Savannah's Theatre Blog

General Information About the Eight Basic Efforts: Laban

Posted in IPP by Savannah on February 27, 2011

General Information about the Eight Basic Efforts

We use the eight basic efforts in everyday life in both our movement and speech however we do not necessarily use them all. Generally, each individual’s mannerisms and personality affect their movement range. We may branch out occasionally due to extreme emotions, i.e. anger.

There is also the question of how we prefer to move for certain actions but they can be made appropriate to the task at hand. For example, when lifting a box above your head, it would be unwise and ineffective to employ the floating effort. It would be more effective to use a direct or strong effort. Saying this, it is often the case that we use more than one effort for an action. It may be more effective to slash to get the box up to a shelf and then press to move it further along the shelf.

These efforts can be performed with or without the flow factor. It is essential to learn control of the flow factor to be able to apply it when necessary.


Flow describes movement that is unimpeded or continuous such as floating your hair in water, some forms of handwriting, robes or running water aided by gravity. 

It can be successive or simultaneous.

Successive flow: when one body part follows another, carrying the movement along

Simultaneous flow: When one body part follows another, carrying the movement.

Movement can be both simultaneous and successive. For example, if you allow a trunk-like movement to travel from your knees, through your hips, chest, shoulder and head and allow your arms (or legs) to move in a successive motion, carrying energy from your shoulder through your elbows, wrists, hands and finally fingers, it would be both simultaneous and successive. This is because the body is simultaneously working together and separately.

Free flow is entirely unimpeded and difficult to stop suddenly. When utilising free flow, it feels as if there are no problems or complications that could occur. There is no reason to put the action ‘on hold’ (Newlove, Dalby, 2004: 128); the mover feels completely confident.

Bound flow is hesitant and involves more care than free flow. However, bound flow can be tentative or confident. If you are performing a task that requires care but you know what you are doing, it would be bound flow because you are taking care but confident because you  know what you are doing.

An example of free flow as apposed to bound flow: If you are painting a wall you would use free, broad and sweeping strokes with a large brush (free flow) but if you were painting a window frame, you would employ a steady hand, take more careful strokes and try not to get any paint on the glass (bound flow).


In order to comprehend the space we inhabit. We need certain recognisable signposts such as walls, fences or boundaries to first determine the size of the space. To then pinpoint our exact location, it is necessarily to know the distance we are from these boundaries. When we move we ‘push some space out of the way’ (Newlove, Dalby, 2004: 112) and the area we just vacated is filled with more space.

There are different ways to inhabit the space we operate in. If someone is naturally shy they will cringe back into their kinesphere to try and detract attention. They are minimising their use of space by doing this. If we were to take it to the extreme, we would be able to use the least space possible by ‘bending all of our joints and curling up into a ball’ (Newlove, Dalby, 2004:112). Laban called this gathering. Contrastingly, we can stretch all of our limbs into a star like position, stretching even our fingers, to extend our kinesphere. This is called scattering. It is important to remember that we cannot only gather and scatter our whole body but individual body parts as well.

It is important not to fear using the surrounding space.


Both space and time are necessary to obtain the ‘where’ and ‘when’ in a given situation. Everyone responds differently to time even though we are surrounded by clocks and watches. This is because we all inbuilt clocks within us that determine our actions/what sort of movements we are suited to.

Rhythm is an essential element of time; they are ‘inseparable’ (Newlove, Dalby, 2004: P117).

Laban says that ‘rhythm is the lawless law which governs us all without exception. But only a few are familiar with it, although it is always around us and within us and reveals itself everywhere’. We generally think of rhythm as something associated with music which, of course, it is, but Laban pointed out that the rhythm without us allows us to dance and move without music but it is simply not ‘bound by metricality’ (Newlove, Dalby, 2004: 117). This is where the idea of regular and irregular rhythm comes into play.

There is both regular and irregular rhythm. A movement that is not bound or restricted has an irregular time-rhythm, and of course, regular is the opposite. A performer should be able to express both.

