The Science of Movement | Butler Stories

The Science of Movement

Kailey Eaton ’17

from Spring 2017

How do dancers move the way they do? There’s actually a science behind every spin!

Emily Elwell ’17 is a Dance Performance major who has learned this science of movement through the Jordan College of the Arts.  

It’s called Laban Movement Analysis, or LMA, and it is a system created for observing, describing, and executing movement.  It is used not only by dancers, but also actors, musicians, athletes and health and wellness professionals.

LMA was created by Rudolf Laban, a movement analyst, choreographer, and dancer, as a way to classify and interpret human movement.

Elwell said she had minimal exposure to LMA before coming to Butler.

“My second semester of sophomore year at Butler was when I took Laban Movement Analysis and began to understand its principles and how they can be applied across the board in my dance classes,” she said. 

All dance majors in the Jordan College of the Arts are required to take a course in Laban Movement Analysis. This one-semester course gives the dancers exposure to the fundamental principles of LMA.

Elwell says that as a dancer, LMA has challenged her to explore different efforts in movement and has pushed her to find a voice within her own movement. She also says that it is a useful tool for professors to help the dancers understand the reasoning behind movement and execute the efforts properly. 

“There are instances when Professor Pratt will use LMA concepts in her Jazz class if we are struggling to use the right effort to perform a particular movement,” Elwell said.

Cynthia Pratt is a dance professor in the JCA who teaches a class on LMA. She says she uses the system as a tool for performance and choreography.

“Rather than having a vocabulary that is based on steps and gestures, LMA uses spatial pulls, dynamics and body organizations to express the various ways a human body can move,” Pratt said. 

She also uses terminology and concepts learned in LMA to help the dancers understand what she is looking for in particular choreography.

Pratt says one of the primary concepts in LMA is that human movement takes place within a “Kinesphere”—the space around your body that you move in—and by imagining the Kinesphere in different three-dimensional geometric forms, one can accurately describe or execute a movement.

LMA divides this space around the body into 27 different points where one might move, which contributes to a dancer’s heightened awareness of his or her body.

The dynamics of the movement are described by weight, space, time, and flow. This works for all kinds of movement, not just dance.  For example, if you are swinging a baseball bat, you might be using Strong Weight, Free Flow and Direct Space.

Elwell believes that understanding the science behind her movement has made her a better dancer.

“The concepts and principals I learned in the class have been exceedingly valuable to me as a dancer, and have broadened my understanding of dance.”