Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Space or Shape, Spoke or Central?

By Nicholas Ward et al. 
Submitted by Charlotte Wile - December 18, 2012

[The following discussion was originally posted on CMAlist]

From Nicholas Ward, November 6, 2012

Hello Everyone,

Probably a rather basic question. I was wondering if someone could clarify the following or direct me to a source which does.

Im wondering when it might be apt to describe a movement in terms of the manner in which the mover reveals the kinesphere, central or peripheral i.e. using Space, as opposed to describing the movement in terms of the Directional Movement part of Shape i.e. spoke like or arc like. Also similarly when describing a movement as transverse approach to kinesphere as opposed to Shape carving or shaping. In my reading Im having trouble working out when one should use Space and when one might describe in terms of Shape. Im thinking about a trombonist for example and wondering if I might consider the hand that is extending the slide as spoke like (Shape) or central approach to kinesphere (Space).

This is all "arm chair" labanising here by the way. Im just reading through some stuff and trying to get the difference between the above straightened out. 

Any direction or insight gratefully received,
Many thanks

From Richard Haisma, November 6, 2012

Hello Nick,

This has been an on-going source of discussion and sometimes controversy, that is, the question being "Is this movement about Carving (Shaping) or about Transverse Spatial Tension?"   

As a teacher of LMA I have three ways of attempting to resolve this for my students:

1]  Remembering always that "Space is Space, and Shape is Shape." This means that Space is about angles, directions, and the Kinesphere that surrounds and is OUTSIDE the body. Space is about the Where of the movement.  Shape is about the form of the Body and about the changing sculptural  value of the Body.  With these simple intellectual distinctions one can sometimes immediately  receive  enough pristine perceptions to be able to say the movement is more about the Space than the Shape or  vice versa. However, there is also no contradiction between a movement being both Carving AND  Transverse Spatial Tension, again, because Space is Space and Shape is Shape. Your example of the  trombone player is a case in point:  the movement can be exactly described as Spoke-like Directional  Shape with Central SpatialTension (and Pathway). The determination is simply stickier when the juxtaposition  is Carving vs. Transverse Spatial Tension.  

2]  Within any complex, fundamental and comprehensive system there are bound to be some areas of overlap.  The LMA system does not fall apart if a few, and they are only a few, categories seem to overlap in their experience. For example, in recent years  "Relationships"  has received  more attention to the point of being almost a completely separate major category, as with some people now saying BESSR, with the "R"  standing for Relationships.  Within that category we have the subsets of "Addressing, Nearing, Touching and Supporting."  Now, Addressing is always going to have a lot about it that resembles Space Effort, either Direct or Indirect.  How could one address something without looking like one is giving Attention to it, which word is key in the definition of Space Effort?   Therefore, that Carving might on occasion resemble Transverse Spatial Tension is not such a strange, or game-ending,  phenomenon. 

3]  There are some in the LMA community who do not feel that Spatial Tension is a real category of movement  experience, especially Transverse.  They feel that Spatial Tension can be rather entirely well accounted for by the  other categories of BESS, and that in particular Transverse Spatial Tension is nothing other than Shaping (Carving).  Sometimes some CMAs seem to be asking:   Isn't what we're referring to as Spatial Tension just a composite of BESS?   Or furthermore, does Spatial Tension have a singular content that is uniquely identifiable?  Yet, by way of response to these questions, we certainly do not object to the idea that Effort might have its Body or Shape or Space components. When Charlotte Wile, for example, defines Basic Actions as having an IRREDUCIBLE  character, such as "Aerial," for example, she is certainly correct,  for there is nothing in the world quite like leaving the support of the earth and going  into the air. However, could one ever accomplish an Aerial moment without a certain configuration of Effort (likely Quick  and Light) and also a Weight Transfer, which itself is yet another Basic Action. So the Basic Action of "Aerial" is not irreducible  in the sense of being composed of only a single quality, but rather it is irreducible in its Gestalt as an action. It has a unique identity.  Likewise, Spatial Tension, tho it may rub elbows with Shape and Body and Effort,  arises as an irreducible experience synergistically out of the entire quality of one's action in Space.  When the Queen of England is in the process of shaking your hand she undoubtedly uses a Central Spatial Pathway, while yet putting an edge to it with Peripheral Spatial  Tension.  That PST in her arm, hand and finger tips gives the experience of her extension of her hand towards you a very  particular feeling and meaning, which says, among other things, "I am, while shaking your hand, nevertheless, keeping you at a distance."   A lumberjack in the north woods might more likely shake one's hand with a Central Pathway and Central Spatial Tension. From this point of view Spatial Tension is not merely a composite of BESS but rather an embodiment of the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Something extra has arisen that wasn't  there in the separate parts before. Yes, I could say that the Queen of England is extending her hand towards me with a Central Pathway, Spoke-like Directional Shape and Bound Flow, which would not be untrue, yet by saying that she was  using Peripheral Spatial Tension with a Central Pathway immediately signals the presence of a psychology  which we were not  hitherto cognizant of , that is, the distancing. 

