Laban's Weight Effort Theory:
- Theoretical Foundation:
- Grounded in Laban Movement Analysis (LMA), Weight Effort is a component that analyzes the degree of muscular tension or effort in movement, exploring how the body engages with and responds to gravity.
What is weight?
The movement in dance arises from the kinetic energy resisting gravity. Whether in contemporary dance or the choreography of K-pop, if we discover and understand the principles of this resistance energy, we can further advance our dance. The first key to understanding is understanding weight.
In Laban's theory, Weight refers to the degree of force or resistance in a movement. It is one of the four Effort factors, the others being Space, Time, and Flow. Weight, in this context, is not about the dancer's body mass but rather the perception of weightiness or lightness in movement. Laban describes Weight as a spectrum with two extremes: Heavy and Light. These qualities are used to analyze and describe how an individual moves in terms of the effort they put into controlling and sustaining their body in space.
Light and Strong/Heavy
The Motion Factor Weight can be divided into the two Elements Light and Strong/Heavy. In everyday language, when we use the word ‘weight’ we tend implicitly to mean ‘having Heavy Weight’. It is important to remember that the Motion Factor Weight is a continuum which also encompasses Light (which we might colloquially talk about as ‘weightlessness’). When exploring the contrasting Elements, it may be helpful to think about them as expressing either ‘a relaxed or forceful attitude to Weight’.
Heavy Weight is an experience of being complicit with gravity. It involves reducing muscular exertion and allowing the body to stop resisting gravity (‘release’ or ‘letting go’). Both Light Weight and Strong Weight, however, are experiences of using muscular exertion to fight against gravity. Laban defines bodily force as ‘the degree of energy spent overcoming one’s own body weight, or that of an object’. If you employ a greater amount of force through energetic muscular engagement, you are able to work against gravity and Lighten an experience of Heaviness in your body. Alternatively, you can use muscular engagement to turn Heaviness into Strength to move the mass of your own body or that of an external object.
There may be a generalized assumption that expressing Light Weight would be ‘easier’ or ‘less work’. In fact, expressing Light Weight requires just as much commitment as expressing Strong Weight or Heavy Weight – it takes energy to work against gravity.
//Weight is objective: it can be measured
Every person and object is made of a certain amount of matter which we refer to as their mass. The force of gravity works on our mass and we experience this force as weight. On earth we cannot escape gravitational force: we are always being affected by the law of gravity. So, our quantifiable weight remains more or less constant from one moment to the next because gravitational force remains the same. Both mass and weight have fixed, objective, universally agreed units of measurement. Technically, weight is measured in Newtons. However, in everyday usage we tend to merge our understanding of weight and mass: most commonly, we think of our ‘weight’ as being the number on a weighing scale that tells us how big or small we are. This colloquial idea of ‘weight’ tends to be measured in kilograms or pounds (which are, in fact, units of mass).
//Weight is also subjective
Our sense of weightedness alters according to how much we choose to fight against or yield to gravity’s force. Creating varying resistance through muscular tension or release alters our perception of gravity. So the subjective experience of our weightedness changes all the time, even though our literal weight remains constant. The amount of energy available to engage our muscles in resistance also affects our experience of weightedness: the day after hard exercise you may feel your arms to be unusually heavy as you lift them up to brush your hair, when normally they feel light; or you may begin to run with the feeling that it is easy to move your legs but after a long time you feel you have legs ‘like lead’. Our perception of weightedness also shifts according to context. We think of specific things as light or heavy depending on how we relate them to other things: an arm or leg is light compared with your whole body but heavy compared with a finger or toe. Our use of language points to the fact that the thoughts and feelings we are experiencing also alter our perception of weight: for example, we speak of our mood being ‘up’ (light) and ‘down’ (heavy).
//Weight is an ongoing physical experience
We cannot change the gravitational pull on us. However, we can alter how our body channels gravity, and where in the body we feel our weight to be placed. Our Centre of Gravity can be shifted in any direction. We can use these alterations either to carry us through Lability into movement, or to help retain Stability. Our ability skilfully to shift our Centre of Gravity can clearly be seen in acrobatic hand-balancing. During these acts, the performers are constantly negotiating the exact placement of their weight in order to maintain extraordinary positions, using unusual points of weight-bearing support without falling.
//Weight can be structured through rhythm
If the placement of weight changes during an action, an accent (stress) is formed. A swing of the arm, for example, moves through an arc from a feeling of weightlessness (suspension) to weightedness to weightlessness (suspension). As it moves through the bottom of the arc and the expression of weight changes there is an accent. We feel and perceive changes in weight as part of ‘Rhythm’.
