Among the four elements of movement (body, space, time, and force), the dynamic element – representing the intensity of the force applied to execute a movement – exerts the most significant influence in dance. It is not the “what” (action), not the “where” (space), not the “when” (timing), but the “how” (quality of execution) that leaves the most lasting impression on the audience. This likely relates to the fact that we are emotional beings.

In previous blogs, I have asserted that we can comprehend space objectively as an entity in itself, and through practice, we can acquire the ability to abstract time despite lacking a specific sense organ for its perception. However, the perception of force is deeply ingrained in our everyday bodily experience to such an extent that it often eludes our conscious awareness. While we are cognizant of utilizing energy to exert force in our daily activities, this awareness typically surfaces only when we detect a decline in force and experience fatigue.

Aliveness is the essence of our bodily existence, although its manifestations may vary greatly from person to person. If one were to define dance, wouldn’t liveliness be the most fitting feature that comes to mind? Yet, liveliness is not always the most distinctive quality of a dance performance. How is that possible?

Vibrancy is an expression of the ability to dynamically change and evolve. This ability requires a delicate modulation of power in movement. Dance loses its vitality when dancers cannot work with their energy precisely, indicating an inability to discern and harness the nuanced shades of dynamic qualities in movement.

Strength, energy, dynamics – we often use these terms interchangeably in the context of dance. To better clarify the terms, I consulted Chat GPT for an explanation, and it provided a helpful answer:Začiatok formulára

“Although in some contexts these terms may be used interchangeably, they have specific meanings, especially in a physical context. Force is associated with interactions, energy with the ability to do work or change state, and dynamics focuses on motion and the forces that affect it.”

This information can be readily applied to dance: in dance, we utilize force to interact, employ precision to manage energy expenditure, and master the manipulation of force intensity to generate various dynamic qualities. However, there are numerous other contexts in dance that render this topic noteworthy. Indeed, as we delve into the dynamics of movement, we navigate a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and social factors that have evolved within the context of our interpersonal interactions.


We are emotional beings, also communicating nonverbally

The ability to perceive the dynamic aspect of movement is related to the fact that our muscle tone constantly changes throughout the day. Muscle tone refers to the continuous partial contraction of the muscles in the living body. A sedentary working pattern dampens these natural changes in muscle tone and, therefore, has negative effects on the health of the body.

The ability of humans to perceive (in themselves) and read (in others) changes in muscle tone is linked to evolutionary development and the survival instinct. As a species, we needed to develop our ability to sense tension or relaxation in other people to gauge potential threats, form alliances, and navigate social hierarchies.

Women, due to their typically lower physical strength, tend to have developed this ability even more than men. Although we no longer require this defense mechanism to protect our bare life, we use it in a much more sophisticated form on a daily basis. We can gauge how another person is feeling and whether we are in danger (usually not physical) by the degree of tension in their tone.

Intuitively, we know that high muscle tension and a closed posture (muscle tension pulls the body inward) can result in aggressive behavior; in contrast, a relaxed and open body indicates a friendly attitude. Our success in communicating with others depends on our ability to perceive these visible nuances of body tension in other people. We learn to use it from a young age (it is now identified as a prerequisite for emotional intelligence), and it is important to properly understand the meaning of comfort or discomfort in social connections and to be able to adapt to situations.

Tension is most often observed in a person’s face, but it is important to learn to read the entire body. The posture of the body serves as the starting point for action. To respond appropriately in various social interactions, it is crucial to pay attention to the entire body. Walking and the way a person moves also provide information about muscle tension.

In addition to being a defense mechanism, we can also use our ability to perceive other people’s muscle tension from another perspective – we can empathize with their feelings and show empathy. Recognizing that someone is experiencing tension or pain allows us to respond more compassionately and strengthen social bonds and relationships.

Empathy, linked to reading tensions in the human body, also helps us “understand” dance. When a dance heavily employs a dynamic element (involving a wide range of muscle tone and significant energy expenditure), the audience tends to perceive it with greater understanding than when the choreography emphasizes working with other elements of movement. A notable example is the popularity of works by artists such as Pina Bausch, Akram Khan, Wim Vandekeybus, or Hofesh Schechter, whose work is characterized by a broad spectrum of dynamic movement changes, especially in the application of intense force.


