Monday, February 23, 2015

Weight, Passive Weight, Limp

Submitted by Charlotte Wile - March 24, 2015
Written by Charles Gambetta et al.

Following is a compilation of discussions originally posted on the CMAlist in February, 2015

Sat 2/21/2015 6:59 PM
From: Charles Gambetta

Hello Laban friends,

I am in the midst the section of my conducting text devoted to Weight, and I want to make sure my experience and understanding of Passive Weight are on the mark.

As a starting point I found the following definition of Passive Weight on

"Passive Weight is manifest when one lets gravity "win." Passive weight happens when you surrender to the force of gravity, whether fully into a complete collapse (Heavy Weight) or partially (Limp Weight)

I use Passive Weight more extensively in my conducting than most other conductor past or present that I've observed. (I also use it when I play the double bass, but that's another discussion altogether.

Heavy Weight seems very clear for me. If I lift my right arm in the sagittal plane from Forward/Middle to Forward/High and then release it, surrendering my arm (its weight) to gravity and allowing it to fall to my side, I have just experienced Heavy Weight with that fall, right?

Although I frequently move with something I experience as Limp Weight, I feel I need validation from a "higher source," my Laban colleagues on the CMA List, before I present the material in my text.

If I extend my right arm in the sagittal plane from Place/Middle to Forward/Middle and then move back and forth between Forward/Right and Forward/Middle with just enough bodily tension to keep my arm from sinking or dropping, that would be an example of Limp Weight, right? When I move with what I experience as Limp Weight, I envision the sensation similar to a marionette on strings. The weight of my arms is supported by strings or chords that extend above to some external force that barely overcomes gravity. If my arm(s) do rise, they feel as if they are being pulled upward by the same force. I still sense the weight of my arms as opposed to not having an awareness of the weight when Weight is activated.

I welcome suggestions, comments and corrections if I am off-base.

Thank you for your help!


Sat 2/21/2015 8:27 PM
From: Fanchon Shur

I love your description of limp as a marionette strings some people may call that neutral weight and I would love some discussion back on that but I agree that it would be limp

others have described in the past limp as for instance when your arm is up with your wrist is releasing your entire hand in the limp way with no purpose in the hand a sense of giving up but if that's giving up had been with another part of your body it would be passive weight 

Fanchon Shur

Sat 2/21/2015 9:42 PM
From: tara stepenberg

greetingssharing my bit - your description of passive (heavy) weight is clear as one variety. Passive (heavy) weight can also be like a lumbering or plodding walk - a giving into gravity, as contrasted with a resilient walk -(rebounding in relationship to gravity). I don't think passive weight has to be a complete collapse. Your description of limp (passive weight on the "light" side) is also is one clear variety. In my understanding - limp relates to light (without being active lightness) and heavy, relates to the strong continuum of the weight effort (without being an active use of weight).

good fortunetara

Sun 2/22/2015 12:49 AM
From: Fanchon Shur

my husband of 56 years was a conductor and I watched him persistently and one day a CHoralle I won an auction to conduct and I made a deal with the Choralle that I would conduct if they used a piece of my husbands music which they excepted and I enjoyed getting the basic conducting rhythms from him and having to invent my own dancers conducting mode. The most difficult part of it was to gether my very expressive dancers movements into minimalized hi focused direct and multi focused with urgency or deceleration always to have underneath but to allow the musicians the singers to always have that unified reliability of the rhythm it was not easy

I would love to read your paper

with great blessings and fond memories

Fanchon Shur

Sun 2/22/2015 5:29 AM
From: Ann Hutchinson Guest

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

This question of limp and the discussions presented so far leads me to think it may be time for the LMA community to consider seriously my questions about Laban's terminology. To begin with, he was not clear about the center of gravity; he thought it resided in the upper rim of the pelvis. We now know that it is a moveable point and may indeed, even be outside the body. Laban never separated the pull of gravity, the weight of the body itself and the use of force, energy. His use of the word 'weight' is not helpful when part of the time he means force, strength. Warren Lamb came to drop the term 'weight' and establish his own use of the term 'force' which is much clearer.

