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Perceiving Movement Through Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis

This is an excerpt from Laban/Bartenieff Movement Studies by Colleen Wahl.

The L/BMA framework is particularly useful in contexts in which movement is studied and taught. Practitioners of the many movement studies in which movement matters will apply the L/BMA theories and practices in unique ways, specific to the needs of that discipline and their interests. In any context, the Laban/Bartenieff lens is especially useful for observing, describing, coaching and teaching, making meaning from, and experiencing movement.

Observing Movement

Movement happens quickly and is constantly in flux. As soon one movement ends, another has already begun, making comprehensive and accurate observations of movement difficult. Observing what is happening in movement is a common use of the Laban/Bartenieff framework. Using L/BMA to observe movement allows the observer to be precise and specific about what is happening, it also encourages the observer to recognize how movement calls forth feelings and associations that make it expressive. This is facilitated by the multiple aspects of the L/BMA lens, which enable the observer to comb through movement for its elemental parts and then integrate those parts together towards a larger whole. The ability to be precise in one's observations of movement, despite the movement's complexity, is important to many fields that study and address movement.

Describing Movement

Translating movement into words can feel like juggling two disparate systems of experience. Movement is felt, kinesthetic, and constantly morphing. Language is verbal, intellectual, and relatively durable—words do not change in the same moment they are spoken. Yes, language evolves and words change meaning overtime, but not so fast that we cannot keep up with them. Movement is infinitely faster and more difficult to “pin down"; as soon as you realize what is there, it has passed. Finding words that convey the experienced and changing nature of movement while being precise, accurate, and evocative can be a challenge. In many fields that involve movement, the ability to accurately describe what is happening is essential to conveying how movement is manifesting and how it is important in the context. L/BMA offers a specific lexicon for articulating human movement; explaining these terms makes up the majority of part II of this book. Of course, the L/BMA terminology is probably unfamiliar to those who have not studied this material, so part of using L/BMA is knowing how to translate the specialized language into words that inspire movement, no matter how much or how little L/BMA terminology the other person knows.

Coaching and Teaching Movement

For those who coach and teach movement, the act of facilitating growth and improvement involves many aspects of perceiving movement. The coach or teacher analyzes what is happening in relationship to what is desired, and then communicates that information, confirming what is serving the mover and offering strategies for growth. That information is then integrated into the movement, and then, the cycle begins again, including observing how the new information impacted the movement. This complex process is aided by the clear framework for observation, description, and analysis provided by Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis.

Making Meaning from Movement

The biological body is the basis for movement; it produces and makes movement possible, and is itself formed by movement. Yet, the picture of movement in human life is far more complex than that of a biological body moving from synaptic impulses. From the moment of conception, the body is molded by movement, and movement informs the ongoing and shifting perceptions of the self (Bryan 2018). Throughout the human life, movement is meaningful. Movement arises to meet needs: to get closer to what is desired or to create distance from what is not desired, to express inner thoughts and desires, and to accomplish the tasks that maintain and give meaning to life. Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis allows those who use it to address the meaningful aspects of movement while honoring the context and sequencing of movement.

Making meaning from movement is different from interpreting movement, and there is a time for both. People are always making meaning from movement, usually unconsciously—for example, someone might interpret how her father moves when he is tired or when he is angry. Making meaning emphasizes the influence of the observer in how movement is understood. Interpretation is about seeking to understand someone else's meaning, as if an observer could use movement in order to “read the mover's mind." In the former, the observer is an active participant in making meaning; in the latter, movement is interpreted without recognizing the influence of the interpreter, potentially leading to misinterpretation and misunderstanding. For example, crossing the arms or nodding the head means different things to different people, in different cultures and contexts, and any interpretation one might place upon either of those actions will necessarily change with each mover and each context. I highlight this distinction to emphasize that L/BMA does not provide a dictionary or one-to-one correlation between a movement and “what it means" in any general sense. Movement always happens in a context, and our analysis of any particular movement must honor the particular mover within the particular context, as well as the complexity of what happened and how it happened in movement.

Experiencing Movement

Movement is a constant. Experiencing movement within the Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis framework can heighten and refine your awareness of a movement as you do it, and can help you recognize your preferences in movement. It can also help you gain new options in your movement. The specificity of the Laban/Bartenieff framework heightens sensation to bring greater clarity in movement so that you can manifest what you intend. When you bring your L/BMA knowledge to your lived experiences, you will notice new things about your movement, gaining a greater sense of presence, a sense of being “in your body." As you work through the Laban/Bartenieff system you will generate awareness of your personal preferences and patterns for movement. As you learn what you like to do, you can also “style stretch," that is develop movements that you have been less likely to inhabit, thus expanding your range of physicality. You'll increase your expressive range and functional skills.

All of the above—observing, describing, coaching and teaching, making meaning, and experiencing—are ways of perceiving movement. The Laban/Bartenieff framework is fundamentally about creating conscious and effective inroads to the heightened perception of movement. As you use L/BMA to perceive movement in your life, you may feel as though you are learning a new language, and in some ways you are. Your understanding of movement will shift as you apply the Laban/Bartenieff framework to your life. You may notice that you can see movement with greater distinction and that you have new words and approaches to talking about it. You may also notice that you are better able to organize and frame your pursuits around movement, and that you have new options for being creative with your movement goals. Finally, you may notice that as a mover you are more prepared to increase the range of movements you execute and enjoy.

More Excerpts From Laban/Bartenieff Movement Studies