Tension is crucial in life and in dance

Tension is fundamental to life – it is its essential expression. The muscles of the human body maintain a specific tension necessary for the healthy functioning of the organism. Every movement of the human body is associated with exertion, requiring a particular muscular tension. Different movements necessitate varying degrees of exertion or energy expenditure.

Distinguishing the degree of muscle tension and correctly adjusting it in different movements and activities is learned through practice from birth. Standing upright and walking – the fundamental movements of the human body – require an extremely complex and delicate interplay of tensions among different muscle groups. The delicate manipulation of miniature objects displays the same mastery of precise muscular coordination and calibrated strength as the skillful handling of heavy objects.

Through years of training, dancers learn to delicately control the tension and coordination of their muscles in various movements that are rarely functional; however, their significance is primarily aesthetic. Herein lies the potential problem of deviating from functional body movement in favor of aesthetic movement, which may not always be functional.

However, functional movement is crucial for the development of expressive movement because, in both cases, it involves a mastery of power. Mastery of expressive movement can be achieved more rapidly when the nature of tension in the human body is well understood. Anatomical and physiological knowledge supports a more precise kinesthetic perception of force, but the most significant impact is the creation of a clear understanding of the body’s functioning in terms of energy expenditure. The clearer this idea is, the more sensitively dancers can work with a broad range of dynamic qualities of movement.

Good muscular coordination implies that muscle tone (muscle tension) constantly changes during movement in close relation to the degree of nervous excitation, which is linked to bodily sensation and emotional experience. Health, well-being, as well as physical agility (fine-tuned coordination of movement), require adequate, i.e., functional tension. With functional tension, all elastic components of a complex functioning system – muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and even bones – retain their flexibility.

Maintaining functional flexibility of all body structures is crucial for a successful career as a dancer. Multiple somatic systems work with a concept that helps set it up effectively. This is the tensegrity model, which operates on the principle of continuously transferring tension throughout the body as a whole. “This means that an increase in tension in one part of the structure will inevitably be transmitted to other parts of the body, even if they are seemingly ‘far apart.’” (T. Brooke: “Why are fascia fascinating? Part 3: A Masterpiece of Architecture: tensegrity,” Dance Magazine TANEC 3/2015)

Muscles, tendons, and fascia are elastic due to their ability to deform and resist the forces exerted when the body moves. Tensegrity is a concept that efficiently processes (spreads) these forces to all components of a structure, enabling them to respond instantly as a whole and adapt to force changes wherever they occur in the structure.

An understanding of the body’s myofascial network system is also beneficial for dancers, particularly in stretching. This knowledge supports dancers’ ability to practically incorporate various concepts into their work, promoting diverse dynamic qualities of movement and thereby enhancing expressiveness in their dance performance.

A big change in my understanding of the body’s elasticity was the realization that the myofascial network needs enough space in the body to function well. Flexibility, and therefore dynamic, needs spatiality.


Dynamics in dance

Authors Lynne Anne Blom and L. Tarin Chaplin, in The Intimate Act of Choreography, contemplate the widely acknowledged observation that in dance, we often lack precise usage of the concepts of energy, power, and dynamics. Simultaneously, they provide one of the most concise definitions I have encountered.

“Energy is the potential for force, the capacity for action, and for overcoming resistance or gravity. As an element of dance, i tis a pure entity in the same way that space and time are.

Force has to do with the magnitude or intensity of the energy exerted, expended, or released. Force exists on a continuum that ranges from strong to gentle.

Dynamics is an interaction of force with time – the two playing together. It results in action in the body. Every movement is dynamic – it exists over time and has been achieved by using force.

Movement Qualities are the distinctly observable attributes or characteristics produced by dynamics and made manifest in movement.” (The Intimate Act of Choreography, 1982, p. 72 – 73)

Dance is expressive precisely due to the delicacy of the movement qualities that dancers can manipulate. Cultivating this requires the same attention and practice as developing the ability to generate movement precisely and purely from a form or function standpoint.

