Analysis of Folk Dance with LMA-Based Tools: A Doorway to the World
Kerr, Kathleen A., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance
Dance is a universal art, and dance forms are found throughout the world--classical dance, theatrical dance, "art" dance, ethnic dance. The oldest dance form, with the greatest number of participants in the world today is folk dance. For all those who consider themselves dancers, dance teachers, and dance students, folk dance should be a required area of study.
Sometimes those trained in other dance forms, specifically Western "art" dance forms such as ballet or modern dance, have difficulty thinking of folk dance as useful, significant, relevant, or artistic. In this article, I hope to encourage readers to reevaluate the role of folk dance in dance education and dance as art by (1) pointing out the advantages to be gained from the study of folk dance, and (2) discussing how Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) can reveal the rich constellations of movement behaviors in folk dance and aid in teaching movement "style" rather than just "steps."
You may ask, "But why teach or study folk dance?" Behind this question may lie several assumptions:
* The study of folk dance is not relevant.
* Folk dance has no technique and therefore, is not, an "art"
* A knowledge of folk dance forms is not useful.
* A "real" dancer doesn't need to know folk dance (since it isn't an "art").
Let us examine these assumptions:
Folk dance is not relevant. Folk dance is the ancestor, the source, of all "art" dance forms. Any dancer who wants to know more about dancing than just movements, who wants to know the history and sources of dance forms, must study this foundation form. Folk elements, themes, and movements are seen in many ballet, modern, and jazz pieces--from 19th century ballets such as Coppelia, Swan Lake, and Giselle, to contemporary choreography such as George Balanchine's Square Dance, Geoffrey Holder's Dougla, and Alvin Ailey's Revelations. Choreographers as diverse as Ruth St. Denis in the 1920s and Mark Morris in the 1990s have found inspiration in folk movement. Folk dance, which has been "choreographed" by generations of dancers, contains certain common elements which are recognized by members of the culture, and which, according to anthropologist Franziska Boas (1972), represent that culture. The opportunity to learn about and participate in these elements of other cultures surely cannot be considered irrelevant experiences for a dancer.
Folk dance has no technique. Many dancers seem to view the patterns of folk dance superficially, seeing only the body positions and steps, the "footprints-pattern-on-the-floor," rather than the shape that the body carves through space, the motivation for the movement, and the subtleties of effort qualities that give a movement--and a dance form--character. There is no lack of technique--rather, just lack of a practiced eye and an attuned body. Kealiinohomoku (1983) points out the inherent cultural boundness of our ability to be sensitive to movement and gesture. Just as a Nigerian dancer might see a ballet plie as only a bending of the knees, without noting the vertical alignment of the pelvis and torso and the sense of upward stretch, a ballet dancer might see a basic Nigerian movement as merely a wild thrashing around, without noting the hips and shoulders moving in rhythmic counterpoint with the head, adding yet another accent to the polyrhythmicity characteristic of the style. The Nigerian, attempting to reproduce the ballet plie as she saw it, would be judged technically lacking by the practiced eye of the ballet dancer. The ballet dancer would be similarly judged incompetent in the performance of Nigerian dance by the practiced eye of the Nigerian. Dance technique in the folk style of an ethnic group is best judged by a member of that group, according to standards prevalent in that culture, and not by an American-trained dancer who has no experience in either the performance or the evaluation and appreciation of that style.
Folk dance is not useful. For choreographers, folk dance can be a source of ideas and raw material--new steps, cultural themes, formations, diverse stylings, uses of weight and personal space, new effort combinations, partnering. For dance students, the folk forms offer added understanding of other dance forms and arts, as well as an exhilarating movement opportunity. For dance teachers, the folk forms provide good material to teach in the schools or for recreational purposes. For dancers, folk dance can be a way of learning about and participating in part of another culture, a bridge to understanding other peoples. It provides a usable leisure time and social activity, a passport to meeting others, and a much-needed social interaction not found in ballet, jazz, or modern dance. Since most folk dance is based on a natural use of the body, almost everyone can make acceptable progress and experience success in a shorter period of time than in many of the other dance forms. For students or beginning dancers, it may help them understand or participate in other dance forms, or may serve as a discipline for study, participation, or performance. O'Brien (1991) has described many of the benefits of teaching cultural dances.
Real dancers do not need to know folk dance. No person should call herself or himself a dancer (rather than a "ballet dancer" or a "modern dancer") who lacks familiarity with, if not some degree of experience in, all dance forms.
Communicating in Dance
How can we help foster an appreciation and understanding of folk dance, as well as communicate the richness of styles and movement possibilities inherent in this dance form?
Many of us teach dance and some of us critique dance performances. We often run into problems in attempting to communicate what we wish to teach or what we have analyzed.
Have you ever tried to describe a dance--the style of a dance--to someone else? Have you tried to describe how a ballerina, or a clog dancer, or a line of Bulgarian folk dancers moved, using words like "fast, agile, really lightfooted, sort of precise," but felt as if the other person didn't understand what you described? If you are a physical educator, perhaps you have tried to communicate to an athlete whom you're coaching just what movement qualities must be altered to throw a javelin more efficiently but you felt as if you and the athlete spoke different languages.
The use of a "movement quality literacy" system would allow communication and transmittal of information about movement qualities or style. In dance especially, such a system would help teach and describe unfamiliar movement, and, in the area of folklore dance, study national and regional styles. Such a system would be context-free; that is, it could be used to analyze dance style from the pure movement, without reference to context--costume, music, meter, or geographic clues.
Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) is such a system, although it has been used very little in the study of folklore dance style. LMA is "a means of perceiving and a vocabulary for describing movement--qualitatively and quantitatively" (Bartenieff & Lewis, 1980, p. viii). You may already be familiar with Labanotation, a system of notating movement also developed by Laban, which is included within LMA. The particular aspect of LMA, previously referred to in the United States as Labananalysis, which will be discussed in this article is Effort/Shape Analysis. This system permits analysis of movement qualities, or efforts, on a seven-point continuum between two extremes similar to a Likert scale. These effort factors, or attitudes toward movement, are:
* flow, ranging from free to bound;
* weight, from light to strong or firm;
* space, from flexible or indirect to direct; and
* time, from sustained to sudden or quick.
Symbols for the predominant qualities, alone or in combination, are written as simple effort graphs.
All of the efforts are constantly present in movement, but generally only a few are prominently observable at any given moment. According to Laban, the various combinations of these qualities, combined with transitions from one to the next, produce individual movement style, as when two dancers perform the same movement, but with two differing results. This system can be used to differentiate not only individual movement style and movement preferences but general movement style and movement preferences of cultural groups.
LMA might augment current systems of describing and teaching folk and ethnic dance movement. By analyzing dance forms, and specifying what effort factors are predominant, a teacher might be able to convey movement style to students more readily than by only emphasizing certain specific movements or gestures characteristic of the dance style. Students' awareness of movement style, rather than just movements, would increase, and they would be able to apply this specific style to other dances from the same ethnic culture region. The possibility of analyzing folk forms for the relative presence of certain movement qualities also opens up numerous research as well as educational possibilities.
LMA has been used in several fields of dance as a tool for studying dance and movement style. Mary Alice Brennan (1986, 1987; Brennan et al., 1989) uses computer technology to produce LMA-based movement profiles of modern dancers. She uses a computer to tabulate individual occurrences of the various effort factors present in dances, and then to generate bar graphs, showing the relative frequency of occurrences of these effort factors. This produces, in effect, a movement or style profile. Her work appears to show specific movement signatures for individual dancers and choreographers.
LMA has also been used in the study and analysis of folk dance. Profile sheets (Gellerman, 1978) and movement profile graphs (Kerr, 1991) are used to compare different cultural areas. Gellerman (1978) studied a single locomotor pattern performed in three American Hasidic communities and found that the cultural attitudes of the communities appeared to be reflected in the movement. I (1991) studied dances from several regions of Bulgaria, and found that dances from the same region appear to have very similar movement profiles. In addition, movement profiles may vary from one region to the next. This shift in predominant effort factors may account for the perceptible differences in dance style from one region to the next, differences which may be very difficult to describe in conventional terms. For example, the dances from northwestern Bulgaria exhibited the predominance of sudden time, a tendency toward strength in the weight factor, and a direct attitude toward space. By contrast, dances from south central Bulgaria show a tendency toward sudden time and bound flow, with a lesser tendency toward lightness in the weight factor and no predominant attitude toward space.
Laban Movement Analysis can be used to develop dance style profiles and to detect differences in movement quality--stylistic differences--in dance. LMA can then provide a system for communication and transmission of this movement information with clarity and reliability, a system of movement quality literacy which works equally well with folk dance as with other dance forms. Teachers have found that description and demonstration of effort qualities as well as actual movement patterns help students go beyond performing just the steps in a dance.
Venable (1991) reported that such results were described by teachers at the Beijing Dance Academy who used Labanotation scores when working with students from grades 1 to 6. "By clearly explaining the important characteristics of a particular dance, they find, teachers help students grasp the movement more quickly. This has solved the problem of learning merely by imitation" (p. 48).
If students are familiar with the basic concepts of effort qualities, then teachers can use an analysis of these qualities to help students understand and master the dance styles of different cultures. Analyzing the effort factors present in folk dance may also help "art" dancers realize that many folk dance forms have movement qualities at least as complex, if not more so, than Western theatrical dance forms, and that these dances are more than just a collection of steps.
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Boas, F. (1972). The function of dance in human society. New York: Dance Horizons.
Brennan, M.A. (1986). A computerized methodology for recording and analyzing movement qualities. Dance Notation Journal, 4(2), 9-16.
Brennan, M.A. (1987, April). A computer methodology for recording and analyzing movement element combinations. Paper presented at the AAHPERD National Convention, Las Vegas, NV.
Brennan, M.A., Stephenson, G., Brehm, M., & Deicher, M. (1989). A computerized methodology using Laban Movement Analysis to determine movement profiles in dance. In J. Gray (Ed.), Dance technology: Current applications and trends, pp. 93-101. Reston, VA: AAHPERD.
Gellerman, J. (1978). The "Mayim" pattern as an indicator of cultural attitudes in three American Hasidic communities. In D. Woodruff (Ed.), Essays in dance research from the fifth CORD Conference. Dance Research Annual, IX., 111-144
Kealiinohomoku, J. (1983). An anthropologist looks at ballet as a form of ethnic dance. In R. Copeland & M. Cohen (Eds.), What is dance?, pp. 533-549. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kerr, K. (1991). Differentiation of ethnic culture regions using Laban Movement Analysis: A study of Bulgarian dance. (Doctoral dissertation, Texas Woman's University, Denton, TX). Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International.
O'Brien, E.F. (1991). Teaching dances of other cultures. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 62(2), 40-41.
Venable, L. (1991). The second international conference on movement notation. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 62(9), 46-48.
Kathleen A. Kerr is an associate professor in the School of Health, Physical Education, and Leisure Services and the artistic director of International Dance Theatre at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0161.…
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Publication information: Article title: Analysis of Folk Dance with LMA-Based Tools: A Doorway to the World. Contributors: Kerr, Kathleen A. - Author. Journal title: JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance. Volume: 64. Issue: 2 Publication date: February 1993. Page number: 38+. © 2009 American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). COPYRIGHT 1993 Gale Group.
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