Dance Theory and Practice

Laban’s Planes of Movement and Belly Dance

What do Laban’s planes of movement have to do with belly dance? Let’s start with the general (Cartesian co-ordinates) and then make it more specific to the human body (anatomical planes) and then to dance (Laban’s planes of movement).

So, what are Cartesian co-ordinates?

Cartesian co-ordinates

Our three-dimensional world can be sliced into three flat, perpendicular planes which intersect at a central origin point. Why does this matter? With this representation, we can describe the location of any object relative to the central origin point.

Now what does this have to do with dance? Put the human body at the central origin point – now you have the human anatomical planes – a way to describe the location of body structures and the direction of body movements. Getting warmer now …

And finally, how did Rudolf Laban adapt these for dance and movement analysis? Laban was a dancer, choreographer, and theoretician. One of the many things he is remember for today is ‘Laban movement analysis’, a way of describing and documenting human movement. The idea of the table, door, and wheel planes comes from his movement analysis method.

Laban’s planes of movement

The table plane is the horizonal plane which separates up and down. I’ve heard movements in this plane described like you are stuck in the centre of a table and your movements must be on this flat surface. The door plane is the vertical plane which separates front from back. You can imagine being stuck between two panes of glass in this plane, and your movements must stay within these panes. The wheel plane is the vertical plane which separates left from right. Like you are stuck in a wheel and can only move backwards and forwards within the wheel.

What does this have to do with belly dance? In my opinion, due to the isolated nature of belly dance movements, most movements fall into one plane or another. For example, taks, hip drops, and vertical figure 8s fall within the door plane; twists, horizontal hip circles and horizontal figure 8s are in the table plane; and undulating movements like camels within the wheel plane. I find that understanding of the planes of movement and belly dance moves is helpful when practicing isolation technique. For example, if you can really imagine yourself stuck between two panes of glass when doing a vertical figure 8, it helps reduce unnecessary twisting.

Next time you drill a belly dance move, why not imagine yourself stuck in a table, door, or wheel? Does that help your isolation?

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