When discussing the use of force in dance, it is crucial to distinguish between active and passive force. Active force refers to the deliberate deployment of muscular tension in a movement, requiring an appropriate expenditure of energy. In contrast, passive force is characterized by flaccid muscular tension, resulting in a low expenditure of energy that causes the body to yield to external physical forces, primarily gravity. Both qualities are expressive and can be judiciously applied in choreography depending on the intention. Their connotation (shade of meaning) with positive or negative feelings is incidental when exploring the dynamic nuances of these qualities. However, it is important for the dancer to be adept at making appropriate use of both.

Among the definitions of terms related to dynamics in dance, the first two are so clear that there is nothing to add to them. Of particular interest to dance practice is the third definition, where the authors define dynamics as the interaction of force and time. The combinations of opposing qualities within these two elements facilitate an understanding of the fundamental dynamic contrasts in movement. This provides a straightforward method to enhance sensitivity to muscular tension and enrich dance with clearly defined expressive qualities. Feel free to try them out now.


Quality of force in motion Quality of time in motion
strong fast
gentle slow
strong slow
gentle fast

When engaging in high-intensity dancing, it is crucial to consider two important aspects. 1. Force is generated within the center of the human body rather than its peripheral parts. 2. The inherent structure of the human body results in predominantly rounded paths during movement. Therefore, it is beneficial to channel force from the center outward and then redirect it back inward. This concept is illustrated in the main image of this blog, conveying the essence of my intention.


Extended spectrum of dynamic movement qualities according to Rudolf Laban

Rudolf Laban developed a distinctive dynamic theory through extensive research on movement, drawing insights not only from his dance practice but also from his experiences in industrial settings. Assigned with the task of finding practical solutions to minimize energy expenditure for workers, Laban closely observed labor movements. This scrutiny enabled him to grasp the essence of efficient movement, emphasizing precision and avoiding unnecessary energy wastage.

The foundation of Laban’s dynamic qualities of movement lies in his concept of effort, which integrates the force of gravity. He fused the element of force with an awareness of the body’s weight, a key feature of his dynamic theory.

Laban also introduced another intriguing dimension to his theory – the dynamic factor, termed “flow.” This concept distinguishes between two contrasting qualities in movement execution: freedom and control. Free Flow is characterized by a sense of freedom, ease, and uninterrupted movement, devoid of tension or restrictions. Movements with Free Flow are smooth and continuous, lacking sudden stops or starts. In contrast, Bound Flow is marked by control and a sense of restriction, incorporating resistance, tension, or interruptions that convey intention and control. Both qualities contribute to the creation of specific dynamic nuances in dance movement.

Laban also highlighted the interconnectedness between the utilization of energy in muscular work and our psychological state. The ease or difficulty with which we perform activities is contingent on our current energy levels. Furthermore, he observed that we have the capacity, often subconsciously, to alter the way we direct gravity through our bodies, influencing the way we manage weight and muscular tension.

In addition to the dynamic factors of gravity and flow, Laban identified two other factors impacting the dynamic quality of movement: the direction of movement (Effort Factor Space) and the speed of movement (Effort Factor Time). The expenditure of energy, and consequently the specific dynamic quality of movement, is determined by the interplay of these various dynamic factors. To delve deeper into these concepts, please refer to the following video.


Through the aforementioned four primary dynamic factors of movement, Laban sought to classify the extensive range of dynamic qualities that the human body can embody. He also noted that an individual’s combination of dynamic factors in movement is influenced by their momentary inner impulse. As a result, a specific combination of dynamic movement qualities reflects a person’s current inner state, which is observable externally. Simultaneously, this combination shapes the distinctive features of an individual’s unique movement expression. According to these movement characteristics we can identify him or her even at a distance.

Laban successfully delineated 72 distinct dynamic qualities of motion through the intricate combination of the four main dynamic factors. These qualities form a practical framework suitable for engaging experiments aimed at enhancing the expressiveness of movement. In the following video, I present a three-factor combination of Laban’s dynamic factors known as Action Drives.