Just as Effort arises out of how one uses one's Shape and Body and Space, yet remains uniquely Effort, so too Spatial Tension  may arise out of particular configurations of Body, Effort, Space and Shape, yet arises as a unique category with its own flavor.

Thanks for your questions, Nick,  which have a certain fundamental and abiding substance.
I hope what I've written can help. 


From Rozemarijn van Berkel, November 6, 2012

Hi Nick and Richard,

I introduced Spatial Tension to my 2nd year Modern Dance students in Amsterdam today, and I would like to say:

Thank you Nick for asking the question, and thank you so much Richard for this extensive, insightful answer!


Roze Van Berkel

From Nicholas Ward, November 6, 2012

Hello Richard,

Many thanks for your detailed response. That's really helpful.All the best


From Karen Bradley, November 6, 2012

It's been a busy two days here, but I wanted to shoot a response to you, Nick, which is simply:

the movement you describe (trombonist extending hand) sounds more like a Body-level movement, i.e. extension (with flexion as the other part of the phrase). Describing the movement using Space or Shape would mean the mover/trombonist is either approaching or creating a pathway through the space alongside the trombone, no?


From Martha Eddy, November 7, 2012 

In my training and viewing of movement:

the words that indicate the need for the 'gestalt' (unique complex as described by Richard) of SHAPE are relational:

what is the mover's process of changing from one form in space to another?

As Kestenberg explained s/he may be more self-involved (shapeflow),
bridging toward or defending against a person, experience or concept (directional), or interacting with (shaping)... These questions serve as a texture as I view for 1-2-3 dimensional movement and their pathways as well.

Approach to Kinesphere is also profoundly relational as anyone involved with conflict resolution (www.EmbodyPeace.org) knows-

peripheral tensions keeping the outside out or inside in often along 2D arco-elliptical pathways but limited to that (and are often a cousin of bound flow),

central tensions making connections from inside to outside (often along 1-D pathways)

transverse tensions stirring within and without (often along uneven 3D pathways).

I pray that more of our politicians here in the USA experience this diversity of expressive range. It is these subtleties in movement that make great music.


From Richard Haisma, November 8, 2012 

Hello Karen and Nick,

The dogma that I teach my students, derived not from myself but from Laban, is that there is no possible movement without space, ever. Conversely I do not understand how a mere trombone might nullify the need to talk about a spatial component. In notation, placing the cross of axes at the head or chest level, playing the trombone would seem to be an action which is moving from Place Middle to Forward Middle, and the trombone cannot cancel the reality of the movement of the hand and arm along that pathway. Therefore, in this whole action, it seems to me the LMA would be: BODY = Extension-Flexion; SHAPE = Spoke-like Directional; SPACE = in the Octahedron from Place Middle to Forward Middle, and, still in Space, APPROACH TO THE KINESPHERE = Central Pathway with probable fluctuations between Central and Peripheral Spatial Tension; EFFORT = well, that would depend on whether what's being played is Debussy or Muddy Waters. Certainly at any given moment some of these four BESS categories are going to be more important than others, or will "pop out" as we say, yet the Space component would seem never to go away. The example, after all, is not of a drummer, pianist, violinist, flautist, cellist or cymbal player but of a trombonist, each of which would have a different, and maybe even defining, spatial notation. On the other hand, Karen, maybe I simply did not correctly understand your comment to Nick.