Because Laban was working in factories where people had to be actively energized, he dropped the 'relaxed', 'weak' that he had used in Eukinetics. Much later, when LMA people found the need for 'relaxed', it was given the term 'passive weight'. What exactly does that mean? An ordinary person will immediately understand the words 'weak','relaxed', 'limp', 'drooping', 'flop'. These are states in which the normal amount of energy used to maintain upright posture and function with everyday tasks, is lowered. A lowering, dropping of energy. Laban may not have needed any of these degrees for his factory workers, but we do need them for theatrical purposes, drama, dance, even for instructions in various techniques whether it be dance, playing an instrument, some form of sport, etc. The degree of such lowering of energy is often important and needs to be indicated.

Many years ago I circulated to all interested my full questioning of this whole subject. No one took up the challenge. Just on the matter of terminology it may be time to seriously reconsider a clean sweep in favor of terms that will connect directly to contemporary minds.

As I am sure you all know, I am a constant admirer of all that is being achieved through use of the highly developed system. My question now is whether it is time to look at the foundations of the ‘house’ particularly in relation to terminology.

With all good wishes,


Sun 2/22/2015 9:01 AM
From: Susan Wiesner

Leslie Bishko has been thinking about weight with regards to animation, and the need to rethink terminology and definition. I am struggling with teasing out weight/mass/force in a project observing airborne movement. This is also important to my work on computer (visual) perception of weight/mass/force of movement. Seems that more discussion is needed. Just my 2 cents. (And I'm not a CMA yet, but soon!!!)

Susan L Wiesner

Sun 2/22/2015 11:36 AM
From: Peggy Hackney

Dear Ann, Susan, and Charles,

I definitely know the depth of the controversy about Passive Weight, and we DO use the words Limp, Weak, Heavy, etc. We chose the term "Passive Weight" to cover the general category of weight use when gravity is the major mover. Charles, I feel what you have listed in your original letter is what our IMS team has been teaching.

Ann, my sense of your perspective after our many discussions personally over many years, is that you have a more "Quantitative" understanding of the Weight or Force Factor, and I feel it is more a "Qualitative" approach to the use of weight. I agree that perhaps we should have a large ALL LABAN discussion of this Motion Factor! If we move toward more quantitative in our understanding, we would need to do that in terms of the Time Effort as well, in instance. To do such a thing, would be to really change our approach to the Effort category in general.

Of course, in motion capture and the computer world in general, quantitative is what the computer "sees."

What do the rest of you out there in the movement analysis world think/feel/sense/intuit about the Weight Factor??



Sun 2/22/2015 11:50 AM
From: Karen Bradley

I completely agree with Peggy on her "big picture" approach to the issue here that challenges us. I just had a great phone conversation with Susan Wiesner about exactly the challenge of quantifying qualities that occur within a range, especially a range of perceptivity from both the mover's and the observer's point of view.

It is both exciting and daunting to be at this place in our field. One path would lead us down the road to quantitative analysis that could characterize, in the best and the worst senses of that word; another could lead us to a somewhat more mysterious position of being seers or shamans, in the best and the worst senses as well. I hope for many paths from this diverse group of experts!

But the issue is here, before us, now. How do we want to proceed with the conversation? If we get into messiness and agendas on this listserve, people will leave it, as we have seen before. I urge the higher ground here.

As for Charles: I recommend that you go with the broadest definition of limp/heavy, strong/light, and I do see some consensus around those broader definitions in this conversation. I think it also helps to make sure you look at other factors that may be, literally, at play in your analysis. Like Flow, Space, and Time! We have new texts that address some perspectives--I recommend EveryBody is a Body -- but there are more out there and coming!

Karen B.

Sun 2/22/2015 12:23 PM
From:Charles Gambetta


What have I started!? ;)

My thanks to everyone who has jumped into this discussion.

My original post posed a question about Passive Weight--NOT Weight Effort. As an LMS practitioner, I am comfortable with perceiving, analyzing and, most importantly for me, experiencing Weight Effort as well as Time, Space and Flow qualitatively.

Perhaps it is time to come up with new terms to describe Limp and Heavy... well, at least Limp.

I associate a sensation (weight sensing, right?) of weightlessness with Limp Weight as if I am outside the Earth's gravity or perhaps on the moon or some extraterrestrial body where gravity is greatly diminished.

Conversely, I associate a sensation of gravity greater than the Earth's with Heavy Weight (perhaps one of the smaller gas giants or some larger, more dense planet in a distant star system) as if my Earthly strength were insufficient to fully overcome gravity.