The practical application of Laban’s dynamic theory offers dancers and actors two noteworthy advantages: it enhances the efficiency of effort in movement, making it more functional, while simultaneously expanding the ability to employ a diverse range of dynamic qualities, rendering movement more expressive. This holds true not only for the expressiveness of movement but also for vocal expression.

Mastery of a broad spectrum of well-defined dynamic qualities in movement enables dancers and actors to discern their inner impulses more clearly and identify individual preferences for dynamic qualities. Building upon this foundation, it becomes possible to further broaden the individual dynamic range of movement and authentically incorporate non-dominant dynamic qualities into movement expression. The ultimate goal of this practice is in fact to expand individual expressiveness.

For additional information on Laban’s Effort theory, please refer to this text [insert hyperlink] on this web site.


A specific aspect of dynamics: the phrasing of movement

Refining the effort qualities in movement (or voice) enables the seamless transition between different dynamic qualities and the rhythmic articulation of movement phrasing.

When phrasing movement, the focus lies on how the movement is initiated in terms of force. Each distinct initiation sets the tone for the quality of muscular work, alternating between expending energy into the movement and regaining it in terms of intensity and timing. Smooth transitions between the different qualities of the two phases of muscular activity rely on the flexibility of muscle tone.

In terms of connecting diverse dynamic qualities of movement, it is crucial for dancers to comprehend the intimate relationship between movement dynamics and muscle tone. Muscles need to respond swiftly to a wide spectrum of tension in the activity-relaxation mode. The ability to vary the intensity of muscle tension is essential for embodying varied rhythms, whether inherent in the body or deliberately constructed to achieve a specific expressive effect.

The smooth alternation of dynamic qualities in movement of varying intensity requires effective coordination of body parts in motion, with the transfer and support of body weight playing a crucial role. My experience convinces me that good practice typically leads to the alleviation of excess muscular tension, positively influencing the coordination of concurrently moving body parts.

Various categorizations of movement phrasing (sometimes referred to as movement rhythms) exist, with one of the simplest being the distinction between staccato and legato movement – terms borrowed from music. These represent two contrasting ways of distributing force during movement.

Staccato movement is characterized by abrupt, rapid, and precisely articulated actions. Individual movements exhibit a distinct separateness, contributing to a lively to crisp quality. This stands in stark contrast to legato movement.

Legato movement, on the other hand, is defined by fluid, continuous actions performed with a sense of continuity, lacking visible pauses or sharp transitions. It represents the opposite of staccato movement.

As is evident, both qualities demand distinct types of muscular work. Connecting the two dynamic qualities of movement and creatively combining them enhances dancers’ sensitivity to the rhythmic phrasing of movement. Staccato movements can accentuate specific moments in the dance through sharp accents, rapid changes of direction, or sudden stops, thereby enriching the phrasing within the choreographic structure. Conversely, the legato quality emphasizes the overall fluidity and continuity of the choreographic structure.

There are several additional methods of phrasing movement, which I will discuss at a later time.


Choreographic sketch – video

I created the video preview for this blog with the intention of showcasing the various nuances of dynamic qualities of movement. Naturally, I was drawn to crafting a “micro story” idea, as the dynamic qualities shine most brightly in the interaction between dancers. The meeting of the two dancers became the backdrop for illustrating dynamically interesting interactions. In taking on this challenge, we ventured into the rather complex task of shifting our own dominant dynamic movement styles and experimenting with our partner’s dynamic expression. The catalyst for this scenario was an exchange of headphones – the dancers first listened to their own music and then to each other’s, adopting the dynamic character of their partner.

This small experiment not only allowed the dancers, Silvia and Chilli, to familiarize themselves with their own “dynamic profile” (preferred combination of dynamic movement qualities) but also encouraged them to learn a new combination of dynamic qualities and a different approach to phrasing movement inspired by their partner. While not an easy task, I believe there is a noticeable change in the quality of movement for both dancers after the headphone exchange. The video is not intended to be a perfect demonstration of our intent but rather an inspiration for you, dear readers, to embark on your own experiments with expressive movement. It’s both fun and informative, as we confirmed in the preparation of this video.



Dear readers, if you would like to share your thoughts and experiences with me on this topic, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for your comments J.


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