From Karen Bradley, November 8, 2012

Yes, all aspects of movement are present in any event, but in LMA we are interested in the essential characteristics of an event, right? We can argue for days (and we have...;) ) about the theory of Space vs. Shape vs Spatial Tensions, but without seeing the movement event itself, we are arguing theory, without real examples.

In the trombone example, which we could not all look at to see how this particular trombonist was exercising his body movement, it seemed to me that we probably COULD all agree that the essence of the movement is most likely the extension and flexion action of the arm. That may be modified by Effort; it may also have a Directional Mode of Shape Change aspect, Central Spatial Tension, etc. Unless we all see the guy doing it however, we are making stuff up with our imaginations, right?

My two cents, and also appreciating the discussions about the differences between Spatial Tensions and Modes of Shape Change, which are endlessly fascinating but won't be resolved until a lot of experts look at the same video and see the same things emerging in importance.


From Barbara Nordstrom-Loeb, November 8, 2012

Hi all of you, I have been appreciating this discussion and loving that the question was asked. It is a wonderful gift to read the conversation. If I may chime in, Richard, while yes, all elements of LMA are potentially always present, it can get cumbersome and also not always useful to articulate what is happening on such a micro-level. Being able to tune into the aspects of BESS that are more predominant and more nuanced can be a useful aspect, for me in using LMA. For example I had a student (an artist) who tended to be most clear spatially when they moved, and I found that in teaching her, if I used spatial guidance, it was easier for her to learn the movement.

It seems to me that the decision of whether to use Body or Space terminology would reflect a number of factors, including the intention of the observation (are you teaching, writing about, assessing etc) as well as the balance between the various BESS elements of the movement being described...so yes they are all there, but not all of them might be equally relevant in that context.
Barbara Nordstrom-Loeb 

From Richard Haisma, November 8, 2012

Hello Karen and Nick and Barbara,

I thought we were discussing theory in general. Without the presence of the concrete example, I agree we would just be making stuff up with our imaginations. (This is made clear when I say that we couldn't talk about Effort unless we knew concretely what kind of music was being played.) Without the presence of the concrete example, I was simply trying to tease apart the ingredients of LMA, justifying the validity of the Spatial Tension category. In the presence of the actual concrete experience, either live or videoed, I would not be interested in delineating every possible LMA ingredient, nor would I, with any particular client or student, want to burden them with the entire LMA system for any particular movement or coaching event. But when Nick gave us his example we were led to believe that the Space and Shape differences were the aspects he was most interested in, and, in fact, we didn't know at that time which aspect of LMA we ourselves might ultimately be most interested in. So I was talking theory and insisting that in theory Space cannot be ignored. I think the way, however, I used my language probably suggested that, even without seeing the concrete example, I was going to insist that I could analyze the movement of a trombone player "in absentia." I did not mean that, but only that in theory the ingredients in the movement would be such and such.

Therefore, as I had wondered, it's now clear, Karen, that I was not correctly understanding your comments to Nick. In particular your final comment threw me off: "Describing the movement using Space or Shape would mean the mover/trombonist is either approaching or creating a pathway through the space alongside the trombone, no?"

I didn't realize that the hidden assumption in that comment was that "If we are going to describe the trombonist's movement ONLY in its essential or most important aspect, then we would not talk about Space."


Monday, December 10, 2012

Table - Wheel - Door Plane Question

By Andrea Treu-Kaulbarsch et al.
Submitted by Charlotte Wile - December 10, 2012

[The following discussion was originally posted on LabanTalk and CMAlist]

From Andrea Treu-Kaulbarsch, November 2, 2012

Hello everybody,

I have a question regarding Laban's planes.

