Living Laban

By Alexa Palmer, LCAT/BC-DMT/GL-CMA

With minimal movement, 5 patients with different diagnoses, backgrounds, and needs, are sitting in the group room. How will I engage them in the therapeutic process? Flash to another point in time, 8 different patients are hyper verbal and tangential, flowing from one idea to the next in rapid succession. How can I offer ways to help focus, contain, and organize these individuals?

As a dance/movement psychotherapist, and certified movement analyst, I am constantly drawing upon the ideas, theories and principles of Laban and his fellow colleagues and theorists. I work on an inpatient adult psychiatric unit, where the clients come to us, voluntarily or involuntarily, due to an acute psychiatric crisis. Overwhelmed, underserved, and under supported, our work is in providing a relationship through which stabilization, hope, and insight can ideally emerge. The ways in which I work as a clinician are through engaging, witnessing, and supporting the connection of the mind, body and spirit through trauma informed care. LMA gives me the language through which to observe and analyze movement. Eventually adding verbalizations and psychological underpinnings, we can bring into awareness conscious patterns and habits of movement, thought, or interaction. A dance/movement therapy group session can be facilitated from any of the four movement categories  conceptualized through LMA: Body, Effort, Space, and Shape. Additional categories like Relationship and Phrasing are also an integral part of the work. I can observe my patients in their current experience, and from there, work towards exploring and co-creating that therapeutic movement relationship.

Flash back to the first scenario, one point of entry into creating that therapeutic movement relationship could be through the Body category- focusing on the architecture of the body, the breath, the gaze, or the shaping of the body. Maybe we start to find the rhythm of the music with just one body part, and then another, and then another? In bringing the focus to one part of the body, one can be engaging in a movement relationship: as Bartenieff would say, “activate to motivate!” Flash to the second scenario- by introducing  direct focus in the Effort category (moving from point A to point B in a straight line) one can increase attention to oneself in relationship to another. One’s orientation to one’s surrounding environment can help provide the mind and body an element of stability. Bartenieff also said that having an intention in our movement innately organizes our neuromuscular system. By simply tossing a ball, or moving in direct pathways in space, one can begin to have some awareness of self and other in an environment. Other avenues of working with this group could be to match the Effort, or energy in the room. The group could intentionally exert energy in dynamic ways, using varying effort qualities, while mobilizing around the space in order to help channel that energy, emotions, or thoughts in a safe and contained space.

According to Bartenieff’s 12 principles, movement in and of itself is a complex, multilayered, experience. Where the breath supports the moving being and brings life into the body. Where our inner experience reflects the outer environment and vice versa; where movement reflects personality and its individuality.  Through phrasing the movement and repatterning developmental progressions in infinite ways, we are brought to the principle of “personal uniqueness.” Where we get to play and explore with curiosity the different pathways towards achieving full movement functionality and expressivity. Eventually we expand our movement repertoire, increasing our options for how we literally move and ultimately think.

How can the study of LMA influence your profession?


Leave a Reply