The Case for LBMS

The Laban/Bartenieff Movement System
& Why LBMS is a “System”

by K. Studd
(Updated December 2019)

To begin, let’s start with what is a “system”? 

A system is defined as:  

An organized, purposeful structure that consists of interrelated and interdependent parts. These component parts continually influence one another (directly or indirectly) to maintain their activity and the existence of the whole system, and to achieve the goal of the system. NB this definition has been gleaned from several sources.

A system is a set of interacting and interdependent component parts forming a complex/intricate whole. Every system is delineated by its spatial and temporal boundaries, surrounded and influenced by its environment, described by its structure and purpose and expressed in its functioning.

My own definition:  A system is a representation of a complex whole. A system is defined through relationships of interwoven parts combining to form a dynamic whole. Systems want to ensure their success, so they adapt and evolve to survive and thrive, i.e. remain relevant – or they risk becoming extinct.

The above definitions make it clear that this body of knowledge, i.e. the Laban/Bartenieff Movement System (LBMS), as it is presented in theory and practice is a system. Anyone who has studied the Laban/Bartenieff material cannot deny that the above definitions of “system” clearly apply to how we identify the BESS Components in relationship. And that this is in fact, the heart, core and essence of the material. Therefore, any problem with using the term “system”, from my perspective as a longtime teacher and practitioner of the work, is a misguided perspective and one that should be re-examined.

I have been told that Bartenieff did not like the term, and I have also encountered others who told me exactly the same thing about what Laban reportedly said. However, no one has offered further clarification or evidence of these supposed views of either Bartenieff or Laban. Such hearsay does little to advance and promote the work! The work of these legendary individuals continues to evolve – as it should. Movement is, after all – change. Clearly movement is a complex phenomenon that in analyzing we parse into parts that we then identify in relation to the whole of the context of the movement event and its significance. In our work process is done systematically.

Please let us give Bartenieff her due – and not address what we are teaching or framing as only “Laban” !

Anyone who has read Bartenieff’s text, Body Movement: Coping with the Environment, knows that in this text she integrates Laban’s work of Space Harmony and the Dynamics of Effort Expression with her Body explication. There is no “LMA” and “BF” presented as separate independent bodies of knowledge. These parts are one whole construct in the process of deciphering the complex phenomenon of human movement for understanding the duality and wholeness of Function and Expression. I also want to encourage all of us to not fall into the trap/pattern of saying “Laban” when what we mean is: Laban/Bartenieff. It is of course quite possible to study Laban’s work without the contributions of Bartenieff, but this is not the work that CMA’s are certified in. There is a part of me which also identifies this as a necessary feminist (or if one prefers – womanist) stance and that we must not allow Bartenieff to be given short shrift in the way that so many women have been over the course of history.

In continuing to move forward, I am pleased to report that after adopting the title/acronym LBMS in all the programs in which I teach and coordinate (both national and international) starting many years ago and continuing through today, and in addition using this term in the text EverBody is a Body (coauthored with my colleague Laura Cox and now in its 2nd edition), the acronym LBMS has become very widely used. However, I must add here that many still resist the “S” as referring to “system” and rather opt to identify this acronym as referring to Laban/Bartenieff Movement Studies as noted at the start of this document. I do not use this, as Labanotation could fall under this rubric and “studies” seems to me to be an incomplete idea or at best a more theoretical notion and not clearly owning the experiential practice and applications and more importantly the nature of the Laban/Bartenieff framework.

A Quote that I have found useful in discussing a system as a way of modeling complexity:

“ Models are never true: but there is truth in models… We can understand the real phenomenon only by simplifying it.” Dani Rodrik from Economic Rules

Dani Rodrik is a Turkish economist and Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

A brief history of my case for assigning the designation of LBMS – the Laban/Bartenieff Movement System.

When I first proposed using the designation of “system” in the label of LBMS, now over a decade ago, I encountered much resistance (and still do now multiple years later as a recent discussion on the cma listserve reveals), both to my insisting that Bartenieff be equally noted in the development of Laban’s work as well as for using the term “system”. I would frequently come across persons referring to what I was teaching or what they were teaching simply as “Laban” – for example saying – “in your Laban class…” or “when I teach Laban…”

I found this (and still do) a problematic way of referring to the work we are engaged in.

Many who negatively responded to the use of the LBMS acronym wanted to retain LMA and BF as separate terms/labels (I found this to be often an inaccurate his-work/her-work approach to labeling).  I believe the resistance in both respects – combining Laban with Bartenieff (“Laban/Bartenieff”) as well as using the term “system” – is unwarranted and represents a resistance to change and a no longer useful habitual pattern of thinking.

I believe that re-patterning thinking about the work we are engaged in is much needed and in fact is key to promoting and furthering the work. I am always intrigued that in a community of movers in which transformation is valued, and that identifies movement as the process of change, that change is so very much resisted! I also note again here that “LBMS” is now at this point in time quite frequently used – However this designation is, by many using it, referring to Laban/Bartenieff Movement Studies.

I firmly believe that with time this too will change and evolve. I will continue to make my case for “system” rather than “studies”. The wholeness of the duality of Change/Constant is what we teach and what we should continue to Shape!