I have recently watched Valerie Preston-Dunlop and Anna Carlisle's video called "Living Architecture" and to my great surprise they talk about the planes being in relation to each other in the golden mean. I had never heard that before though the one drawing by Laban of the table plane shows the figure standing and only reaching his hands out to the corners which would of course mean that the plane has to be smaller than the door plane.

Can anyone enlighten me on this, I would greatly appreciate this.

Many thanks,

From Sandra Hooghwinkel, November 2, 2012

Hi Andrea,

I also only learned about the planes’ relation being in the golden mean this Summer, and I loved the discovery of this..

As they are ‘derived from’/correlated to the vertices of the Icosahedron, it is mathematically correct that the planes are in fact golden rectangles, I think. Also in the wikipedia on Golden Ratio I found this:

“In connection with his scheme for golden-ratio-based human body proportions, Zeising wrote in 1854 of a universal law "in which is contained the ground-principle of all formative striving for beauty and completeness in the realms of both nature and art, and which permeates, as a paramount spiritual ideal, all structures, forms and proportions, whether cosmic or individual, organic or inorganic, acoustic or optical; which finds its fullest realization, however, in the human form."[51]

Sandra Hooghwinkel

From Stacey Hurst, November 2, 2012 


All the planes have golden mean ratios and are considered "Golden Rectangles" (they are all the same size).  The vertical plane (door) has the most height, horizontal (table) plane the widest and sagittal plane (wheel) the deepest (front/back).  Laban used the ratio of the golden mean due to the human anatomy of the ideally proportioned body.  The center of each of the rectangles is ideally the center of the human body-the diameters passing through the core.  Additionally, since the rectangles are the inner scaffolding of the icosohedron this spherical 3-D solid is the ideal way to "house" the body in space as our kinesphere.  Carol-Lynne Moore describes this in great detail in "The Harmonic Structure of Movement, Music, and Dance according to Rudolf Laban" (2010) chapter 3 & 4.  It never ceases to amaze me how Laban drew together Platonic Solids, Human proportions/golden means, art, music and architecture to form the basis of his theories!!!


From Jeffrey-Scott Longstaff, November 3, 2012

Hey Andrea

The "size" of the planes has nothing to do with it.  
The size doesn't matter.  
The planes can be any size.

The "golden mean" (also known in various ways such as "divine proportion", "golden section" and many other names) is a proportion (not a size).
In regards to a plane, the golden mean can be expressed as a ratio between the short edge of the plane to the long edge of the plane:

Short edge : Long edge
1  :  1.618
or approximately:
2 : 3
or approximately:
3 : 5
or approximately:
5 : 8

So the ratio (golden mean) is about the relative sizes of 2 edges of a plane (not the absolute size of the plane, since the plane could be any size)

Many theorists and artists studying of organic forms have theorised that this proportion has a way of governing organic growth and form (this is a HUGE subject .... a famous book is "On Growth and Form" (1917) written by D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson

Relative to human body movement, it seems that one question is:
Does limb movement create a circle, centered at the proximal joint, or does limb movement create some other form?

A circle would create a planar ratio of 1 : 1

Interestingly, in ergonomic study (specifically to design efficient workspaces for human operators (eg. an airplane cockpit) studies found that limb motions DO NOT generally occur in circular planes, but instead the planes tend to be elongated along one dimension more than the other. -- these are studies of "the shape of the workspace" with is really identical to Laban's study of the shape of the kinesphere. ("reach space" or "Work space" is generally synonymous with "kinesphere")

A tiny bit of this research is reviewed in my thesis, showing how the horizontal, medial, and frontal planes do not generally occur as circles, but tend to be lengthened along one dimension more than the other, similar to how Laban also observed:

Obviously, body motions do not HAVE TO be in these proportions.  But in Ergonomic study, researchers are looking for what are the most organic proportions of planes that feel most natural to the body and are most easily, readily and frequently produced.