Sun 2/22/2015 9:15 PM
From: Ellen Shapiro

Hi Charles;

I am just concerned about your description of "limp" as without weight. One cannot engage in weight, and not be Limp. I do feel Limp is a specific state of giving into weight, a letting go, but not an omission of eight, as a Visionary person might be. We may just be using different language, but I do feel the need to add this notion. Thanks everyone for the interesting discussion.


Sun 2/22/2015 10:25 PM
From: Hilary Bryan

Dear All, 

I appreciate this conversation because I too experience and teach Passive Weight as a spectrum between Limp and Heavy, and I too confuse myself as I try to find that twilight crossover point between these extremes. It helps me to think of quantifying the quality of giving up weight, but it's still sometimes vague. When I teach in Russia and Ukraine, I use the word вялый (vialy'), which means "wilted". I say the word and I immediately see Limp Weight Effort in the room, so it seems to work. 

I like Charles' example of the marionette for Limp Weight, not as an actual marionette, but in the way that I, a human, might mime marionette movement. My pretending to be held up by strings in some parts of my body while simultaneously giving up some of my weight in others is more like what I think of as Limpness. If I were actually held up by strings and not by my own intention to *show* imaginary strings, I would be experiencing a full giving up of weight that I associate with slackness (as in a child using Heavy Weight to resist or activists going slack and forcing police to carry them away from a sit in).

In general, I'd say that my miming of marionette movement feels like it alternates between Passive Limp and Active Light Weight Efforts. However, when I get specific about what I am experiencing in different parts of my body as it pretends to be a marionette, it feels more accurate to say that my hand is in Heavy Weight as it drops completely from the pretend string at my wrist, whereas my head and chest are in Limp Weight, because they are droopy, but not completely slack, or certainly less slack than my hand. Because there is no actual string to hold them up, my head and chest are simultaneously miming passivity and actively holding themselves up. Generally, Limp Weight accomplishes much of this mimed intension. Heavy Weight might come into play at moments, but I imagine that if I used only Heavy Weight in the head and chest it might look like there were no imaginary string holding them up. Fun, but not the typical marionette scenario. :-)

My marionette example considers that different parts of the body demonstrate different shades of grey on the spectrum of Passive Weight, different amounts of weight being given up, different answers to the question "how passive can you be?" I like Peggy's articulation of quantifying a quality. This turn of phrase fits my experience of the different spectra on the Effort graph as ways to modulate my Effort Qualities. On the other hand, the phrase "giving up weight" suggests an action more than it does a quality, so perhaps there are other ways to perceive and articulate these experiences as well. I suspect that Ann's suggestion that we consider various centers of the body and how they shift might help as well.

I love new ways of perceiving -- especially when they expand my capacity to perceive, experience, articulate. I welcome this conversation.

Warm thoughts, 

Mon 2/23/2015 12:03 PM
From: Ann Hutchinson Guest

I am fascinated by the varied responses that have come in on my “Weight, Limp” contribution. Thank you all for your input. In response to Peggy’s suggestion that my take is more quantitative rather than qualitative, I would like to contribute a bit more on my view. 

I am concerned with why a particular movement quality is taking place. What is the aim? The motivation? The need? Why is there a change? 

1. The muscles in a certain part of the body may need to relax, go limp. It could be the hand, resting on the table. When it goes limp the hand does not drop toward the floor because the table prevents that change. Hold the arm out in space and the hand will droop because of the pull of gravity. But there is no intention to relate to gravity. 

2. Intentional use of gravity occurs in a swinging movement, performed often by the arms, although the head, torso, leg can also use gravity for swinging movements. To make use of gravity the normal tension in the arm is released and then regained on the upward part of the swing. Control is released and then regained. Gravity is used consciously.

3. There may be an intended wish to feel the weight of a body part, the arm, the torso, the body-as-a-whole. This quality relates, I believe to your “weight sensing”. To feel the weight, some degree of muscular control must be relinquished. The arm feels heavy and the observer can see the change. Or the body as a whole “lets go” its normal tension to a certain degree. A sagging takes place The spatial change is downward because of the pull of gravity, but a relation to gravity is not the intention, the focus. Such sagging maybe caused by fatigue or a feeling of despair, hopelessness. 

In all three of the above the muscles are releasing some degree of energy. They relinquish their normal state of tension, needed to stand upright and to perform ordinary tasks, ordinary actions. In 1) and 3) gravity is not intentionally brought into the picture, but by nature its involvement cannot be avoided. In my development of Dynamics I have provided for these different intentions. Body weight and force, strength are separated and intentional use of gravity is directly indicated. 

