Laban movement analysis in dance/movement therapy

photo taken from:

Rudolf von Laban. photo taken from:

In addition to my title as a Registered-Dance/Movement Therapist (R-DMT), I am also a Graduate Laban-Certified Movement Analyst (GL-CMA).  What do all those letters mean, you ask?  Good question.  The short answer is that I am well versed in the work of Rudolf von Laban, Irmgard Bartenieff, Warren Lamb, Carol-Lynne Moore, and Peggy Hackney.  The long answer is, well, long.

First of all, let me preface by saying that my explanation and discussion of GL-CMA/CMA  is merely going to scratch the surface of what the movement observation theory entails.  I hope to give a skeletal overview of the work and then speak to why certification in Laban Movement Analysis (LMA), the name of the movement observation framework, is important for dance/movement therapists.

Laban Movement Analysis is based on the work of Rudolf von Laban (1879-1958).  Rudolf von Laban was a man of many trades namely dance, visual art, theater and research.  In general, he was grossly interested in the human body and human movement.  Laban’s students created LMA from his life’s research and writings about these two topics.  As Carol-Lynne Moore (2009b) states, “Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) is a tool that can be used to refine awareness of movement, to describe actions objectively, and to encourage conscious reflection on the meaning of this dynamic dimension of human behavior.” (p. 35)  Laban’s work has given us a taxonomy to use when talking about human movement.  His work has solidified concepts about movement that may seem hard to talk about.  Movement, after all, is something we ALL do, but we often do it without much thought.

Laban Movement Analysis is broken into four major categories: Body, Effort, Space, and Shape, or BESS for short  Here is a brief and modest explanation of those four categories:

Body is the “WHAT” of movement.  What parts of our body do we use when we are moving?  How do these body parts relate to each other while in movement?

Effort is the “HOW” of movement.  How are we choosing to do a certain movement?  What kind of energy are we employing to move?  This category can be broken down further into four effort elements or factors known as space (direct/indirect), weight (strong/light), time (quick/sustained) and flow (bound/free).

Space is the “WHERE” of movement.  Where in space are we choosing to move?  How does our movement relate to our kinesphere, the area of space around our bodies that is sometimes referred to as our personal space bubble.  If you want to get real nerdy about it, check out the Laban’s studies of movement scales and the crystalline forms and how they relate to the anatomy of the human body.  Mind blowing stuff.

Shape is the “WHY” of movement.  Why are choosing to move a certain way?  How does our movement respond to our environment and the individuals we are in relationship with?  Does our body shape towards or away?

Irmgard Bartenieff.  photo taken from:

Irmgard Bartenieff. photo taken from:

Within the parameters of the four categories of LMA we cover the what, how, where and why of human movement.  Thanks to Laban, we have official words and symbols to describe and notate movement-making movement something we can observe, analyze, explore, research and understand.  If this at all sounds interesting then check out the work of other researchers of human movement whose work relate to LMA: Irmgard Bartenieff, Warren Lamb, Carol-Lynn Moore, and Peggy Hackney (to name a few).

Carol-Lynne Moore.  photo taken from:

Carol-Lynne Moore. photo taken from:

Peggy Hackney.  photo taken from:

Peggy Hackney. photo taken from:

So, why is a certificate in LMA important for a dance/movement therapist, you ask?  Well, there are many reasons certification in this specific movement observation theory is important.

One reason is that LMA gives dance/movement therapists a deeper understanding of movement.   It’s no secret that as dance/movement therapists we use movement to engage our clients in a therapeutic process.  This may manifest as simply noticing our client’s movements and using observation as an inroad to creating a conversation about our client’s movement. This might lead to a conversation about how said movement may or may not relate to emotions, thoughts, and/or feelings.   Maybe our use of LMA manifests as using creative movement inspired by LMA parameters to nonverbally explore a topic that a client has difficulty expressing on a verbal level.

Secondly, LMA serves as a lens in how we see our client’s movement and it gives us an exact terminology we can employ when describing movement we see.  We can succinctly explain and code our clients’ movement, rather than a general or flippant explanation.  This is not only helpful for clarifying what movement we observe for ourselves as clinicians, but is also helpful when speaking about our clients’ movements to colleagues and supervisors.

Further, LMA can deepen our empathy for our clients by reminding us that observation of movement is important when understanding our clients.  It can help us meet them where they are on a movement level.  It’s another interpretation of person-centered therapy in DMT.  Dance/movement therapists can also use LMA for assessment (both informally and formally) and for treatment plans.  For example, while in group, I often use my LMA skill set to do a quick analysis of my clients’ movement (assessment) and this will inform my intervention choice (treatment) while in group.  If I observe a client’s continues use of bound flow, I might introduce movement or a prop that helps the client to modulate into free flow; at least present the opportunity for my client to do this.

