness, the sensing of the body’s weight in the field of gravity; and
  • Force Dynamics (strong, gentle, relaxed, limp),which relate to the process of activating the body’s weight through varying degrees of muscular tension in order to effect action or accomplish tasks in the world.
(Dr. Guest has circulated various papers including up to 64 different symbols for dynamics including variation.)

3.3. Fundamental Effort and Guest-Dynamics Symbology

Table 1 below shows the fundamental comparative symbology addressed in this paper.

4. Major philosophical and theoretical contrasts between Effort and Guest-Dynamics

Effort is tied to the emanation of unqualified psychological truth expressed visibly in human motion. For this reason, it has been applied in many diagnostic as well as performance contexts. Effort is primarily descriptive, and because it describes the complex flow of inner life, the subtle changes of variables in process represented by this notation create unique and subtle records of dynamic sequences. The prescriptive use of effort requires that the performer identify with its content on the subtextual level within a meaningful phrase.

Guest-Dynamics, on the other hand, provide a simpler approach to dynamics. These symbols sketch moments of outstanding dynamic content easily observed and quickly notated, with less attention to transitional qualities. When used prescriptively in scores, much freedom (in terms of effort) is allowed in interpretation, but force dynamics (in terms of physics) remain constant.

Table 2 below shows major aspects of philosophical comparisons.

5. Guest-Dynamics Lexicon Defined in its own and in Effort terms.

In order to identify overlapping concepts – or at least provide a point of departure for the discussion of them – and to expose unique concepts present in one system and missing in the other, I have created three tables below defining fundamental Guest-Dynamics in its own terms, and in terms of Effort whenever possible.

Table 3 below shows ‘Accents’ and ‘Emphasis’; Table 4 shows ‘Gravity Dynamics’; Table 5 shows ‘Force Dynamics.’

6. Advantages and Disadvantages of Each System

The most salient difference between these two systems – which can function advantageously or disadvantageously, depending on the application – is that effort describes change within a phrase, while Guest-Dynamics primarily addresses isolated instances of dynamic content.

Table 6 below presents a comparative overview of other differences perceived as advantageous or disadvantageous by this author. In presenting my perspective, my intention is to provide a point of departure for continued discussion – not to establish an evaluative rubric.
7. A Cross-linguistic Experiment

In my recent teaching, I have enjoyed the simplicity with which I am able to present certain Guest-Dynamics symbols, the ease of their application, and the open variety of their correct potential interpretations. I have also begun to observe certain consistent Effort and Shape patterns that occur in response to each symbol. I first began to notice such patterns in my untrained college freshmen students three years ago, and since then I have also observed in the context of LOD certification courses, that master and novice teachers, advanced and beginning students, also produce predictable constellations of effort/shape interpretations in response to Guest-Dynamics cues.

(At this point in the presentation, we moved into a studio and invited guest Karen Buchheim warmed us up with her version of Anne Green Gilbert’s Brain Dance ©.)

7.1 The Experiment
  • Participants were assigned to observer groups of four, each group comprising three Laban Movement Analysts and one Language of Dance® specialist.
  • Each participant was provided with motif scores of nine phrases, which Jimmyle Listenbee and Oona Haaranen performed as separate interpretations of the scores. (Listenbee chose herself and Haaranen as demonstrators in order to present two movers with contrasting innate effort preferences – to put it simply, Jimmyle normally functions in mobile or awake state, while Oona does so in strong, stable)
  • Listenbee and Haaranen’s scores contained Guest-Dynamics notations, but the participants’ scores contained no dynamic notations.
  • Participants were asked to individually add dynamic notations to their scores – using either Guest-Dynamics or Effort according to their preferences.
  • Following the performances, participants compared and discussed their observations and notations within their groups.
  • Then Listenbee distributed copies of the Guest-Dynamic notated scores for further comparison.
  • The session concluded with brief plenary comments from each foursome.
7.2 Notes concerning observation patterns summarized by Listenbee from notations voluntarily shared by eight participants.


Davies, Eden. 2001. Beyond Dance. London: Brechin Books.

Gilbert, Anne Green. 2001. Brain Dance. Informational insert in Videotape, Brain Dance, Variations for Infants through Seniors, 2003. EducationalVideosPlus.

Guest, Ann Hutchinson. 1996. ‘Dance Dynamics Part One – ‘what exactly do we mean by dynamics?’ in Dance Theater Journal, Volume 13, No. 2, Autumn/Winter 1996, pp. 28-33.

––– 1984. Dance Notation, the process of recording movement on paper. New York: Dance Horizons.

––– 1983. Your Move, a new approach to the study of movement and dance. Luxembourg: Gordon and Breach Publishers.

–––1977. Labanotation, 3rd Edition. 1977. New York: Routledge.

Hackney, Peggy. 2002. Making Connections. London: Routledge.

Knust, Albrecht. 1979. Dictionary of Kinetography Laban (Labanotation). Estover: MacDonald and Evans.

Laban, Rudolf. 1975. The Mastery of Movement. Boston: Plays, Inc.

Moore, Carol-Lynne. 2005. Movement and Making Decisions. New York: Rosen.

Preston-Dunlop, Valerie. 1997. ‘Dance Dynamics Part Two – focusing on the rhythmic form of the movement itself’ in Dance Theater Journal, Volume 14, No. 1, Spring/ Summer 1997, pp. 34-38.

–––1967. Readers in Kinetography Laban, Series B, Motif Writing for Dance, Books 1-4. London: MacDonald & Evans, Ltd.

No comments:

Post a Comment