It is debatable whether there are some people in the world who have no sense of rhythm because, really, it is in everyone; in our regular heart beat, breath pulse and our walk.


Weight is a particularly interesting aspect of Laban’s theories because of it’s realtion with gravity. It is interesting to note that the way people move naturally in relation to weight is not necessarily dependent on their mass. For example, a skinny person may stomp around or vise versa. In Laban for All, weight is said to be ‘the force exerted on a body by a gravitational field’ and that ‘our ability to stand upright depends on the tension between the force of the body and the pull of gravity’ (Newlove, Dalby, 2004: 119) so it seems that some people will ‘indulge’ in gravity whilst some will ‘resist’ (Newlove, Dalby, 2004: 119).

Weight affects both space and time. If we are heavy, or indulging in gravity, we will move slowly.

The kinetic force is how much energy is required to move in space.

External resistance is the resistance we have against what we are trying to do. It ignores the resistance of gravity.

Kinetic sensing is tested when we have to pick up and hold weight.

The Eight Basic Efforts

Flicking: Flexible, Sudden, Light

Flicking is flexible in its use of space and it resists both Weight and Time.

It is a movement with free flow. It is crisp, light and always brief.

Wringing: Flexible, Sustained, Strong

This primarily involves movement in the opposite direction, such as wringing out a towel where your hands will move in two opposite directions.

Keep in mind that wringing is not restricted to the hands.

Dabbing: Direct, Sudden, Light

This is usually performed with free flow and is very flexible.

There is nearly always a rebound, meaning something that the movement bounces off (not necessarily literal).

Punching: Direct, Sudden, Strong

This involves violent, direct movements but can be performed with bound or free flow.

There is no indulgence in this effort; it overcomes Weight, Space and Time.


Floating: Flexible, Sustained, Light

This effort is like flying but can be through air or water.

It can be performed with bound or free flow.

It suggests ‘buoyancy and weightlessness’ (Newlove, Dalby, 2004: 139) however it is slow paced and indirect.

Slashing: Sudden, Strong, Flexible

This effort is usually performed with free flow.

When we think of slashing, the general though is a sword slashing towards an object and meeting resistance. When performing, this effort tend to fade into a float at the point it would meet resistance.


Gliding: Sustained, Light, Direct

This effort is a smooth movement, generally performed with bound flow.

There is a high level of control in this movement which comes from muscular counter-tensions. This is the way in which this effort differs from floating; floating does not have that level of control.

Pressing: Direct, Sustained, Strong

Pressing is applied to pushing, crushing and squeezing (pressing from both directions).

It is efficient in its use of space and is performed with bound flow which means that the action can be paused but not completely stopped.

However, there is still a sense of fluency similar to the glide.

Gravity and weight are closely aligned with this effort as they can help or hinder you depending on the direction in which you are pressing.


The Dynamospher

The Dynamospher was Laban’s term for the imaginary structure that illustrates the eight basic efforts.

They dimensional cross within the cube is structured in such a way that it illustrates the nature of time, weight and space.

Light to Strong: goes from the centre of the floor to the centre of the ceiling, indicating that light is high whilst strong is deep.

Flexible to Direct: goes from the centre of the right wall to centre of the left. This is because of the action of raising your arm or leg to either side. If you were to raise your right arm and move it to the right side of your body, you would be relatively free of resistance (freedom) but if you move it across your body to the left side, you would encounter resistance and the movement would be very limited and would, therefore, direct.

Sustained to Sudden: goes from the centre of the front wall to the centre of the back wall. Laban noted that we mainly use are arms and legs in front of our body where movement is easily sustained. If we move them behind our body, we encounter more resistance and our movements are necessarily short and therefore sudden.


– Newlove, Jean, 1993, Laban for Actors and Dancers, Putting Laban’s Movement Theory into Practice, A Step-by-Step Guide, Nick Hern Books, United Kingdom

– Newlove, Dalby, 2004, Laban for All, Nick Hern Books, United Kingdom

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