Sunday, September 16, 2012

Effort/Shape Terminology

By Fügedi János et al.

Submitted by Charlotte Wile - September 16, 2012

[The following discussion was originally posted on LabanTalk and CMAlist in August 2012.]

From Fügedi János, August 27, 2012
Dear Colleagues!

The L'Harmattan Publishing House, Hungary is going to publish Roger Copeland's book titled "Merce Cunningham: The Modernizing of Modern Dance" in Hungarian. Copeland (2003, 216) writes:

'In the terminology of "effort/shape," Cunningham style is referred to as "the alert style".'



Copeland, Roger (2003): Merce Cunningham: The Modernizing of Modern Dance. Routledge, New York and London.

Since we are not native English, for a proper translation the sentence should be understood well, but the meaning of it makes us ponder. The sentence implies, that there would be an effort/shape terminology such as "the alert style", which I have no information of, at least I have met no written source referring to this expresion as a feature of the effort/shape system. (Not to mention, that effort/shape is not about "styles", as far as I know...)

Is there anyone who can give a more detailed information on the subject?

Janos Fugedi

From Tara Stepenberg, August 27, 2012


To begin this discussion, the style of a particular technique, dancer, choreographer can be described using Effort/Shape terminology. (Note: Effort/Shape should now be referred to as Laban Movement Analysis.) indeed one of the very valuable functions of LMA is to identify specific components/attributes of style.

Seems like the author is referring to the "awake" state (an energy state of 2 effort factors) -- where movement components of space and time predominate.


From Richard Haisma, August 27, 2012


I would second what Tara says here, adding that when we set out to translate all LMA terminology into Italian for our Certification  Program there, one of the legitimate choices for "Awake State" in 
Effort  would have been the English equivalent of "Alert."  So this could likely be the case in Hungarian as well:  just one of the  options in making a translation.  And we all know people who have an Awake State style, as well as certain choreographers.


From Ellen Goldman, August 27, 2012

Hi All;

In fact "Effort/Shape" is all about style.  Susan Youngerman taught us this long ago, from an anthropologic point of view.  And yes, an Alert or Awake State could be quite consistent to Cunningham technique.  Good luck with the book.


From Deborah Heifetz, August 27, 2012

Dear Ellen and all,

This is a wonderful discussion.

I've often wondered about Rhythm/Near state.  And that it's opposite is Remote. It seems that another quality to 'Nearness' may be "Presence".  Could it be that Presence embodies as it's central qualities Weight and Time?  And if so, could we then work through States to access this elusive aspect of being, which is so difficult to describe or teach?  

Any thoughts?


From Tara Stepenberg, August 28, 2012

first thought - 

when i read "Presence" in relation to near/rhythm state, i noticed that a relationship to Space (in terms of effort and as an energetic "entity" in which i "live") clearly arises and is necessary.  I have the belief/feeling that Presence is a "state" in which all effort possibilities are ready to be activated in whatever form is needed...

i will enjoy other comments - 

glad you asked the question deborah


From Fügedi János,  August 28, 2012

Dear All,

Effort/Shape is not really my field of expertise, so thank you so much for clarification - still it is not really clear. I only read some literature on the Effort system (mainly Laban, Sharp), and it seems to be a general opinion that basic and compound Effort/Shape description is about certain qualities of movement. Though the notion of "style" has never been defined in dance (as far as I know), but used broadly, it might be referred to certain "wholeness" of performance, therefore might need other description.

But if you, Effort practitioners say, that Effort theory is expanded to describe movement "style" (characristic to a person, group, region, historical stratum, etc.), I accept it with great pleasure and would be glad to read more about it. Or shall your points be understood that movement quality equals style?

I mentioned, we are not native English, still, "style" and "state" (alert style - awake state) do not seem overlapping notions. But again, if you confirm that they are the same, we accept it with happy contentment.


From Judy Van Zile,  August 28, 2012

I am usually rather silent on matters that are out of my area of specialization, and like Janos, I am not an LMA practitioner.  But--

Also like Janos I concur that there has not been a major discussion/agreement among dance scholars/practitioners I know about a definition of style--and I personally believe there are many more ingredients that go into what might constitute an individual style than only LMA-identified factors.  (I think proceedings of the symposia of the Ethnochoreology Study Group of the International Council for Traditional Music as well as the Yearbook of Traditional Music of ICTM contain some discussions of style.)

But I would also like to encourage that serious consideration be given to issues of translation of technical terms.  When teaching Labanotation in Korea I had major discussions about how to translate the concept of "place."  And on a number of occasions I was quite clearly told that "Labanotation" was not an accurate translation of the term originally used by Laban for the system he originated--but which others have now further developed.

I think we often resort to terms in our own language but use them slightly (and sometimes not-so-slightly) differently in specialized contexts--hence requiring clarification, or an indication that "this term is being used here to mean . . . "  What this ultimately suggests to me is that it is the meaning of the words we use that is most important and that needs careful clarifying, and sometimes it may be wise to retain an original term--in its original language--and clarify its meaning in the language of the people trying to understand it.


From Gretchen Dunn, August 28, 2012

Tara--Yes, my thinking too.  Have a strong memory of being in Remote--but was very 'present'.


From Jill Mackavey, August 28, 2012

This may be splitting hairs but when I think (in English only) of the word Alert I think of the phrase, being on the Alert, which suggests a bit of alarm as well.  Awake State could include that but isn't specific to that condition.  Awake is a less loaded term that works better in English for me, at least.   


From Kedzie Penfield, August 28, 2012

I’m a bit behind on this discussion - I want to add that Effort Shape is about describing and articulating style rather than being "all about style". That's only one of the applications it can be used for. As a therapist (and performer - speaking of "presence" which is a discussion we've had before...) I feel Effort Shape, LMA whatever you want to call our language, is a tool that can be "about" many different things.