So, the question is not really about "size" of any plane of motion, ... it is a question about the relative sizes (proportion) between dimensions of the plane.

Hmm, ... interesting topic I think!

From Andrea Treu-Kaulbarsch, November 3, 2012 

Hi everybody,

thanks for your great replies to my inquiry.

OK, yes, I knew that each individual rectangle of the planes is proportioned in the golden dimension. I just thought that maybe the sizes of all three planes are in relation to each other in the golden mean, also. That seemed novel but also plausible and possible, and actually, I would argue that the table plane derived from only my arms is probably in the golden mean in relation to the door plane derived from my whole body. It should be, since our bodies are in the golden mean as well  :)

Thanks again and best wishes,

From Ann Hutchinson Guest, November 4, 2012

I'm just now getting into this discussion, but I think I have some useful information to impart!

1.  Size of planes:  I took this to mean that the three planes in the icosahedron are the same size, and I think we all agree that they are.

2.  All students need to be clear that Laban's Spare Harmony planes relate to his particular construct using the icosadedron and that in the physical world all the planes are circular.  That because of the build of the body, all movements are circular by nature.

3.  The Laban terminology used - the door plane, the table plane, the wheel plane are helpful and understandable.  However, the term: vertical plane poses a problem because, with the circular model there are, in fact, many vertical planes.  In addition to the lateral plane, there is the sagittal plane and planes on the diagonals as well as all the possibilities between.

4.  The spatial analysis in Labanotation does not rest on Laban's spatial theories, we needed to use an analysis that was more universal.  Our model and that of the Eshkol-Wachmann movement notation are the same.  Their book contains excellent drawings showing the planes, the arcs and conical movements.

5.   Practitioners have simplified the signs for indicating the icosahedral points.  The side-high points, for instance, are not true side high but part-way closer to place high,  These intermediate points require more skill in drawing and look more fussy, hence the understandable decision to simplify them.

6.  Despite the facts of life, it is easy to produce straight line movements, or shall we say, movements that project a straight line image.  Starting with the arm near the shoulder (i.e. hand near shoulder) the focus of energy can be on the hand as it follows a straight path moving forward, to the side, straight up, etc.  The arm (hand) can follow a horizontal straight path, as when polishing a table.

7.  Similarly, through energizing the hand, the viewer can be made aware of arcs and circular paths in the air.  By energizing the appropriate surfaces of the arm and some use of the weight of the limb, the eye can be drawn to see the description of a cone.

I hope this is interesting; I welcome comments.


From Jeffrey-Scott Longstaff, November 4, 2012

Hi Ann

Thanks for all your great information and analysis!
- I want to comment on your point number 2 (see below)

Sure, if only one skeletal joint is articulating, then the arc of motion would be circular. However, when researchers in ergonomics (human factors) studied human motion (with intentions of designing efficient work spaces such as airplane cockpits etc.) they found that the planar motions people actually produce with their limbs are not circular, but tend to be elongated along one dimension more than the other.

-- Some of this is famous research conducted by the military for designing airplanes etc. (some of this is briefly reviewed in my thesis - a link to this in my email below).

-- Apparently this partly occurs because humans usually do not use just one skeletal joint to make a motion, but typically limb motions result from multiple joints articulating.  

-- Further, later researchers (Morasso and others - some references in my thesis) found that humans were not actually even able to make a circular motion with their arm, but that the articulations in wrist, elbow and shoulder, elbow (and torso if this is free to move) would always be combined, thus creating bumps and elongations along various part of the curvature (even if the instruction was to draw a large circle with the arm) 
-- surely advanced movers might be able to get closer to a pure circle, but the tendency is there:  In typical human movement - planar motions tend to bulge.

-- Interestingly, this does provide some support for Laban's idea of elongated planes ("Dimensional planes" they were sometimes called - each of the cardinal planes elongated along one of the dimensions), and some of the ergonomic measurements showed shapes of the cardinal planes to be elongated along the same directions as Laban reported.