I shall be very interested in your responses to the above. I believe that a symposium, a conference on all this would be a fascinating and surely a productive thing. If you can organize this before I am 100 it would be great! 

With much appreciation for each of you and the important work you do, 


Mon 2/23/2015 2:32 PM
From: Leslie Bishko

I prepared an essay on expanded notions of Weight and Time in our system. I was getting ready to share it with just a few people for feedback...but this seems like a good opportunity to put it out there!

An animated film entitled Fallen Art, which I used for examples:

Brief summary: I propose a reclassification of terminology related to Weight and Phrasing - here is the heart of it:

·     Weight Sensing: rebounding qualities of sensing the weight of the body (Range of Amplitude)
o   Gentle
o   Vigorous
·     Resilience:  rebounding qualities of sensing AND using the weight of the body
o   Elasticity
o   Buoyancy
o   Weightiness
·    Active attitude towards using the weight of your body
o   Light
o   Strong
·    Passive attitude towards using the weight of your body
o   Limp
o   Heavy
·    Contact
o   Decreasing pressure
o   Increasing pressure

In outlining our terminology for Weight in this way, I'm doing a bit of a mash-up from a various contexts!  Please take a few minutes to read the essay, I hope it offers something of interest!


Mon 2/23/2015 3:02 PM
From: Leslie Bishko

I'm chasing this rapid-fire thread through my emails this morning! I posted my essay before reading these comments.

I LOVE the idea of a WORLD SUMMIT on EFFORT!

A thought on quantitative/qualitative -- my experience as someone who creates movement using animation is that there is a dance between the two. Our system embraces both, and if we can really claim this characteristic, we can make our work more accessible across the arts and sciences. I believe that the time is ripe for this! 


Wed 2/25/2015 5:11 AM
From: Ann Hutchinson Guest

Dear Colleagues, 

there have been such interesting responses to this whole topic. But I have a major problem in that, when you use the term ‘weight’ is the reference to the weight of the body? The force of gravity? Or to strength, increased use of energy, or a drop in use of energy? 

I do think it is significant that Warren Lamb came to choose the term ‘force’ instead of ‘weight’. Force is something that ‘the man in the street’ knows about and can relate to immediately. Might this be step one toward clarification? 

With much appreciation for the thinking and understanding of each of you. 


Wed 2/25/2015 6:35 PM
From: Leslie Bishko

I believe that we need multiple terms for Weight-related concepts in multiple categories of our system.

In my essay Weight Matters: a Timely Issue I discuss body weight and physiology as part of the Body category. Related to this, I love what Karen Studd and Laura Cox wrote in Everybody is a Body about Weight Support. I also feel that Gravity is a primary organizing "force" or principle. 

Some have proposed the term Energy as a more neutral concept for Effort - inside of that, the Strength or Lightness of Force makes so much sense to me! Lamb also used the terms Increasing Pressure and Decreasing Pressure. While I love the use of Increasing/Decreasing to evoke the process of change and ongoingness of movement, not all Strength or Lightness involves pressure! Pressure is only there when there is contact - pushing, to be precise. So, what would we call the Strong force of pulling? 

Forgive me for stirring up the pot here - I realize the challenge of rethinking terms that many of us have worked with for many years!


Wed 2/25/2015 7:26 PM
From: Charles Gambetta

Hello friends, 

 Movement, like music, is often a challenging subject to put into words. Our discussion of Weight is certainly one example where terms overlap... like the use of Weight as an Effort Factor, to describe Weight Sensing and its use to represent Passive Weight. I think it would help to distinguish between these aspects of Weight, but I don't have any suggestions or solutions.

Participants in the current discussion have proposed the use of "Force" to identify Weight Effort. This may be an improvement, but I am concerned that using Force would encourage at least less experienced practitioners to tilt towards quantitative and away from qualitative observations.
As a conductor, I can envision some instances where Increasing/Decreasing Pressure may be appropriate, but I don't feel that it fits for most conducting movements where Weight Effort is a factor.

Regarding Passive Weight, it helps me to remember that Passive Weight means, for me, that Weight Effort is not involved. I permit gravity to act upon or "move" my weight so Weight Effort has been 'overtaken' by either Time, Space or Flow. I know in my own work, I typically find myself momentarily in Awake State (Time & Space), Mobile State (Time and Flow)or Remote State (Space & Flow) when experiencing Passive Weight. The same could be said of Vision Drive (Time, Space & Flow).
I am happy to be a part of this discussion even if I'm not altogether pleased that I started it... Feels a little daunting to step into the breach with so many colleagues who are more expert than I.