- Strong (heavy): Involves heightened muscular engagement, solidity, and a firm connection to the ground. Movements are deliberate and exhibit a sense of weightiness.
- Light: Characterized by minimal muscular effort, movements feel light, buoyant, and may appear to float. There's an emphasis on agility and ease.
- Expressive Qualities:
- Strong (heavy): Conveys power, stability, and assertiveness. Often used for deliberate and controlled movements.
- Light: Evokes delicacy, effortlessness, and playfulness. Used for nimble and agile movements.
- Spatial Characteristics:
- Strong (heavy): Often associated with grounded movements that occupy substantial space, emphasizing a deliberate use of physical effort.
- Light: Spatially dynamic, with movements that may feel elevated or floating. Less emphasis on a direct connection to the ground.
- Integration with Other Efforts:
- Weight Effort is not isolated; it interacts with Space, Time, and Flow components. Combinations create a nuanced understanding of movement dynamics.
- Application in Dance:
- Dancers use Weight Effort to create dynamic contrast, convey expressive qualities, and articulate movement characteristics. It plays a vital role in partner dances, contact improvisation, and narrative expression.
- Technical Precision:
- In technical dance forms, understanding and manipulating weight contribute to precision in execution, ensuring proper alignment and balance.
- Character Portrayal:
- Weight is a tool for embodying characters, allowing dancers to convey different personalities and emotions through variations in weight qualities.
- Artistic Interpretation:
- Dancers make intentional choices about weight to enhance artistic interpretation, contributing to the overall aesthetic and emotional impact of their performances.
In summary, Laban's Weight Effort theory provides a systematic framework for analyzing and understanding the dynamics of movement in dance, offering a nuanced vocabulary for describing the expressive and communicative qualities of weight in motion.
HOW DOES DANCER USE IT?
Dancers use the concept of weight in various ways to enhance expressiveness, communication, and artistic intent in their movements. The manipulation of weight is a fundamental aspect of dance technique, contributing to the overall quality, dynamics, and emotional resonance of a performance. Here are several ways in which dancers use weight in dance:
Dancers often employ changes in weight to create dynamic contrast within a choreography. Alternating between strong and light weight qualities can add texture and interest to movement sequences.
Different weight qualities convey distinct expressive qualities. Strong weight might be used to portray power, stability, or resistance, while light weight can evoke feelings of delicacy, effortlessness, or vulnerability. Dancers use these qualities to communicate emotions and narratives.
Manipulating weight contributes to spatial dynamics in dance. Strong weight may result in grounded, earthbound movements, while light weight can lead to elevated or floating gestures. Dancers play with these spatial elements to create visually compelling and varied compositions.
Partnering and Contact Improvisation:
In partner dances or contact improvisation, dancers rely on an acute awareness of each other's weight to achieve balance, coordination, and fluidity. Partners may shift weight between each other, counterbalancing and creating intricate and connected movements.
Effort and Energy Management:
Understanding weight allows dancers to manage their effort and energy efficiently. For instance, a dancer might use light weight during moments of quick, agile footwork and reserve strong weight for moments of controlled and deliberate movement.
Articulation of Movement Quality:
Weight contributes to the articulation of movement quality. A dancer may intentionally vary weight to highlight specific aspects of a choreographic phrase, emphasizing the contrast between movements and creating a dynamic and engaging performance.
In narrative dance forms, such as contemporary or lyrical dance, changes in weight can be used to illustrate the emotional journey of a character. Weighted movements might represent challenges or obstacles, while lighter moments can convey freedom or moments of release.
Weight distribution is crucial for technical precision. For example, in ballet, dancers often shift weight precisely to achieve proper alignment, balance, and execution of steps such as turns or jumps.
Dancers use weight to embody different characters. A character with a strong and assertive personality might move with a heavier weight, while a more ethereal or whimsical character might exhibit lighter weight qualities.
Ultimately, dancers use weight as a tool for artistic interpretation. They make conscious choices about how to embody and express the intent of the choreography, using weight to contribute to the overall aesthetic and emotional impact of the dance.
In summary, dancers employ the concept of weight as a versatile and expressive element in their movement vocabulary. Dance students should focus on integrating a range of weights into their movements, leading to an enhancement in the overall quality of their dance. Going forward,From now on, we recommend that you practice based on applicable professional knowledge about dance rather than simple repetition during class or personal practice. The depth of your understanding will directly impact the richness of your expression, making your practice more intentional and purposeful.
By understanding and manipulating weight qualities, dancers can enhance the artistic depth and communication of their performances across various dance styles and genres.