Sure - single-joint motion would create a circular arc.
But the vast majority of the time, people use multiple-joints when moving
So, planar motions are generally not not-circles but are more like ovals - this is typical for actual body motion.

Maybe this distinction is between 
Local - motion resulting from each single joint
Global - resultant motion from combined motions of several joints.

Perhaps it could be generalized that:
- Labanotation more often uses a local analysis
- Space Harmony (Choreutics) more often uses a global analysis


From Martha Eddy, November 4, 2012 

Great to read this. It raises a few questions for me:

Is it safe to say arc like human movement is elliptical?

Are there mathematical relationships between ellipses and the golden mean?

What is the relationship of Space Harmony to DaVinci's famous drawings? (And how would that figure dance?)

On another front:

Does dimensional movement exist (given our three-dimensionality)?

When I was co-teaching with Bob Dunn 20 years ago he postulated that its easier to do 3D movement (most often with unequal pulls) than 1D given the nature of control of musculature needed in operate along dimensional lines. What does everyone think about 2D movement in regards to ease and efficiency? Perhaps allowing for the elongation Jeffrey refers to helps ease.

Fun to read Ann and Jeffrey's brilliance.


From Tara Stepenberg, November 4, 2012

i'll join the comment and add that it is always fun (and breathtaking) "to read ann and jeffrey's brilliance"

and have to think about dimensional movement given our "3-dimensionalness" -- "feels" like I can access the "line" of energy being talked about, even with my 3-d being, but perhaps it need to be called something else......

(ah, for a bit of skype or instant video here)

From Leslie Bishko, November 5, 2012

Martha's comments remind me of some things I learned when I animated the A Scale, and what I learned from Jeffrey's thesis (it's been a long while since I've read it), having to do with motor planning relating to our conceptualization of Trace Forms.

When I kept the animated figure's trace form precisely within the icosahedron, and made transitions as transverse as possible, her movement didn't look connected, natural and believable.  When I changed my approach and worked from body connectivity and Shape, much more was possible.  My animated figure actually revealed a preference for the saggital!  (or is that my preference?)  The broad, eliptical shapes of some of the traceforms (left-forward-middle > right-side-high > right-back-middle)clearly result from weight-shift, spine, shoulder, elbow, wrist kinetic chains.

So based on this experience, in response to Martha's question: Does dimensional movement exist (given our three-dimensionality)?, I would say definitely not in the sense of movement along a pure dimension.  But yes in the sense of slight deflections from the dimension, because we breath and have intention.  I could animate pure dimensional movement without a problem, but it would not look believable, or alive.


From Ellen Goldman, November 6, 2012


Just glancing at this, and need to mention that Dr. Kestenberg and I discussed this a lot.  The ellipse is the Planar shaping that is so valuable for the understanding of development of the Horizontal, Vertical and Sagittal planes.  The human body naturally shapes in the ellipse, which is based on the golden mean dimension.   Arc-like directional can be a circle, like the hands of a clock.  For more detail, we would have to involve Janet K and Susan Loman, but I know I have this right.  It is very important to me.  The ellipse holds the volume, while the arc-like cuts through it.

Thanks for bringing it up.

From Jeffrey-Scott Longstaff, November 6, 2012

Oh thanks for this input Ellen.   I'm very curious about so much of the information in the Kestenberg work but I am only generally acquainted with it.

I just want to ask / clarify a tiny detail:
You wrote:  "the ellipse holds the volume"
-- technically, an ellipse is just a 2 dimensional (planar) form, so it's contents would properly be described as an "area"

-- So, I'm wondering, if you are thinking about "volumes" (which technically must be a solid form), for example torso shaping creating volumes, perhaps "Ellipsoid" might be more correct (a solid, which is the 3D form of an ellipse) - these technically DO contain volumes!

For example, I love the little ellipsoidal figures created by Leslie Bishko in your online article about animation:

(if you scroll down the page there, you can see her figures for depicting polar and bipolar shape flow) I think these are great little figures for representing the shaping process.

I'm curious what other KMP practitioners think about those.