From Gill Wright Miller, August 28, 2012

For me, the whole purpose of the symbols is to acknowledge language is slippery, translation from one language to another even more so. Maybe a caveat explaining that could be added?

We have so many examples of this ... I am reminded of the "deep" vs. "low" conversations of the 1970s!

Best regards,

From Jill Mackavey, August 28, 2012

Yes, it is slippery indeed, especially when we are talking across languages and cultures.

From Melanie Clarke, August 28, 2012

I made a choreographic work that was structured by changes in Effort states (entitled Both of View).  As a performer I felt equally present in all the states encountered but the presence was different.  I feel this is the Key: States are about different ways of being present in the world rather than one being more present than others.  Working with Effort is a way of experiencing presence and thus an incredible tool for movement exploration.  Choice of Effort within an aesthetic can be a power element of style, but if I choreography using a complete mixture of Effort states I don't feel I am style-less.


From Ann Hutchinson Guest, August 28, 2012

The original name on his 1928 publication was 'Schrifttanze' (written dance).  At the Jooss-Leeder Dance School it was termed 'Script.'  Despite being there four years, I never heard the term 'Kintography Laban.'  Back in New York I finally came across the term.  At the DNB our first usage was just to call it dance notation.  We had been teaching at Hanya Holm's Studio.  There then occurred an advertisement for dance notation classes to be held at Hanya's Studio.  We knew nothing of this and discovered that it was Alwin Nikolais who was teaching his newly developed system.  We went to a lawyer who pointed out that 'Dance Notation' was a generic term, anyone can use it.  We needed to find a name that specified the Laban system.  Our thinking was that 'Kinetography' was a very foreign-sounding name.  I would tell people that I was teaching Laban notation.    It was my suggestion that we join the two words and make it 'Labanotation'.  There was never any question that this was supposed to be a translation of 'Kinetography Laban.'

I hope this bit of history may help understanding.  Incidentally, because it is a registered term, Labanotation should never be written with a lower case 'L'.  And it is up to us to immediately inform the writer of this miskate, otherwise the term would in time become generic.  A comparable situation occured when a housewife says "I need to Hoover the carpet", or "Give me a Kleenex" when you want a paper handkerchief.

I hope this is all helpful.

Warm regards,

From Tara Stepenberg, August 28, 2012

This is great to know! Hope there is someone at LIMS saving this and integrating it appropriately into "the literature and modules .



From Ann Hutchinson Guest, August 29, 2012

Dear All,

Terminology is a fascinating subject.  As some of you know, I would like to see LMA change certain terms.  But I won't go into that here.

I would like to pick up on the 'alert' term, having read the interesting comments by LMA people.  I would like to suggest the following in the order of involvement:

Awake.  A person just has to be there, with am ordinary level of energy. this in my development of Dynamics we call 'par'. 

Aware.  A person may be aware of his/her surroundings, or of another person who has just entered the room.  There is a slight heightening of intensity.

Alert.   A more intense state than Awareness.  When a person is actively listening, perhaps straining to hear, they are Alert.  It is a state that can also be "Ready for action" like sprinters at the ready before the gun goes off.  I do not see any negative connotation.  What may follow an Alert state may be positive or negative.  Alert is the opposite of relaxed for which the body and the mind 'let go'. 

I am thinking of a performer who needs to walk on stage and take a starting position.  During that entrance they are just themselves, they are Awake.  But the moment performance mode takes over, the audience knows the dance is about to start.  Or the singer is about to begin  There is a slight heightening of energy through the whole body.  The special quality used by the performer may be individual to them, or it may be a reflection of the kind of character they need to portray.

I look forward to comments on this.

Best wishes,             

From Kedzie Penfield, August 29, 2012
[Responding to Ann Hutcinson Guest’s posting above, “Terminology is a fascinating subject……”.]

I like your breakdown of the process in this way - though the question of "presence" is still in it.....maybe all of this is so individual that all we can do is try to articulate how one particular performer "does" it?


From Peggy Hackney, August 29, 2012

Greetings All, and what an interesting discussion! 

For my Certification Project in 1968, did an analysis of the Cunningham Technique and his 1968 season at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in NYC. In that season, I believe he did "Field Dances," "Rain Forest" and perhaps something else...maybe "Walk Around Time." Irmgard Bartenieff, Martha Davis, and I went to the concerts--I went every night of the season. We discussed what stood out to us....We did not do blow by blow Effort Phrase writing, but just large impressions of what was used in that evening's pieces.

I Also notated a prototypical beginning technique class in Labanotation with Effort and Shape symbols as well. 

I would say that my "findings" were that the major States were "Remote" ( primary constellation = Bound, Direct) and "Awake/Alert" (primary constellation "Direct, Sudden" and Mobile (primary constellations "Bound, Sudden" and "Low Intensity Free, Sudden." Overall the most noted Drive was "Vision."

My own personal favorite dancer was Merce himself. He was beautiful in his solos--strange and almost insect-like or animal-like. (This felt very Alert to me.)

What stood out most in terms of Shape was his preference in his choreography for "Directional Movement" with a lot of "Arc-like" and some "Spoke-like." There was almost no "Carving" or "Shape-Flow" as a Mode of Shape Change. Nor was there a lot of "Shape Flow Support" at the breath level.

That's what I remember from 1968....And, although I kept waiting for his choreography to evidence substantially different preferences over the intervening nearly 40 years of watching his company, I rarely saw that those aspects totally released. Once Alan Good joined the company, since Alan had a lot of Strong Weight, his own dancing used it.