I do realize that many DMT graduate programs teach an overview of LMA for the purpose of observation, assessment, and treatment in DMT.  In fact, it’s been a debate within my DMT cohort if any of the programs do NOT teach LMA when discussing these topics.  In my personal experience of Observation and Assessment class, we did an overview of LMA.  We learned the general principles of LMA and then related it to DMT mostly in the form of using the principles in mock DMT sessions.  This is comparison to my education in GL-CMA where we obviously dived much, much, much deeper into LMA.  Instead of getting a basic understanding of Laban’s work in movement observation, I have an understanding the work entirely.  So much, in fact, I am certified in it.  I definitely paid for the extra education, but I will say that I, as a dance/movement therapist, use my education every day.

mixed 7 ring

mixed 7 ring

Let me give you an example.

While in  one of my morning DMT group where we focus on meditation, deep breathing and stretching I had a profound experience with a client relating to one of Irmgard Bartenieff’s (1980) Fundamental Exercises, Femoral Flexion.  When I first started my job, this client was in a wheelchair due to complications from Seizure Disorder and Essential Tremors (I haven’t gotten my hands on a DSM V yet, so I apologize of those diagnoses are dated).  Since being at my job, he has transitioned from using a wheelchair to using a walker for mobilization.  Well in this specific DMT group, this client walked into the room with his walker and proceeded to sit in the chair.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  After my initial attendance taking and setting up of yoga mats, the client proceeded to stand up and, without his walker, walked to a mat.  He then proceeded to kneel down and lay down on a mat.  My mouth was ajar in amazement.  Next, the client asked me if I could assist him with stretching his legs.  Of course I could!  I noticed that the client leg was already lifted, and in the lift of his leg his heel-sitz bone connection was broken.  “Pre-thigh lift!” I thought.  And that’s exactly what I helped him explore while in group.  I also used an assisted heel rock to introduce some free flow in his lower body.  While in group, I was able to honor my client’s request, see where my client was at on a movement level, assess what might help my client and implement an informed intervention choice.  I wasn’t fumbling around, trying to think about my three credit Observation and Assessment course where we briefly discussed pre-thigh lift… that one time… in class… for a half an hour…


inside the life-size icosohedron.  photo cedit:  Julie Brannen, GL-CMA

inside the life-size icosahedron, P1. photo cedit: Julie Brannen, GL-CMA

My education in LMA has not only assisted me as a professional dance/movement therapist, but it has also changed my lens on a personal level.  I learned a whole lot more about myself and my own personal movement choices (I’m a mobile state kind of gal and I totally dig the sagittal dimension).  I also learned how to go against my natural movement tendencies and employ all aspects of BESS.  Sure, I’m better at some things than others, but I imagine expanding my movement repertoire is a life long journey.  My LMA education has also enhanced my interpersonal relationships making me a better friend, sister, daughter and girlfriend.  Sometimes I even surprise myself with my brief movement analysis of complete strangers.

Like learning about dance/movement therapy, once you learn about Laban Movement Analysis you can’t ever go back.  You can’t unlearn it-it completely changes how you see the world.


Bartenieff, I. (1980).  Body movement: Coping with the environment.  The Netherlands: Gordon and Breach Publishers.

Hackney, P. (2002).  Making connections: Total body integration through Bartenieff fundamentals.  New York, NY: Routledge.

Laban, R. (1966).  The language of movement.  Great Britain: Macdonald and Even Ltd.

Laban, R. (2011).  The mastery of movement. (4th ed.). Alton, New Hampshire, United Kingdom: Dance Books Ltd.  (Original work published in 1950).

Lamb, W. (2012).  A framework for understanding movement… my seven creative concepts.  London, United Kingdom: Brechin Books Limited.

Moore, C-L. & Yamanoto, K. (1988).  Beyond words: Movement observation and analysis.  New York, NY: Routledge. (A second edition is available, I just used the first for the quote)

Moore, C-L. (2009a).  The harmonic structure of movement, music, and dance according to Rudolf Laban.  United Kingdom: The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd.

Moore, C-L. (2009b).  Laban movement analysis and harmonic theory. Publisher: see author.



About emilyadannunzio

Board Certified-Dance/Movement Therapist. Movement Analyst (GL-CMA). Researcher. Dancer. Detroit, MI.
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One Response to Laban movement analysis in dance/movement therapy

  1. Nancy Jean Podewils-Baba says:

    Is there a video illustrating these movements? Thank you.

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