Laban Is For Everyone

Close your eyes, what images appear when you hear the word Laban?

Nothing? Maybe, you have never heard of Laban. If not, or even if you have, let me guide you through my thoughts and share my experience.

When I hear Laban I see dancers, moving, exploring, exposing emotions, and pushing the boundaries of their bodies. Figures using the space to create long, fluid lines, or sharp, jagged movement, either in symmetry or asymmetrical, quick, or slow, standing, rolling on the ground, or running across the floor. Basic human emotions being explored through the movement of their bodies.

You might wonder why I think this?

I have been a part of dance since I can remember walking, first at a ballet barre and now as a physical therapist who specializes in dance medicine. I often heard dancers talk about Laban, but never really knew what it involved. Because it was mentioned in dance circles I jumped to the conclusion that it was an emotional and therapeutic style of dance. Not sure why I thought therapeutic other than my own background in healthcare.

However, Laban is more than a dance style it is a movement analysis. This is accomplished by looking at elements (body, effort, shape, and space) and their relationship to describe and explore movements. Although, if you were watching a class or course taking place you might see exactly what I described, dancers exploring and moving. A beautiful mesmerizing site as no two people are moving the same, each individual exploring their own emotions and bodies.

I recently had the opportunity to learn about Laban. Normally, I don’t think I would have attended this workshop, but my head was in a different place. Feeling burnt out, considering a career change, leaving LA, open my own business, find a new job…my head was hurting and my stomach in knots. I sat staring at my computer as if it held the answer to my inspiration. Weirdly, it did answer my question with an event invite that popped up on my Facebook.

An introduction to Laban/Bartenieff, a 2 day workshop taught by Sarah Leddy at Pieter Performance Space (dance studio in Lincoln in Heights). The description read like dance to me; terms like movement explorations, guided improvisation, expressivity of movement, and learning skills for performance. Then I stopped on the words movement for injury prevention and rehabilitation. I froze on those words, maybe I was wrong about Laban, maybe I can fit it into my physical therapy world. Uncertain, I read Sarah’s bio she is a dancer, choreographer, and educator so my thoughts ran back to "for dancers only".

I closed the invite, but didn’t forget about it returning several times. I thought, once upon a time I did dance and move so maybe I should check it out. But, it had been too many years to count and I would make a fool of myself. That invite kept nagging at me and I started thinking more seriously about attending. Then I did it I replied "yes" thinking I will hide in the back or maybe we will just talk theory.

Well, I couldn’t hide in the back and there was little talk of theory. Sarah had us moving from the beginning of class guiding us through the movement of our head and tail, small movements, small space in unison, bigger space, opposite movement, exploring direction and other parts of our bodies. A little inhibited my movements were controlled not allowing exploration. I watched as others moved across the room, on the floor, or at the wall exploring. She took us through all the patterns of the body; upper-lower, body-half, cross-lateral, breath, and core-distal. Layering with effort or the quality of movement, shape, and space.


As we went through the various exercises I found myself letting go and exploring. Then my brain kicked in, which is sometimes bad, but not in this case. At least I didn’t think it was bad. This is neuromuscular patterns, developmental patterns of babies, kinesiology, anatomy, and physical therapy. I thought, "wow" this is why dance is so powerful. Why dance is popping up with children with developmental disabilities, geriatrics, neuro or other types of patients.


The body tells a story, how we stand, sit, move, and the quality of our movement. It even tells the story of our emotions, are we controlled, linear, jagged, or flowing. This light bulb moment made me realize that many of my patients stop moving. They lose the freedom to move like a child and fall into chronic pain cycles, as well as other injuries. There might be something more to this Laban than just dance.

At some point in the class Sarah explained Bartenieff, who was a dancer, choreographer, and a physical therapist and brought kinesiology and neuromuscular patterns in the Laban world. This along with my experience has peeked my interest. I want to learn more and see how it fits into my world of rehabilitating a patient and hopefully adding some fun to the experience.

I look forward to more workshops to gain a more thorough understanding of Laban and it’s place in my world.


Special thanks to Sarah Leddy for your wonderful teaching style, and reigniting my passion for dance and movement. Please check out the Sarah Leddy Dance Project website to learn more about future workshops.

Natalie Idance, movement, Laban