Many thanks to everyone who has "jumped" in thus far. Your comments, observations and opinions have helped me more than you know. 


Wed 2/25/2015 7:50 PM
From: Alexandra Beller

Hi all. I am new here, finishing up my CMA at LIMS in NY. So loving this conversation, and it is so timely for me right now, as I am dealing with analyzing the dances of my (at the time) 14 month old baby (which some of you probably saw on Facebook when it went unexpectedly viral). Dealing with Weight Effort in my analysis, both active and passive, and DYING for new terms. I actually love the term Weight for passive, as it seems that this is the place when we are dealing most with Sensing (pull of gravity and actual physical body weight), and less with FORCE. To me, ENERGY as a house for Effort feels too ambivalent, as if it is something happens to us, rather than from us. But Weight Effort has never struck me as an effective description for application or active reduction of pressure. I'm a fan of the old school "FORCE," though I agree it could be easily misapplied (but then, so is BOUND FLOW often misapplied).

But while we are at it... Time? Because Sustained does not match the material that I read to describe it. Suspended is something that hs been working for me, as it seems that time is actively holding itself above the situation, but that it is present in the arena. And what about the idea of passive in the other areas? Are we just considering that pre-Effort, or is there a way for us to consider whether the attention to Time Duration is Passive Time Effort? Can attention to the space in a sensing, cellular way be passive Space Effort? Is Shape Flow support a sort of Passive Flow Effort? 

World Conference on Effort, yes. And while we are thinking of it, How about Brazil in February as the host? Because it is untenably cold here in NY. 

Alexandra Beller

Thu 2/26/2015 1:23 PM
From: tara stepenberg

so much interesting questioning here. my two-cents for today...... in my experience (and "old" training) , the "passive" category is unique to the weight effort. What Alexandra is describing regarding other effort/motion factors is not about a "passive" attitude toward those factors, but rather that other efforts or shape modes are manifest. I also understood Pre-efforts to be movement expressions that are "on their way" to being crystalized efforts, not "passive" in relation to those motion factors. And it has been a while since i explored those ideas.

Guess we all might be spending time gathering movement examples - live and on video for analysis. more another day.


tara (stepenberg)

Thu 2/26/2015 2:19 PM
From: Leslie Bishko

I have played with the idea of Time Sensing (not the same as Passive Time), using the terms Leisurely and Urgent.
  • My first image of this came to me in the experience of playing jump rope, when two people begin twirling the rope, and the jumper intuits the decisive moment to jump in. As a child, I recall doing this with my hands, moving them in time with the cycle of the rope. It also has a Weight Sensing element to it. When do I move my weight?!
  • Habitual foot jiggling, which also has a Weight Sensing quality. While a person jiggles their foot, they are creating their own experience of time. While many people jiggle at a fast pace, my husband moves his whole lower leg at a pace just less than one cycle per second when he is engaged in watching a soccer game on TV. The jiggle engages him in his own time rhythm and seems to support his sense of anticipation as he watches and waits for progress in the game.
  • Swaying and swinging actions may provide other examples. 
I see it in combination with Weight Sensing as a Rhythm Sensing State:

Weight Sensing: Gentle, Vigorous
Time Sensing: Leisurely, Urgent

Rhythm Sensing State:

• Gentle/Leisurely

• Vigorous/Urgent

• Gentle/Urgent

• Vigorous/Leisurely


Thu 2/26/2015 5:35 PM
From: Sandra Hooghwinkel

Loving the discussion! 

Just in short: for me separating the ideas of Passive Weight and Weight Effort by renaming sounds very sensible to me too, for all reasons mentioned already. Like Charles and others, I'd love to keep the Weight in the Weight Sensing and Passive use of Weight, as these are about gravity and not about intent, as already said before.

For Weight Effort: could we go for "Strength" instead of "Force"? Although Strength Effort, Strong Strength and Light Strength might not make sense?

In Dutch we have a word that precisely fits the idea of Weight Effort in my perception, both Light and Strong: "Kracht". It's not going to help us in LMA :) , but I'm saying because it's the one word that totally resonates in Dutch and doesn't seem to have a precise equivalent in English, at least not that I've found so far. Strength always seems to come closest for me, but I'm not a native so I'm not sure..