A Fundamental Movement Principle: Utilizing Rotation

by Karen Studd, updated Spring 2020

Rotation is both a body action and a larger meta concept (meta in the sense of beyond) constructed from the physical sensorial experience of rotation.

There is something inherently beautiful about rotationspinning, twirling, spiraling twisting, turning, rolling – Ferris Wheels, the Wheel of Fortune – The mind-boggling discovery of the wheel!

Universal Pattern/Individual Experience

Rotation gives us access to the entire world around us. Rotation allows us to change perspectives and supports access to alternative possibilities. Rotation is a universal pattern of movement. The earth rotates on its axis and in its orbit, it revolves around the sun. Children love to spin turning around and around till dizzy. The ballerina, in pirouetting, sublimely expresses the wholeness of the theme of Mobility/Stability through her rotary action. The spatial Vertical Dimension aligned with the pull of gravity and the dancer’s vertical thoroughness are the stable center around which the mobile turning action is performed. This graceful action reflects both the celestial rotation of the heavenly bodies but also how humans indulge in this experience – the same action that the child relishes. And too, this same connection – that of the unique individual human experience to the universal pattern is also reflected in the Sufis whirling dance of devotion.

Rotation creates a circular pathway and the circle is an eternal form; it is endless, having no beginning or ending. The circle is harmonious, the circle creates a safe-haven. On the inside its center is stabile, creating a harmonious balance of inner and outer. In a circle, all points are equal. This is the idea of the Knights of the Round Table. The circle’s center can focus us by becoming the “center of attention”. Rotation connects us both to ourselves as well as to our environment. We “circle our wagons” or we get lost “running in circles” or we get stuck in place and simply “spin our wheels”.

The Shape of Space

To experience rotation is to experience space taking shape. One fundamental shape revealed through rotation is the screw shape form. You may recall that the screw along with the lever, pulley and inclined plane, is one of the basic “simple machines” (and keep in mind that the pulley relies on the wheel shape).

The circle in 3D becomes the sphere, the coil becomes the 3D vortex. A spiral or a twist can change everything or bring us round again. A “twister”, that is a tornado, can bring chaos and destruction. The “windup” can be a powerful preparation before the baseball pitcher releases the ball. The spiral twist of upper body against lower is the key to perfecting the golfers swing.

The Movement of Rotation

With our first full body rotation – when in infancy we turn over- the whole world changes, not only for ourselves providing a new perspective, but also for our caretakers as we are now mobile and will no longer stay put!

Rotation enables us to accommodate by allowing us to wrap ourselves or parts of ourselves around things. It is the cornerstone of our ability to move 3 dimensionally. It allows our form, our body’s shape to accommodate to our environment as we master wrapping our hands around tools or ourselves around another in an embrace.

Rotation is key to our survival as it allows us to scan the full view of our environment. And while we do not have the ability to twist our heads like an owl, we are able to, with access to our entire spine and joints of the pelvis and legs scan 360 degrees.

Our spines rotate, our proximal joints rotate, and embracing the fully rotary action we are endowed with through all our parts, liberates our movement potential. The elderly loose this function if they do not stay in touch with their joints mobility and such tasks as backing up a car where you must rotate head and spine to see become limited. Rotary actions often appear more fluid because they involve a harmonious phrasing of multiple joints, rather than the simpler single joint actions of flexion and extension and of abduction and adduction.

Rotation is connected to fluidity of motion. This link goes to the essence of the nature of fluids – a drop of water adopts a spherical shape. Water, in its fluid form, also adapts to the shape of a container. Shaping expresses a mutual relationship. So while water can take on the shape of a vessel containing it – it can also shapes its containers – think about how rivers shape the canyons through which they run, expressing a mutual relationship of the elements of earth and water, a merging of contents and container.

Experience Understanding Metaphor

Our experience of the body’s action(s) of rotation leads to the conceptual understanding of this phenomenon leading to metaphors based in the experience. An abundance of metaphors grow out of this movement experience.

Some images/ideas/metaphors to think of in relation to rotation:  

Play – balls of all sorts in all manner of sports!

Planets – the sun the moon as eternal ongoing cyclic images

Cycles of all sorts from the cycle of life, and the daily and monthly cycles associated with the sun and the moon, to the traditional clock face with the “hands” cycling its “face”.

More Metaphors and the languaging based in the foundational experience of this concept

“Roll with the punches” to address the larger idea of accommodation. Or descriptions of chaotic situations described as “spinning out of control”.

Rotating an image to get a different perspective or rotating around something to see it from differing points of view are common images. We say that we “turn” things over in our minds. The metaphor of “turning something over” conveys a means of smooth transition to the next phase or next person and provides continuity and continuation. Rotation therefore can be seen as an action in support of development and evolution.

We ask students to “turn in” their papers or assignments.

We say that there was a good “turn out” for an event.

We encourage children to “take turns”

The expression, “One good turn deserves another”

We talk about an unexpected “turn of events”

We express confusion as becoming “all turned around”

Use the expression, “Leave no stone unturned”

Refer to a new start as, “Turning things around”

The Laban/Bartenieff Movement System links to the action and concept of  Rotation – a few of the links to the BESS components  (Body, Effort, Space and Shape)  

Now let’s address the LBMS of Rotation – thinking about the connection between rotation in Bartenieff Fundamentals and to the notion of Space Harmony – the body as spatially harmonic in form and function and a part of the Whole!

The concept of rotation from the perspective of the Body includes the anatomical action of joint rotation as well as the more macro construct of, in LBMS terms, the Basic Body Action of Rotation as well as the BFP – the Bartenieff Fundamental Principle of Rotary Support.

Rotation allows us to take in information from the environment (Body and Space) and then to engage, accommodate and to adapt as wanted or needed (Shape). This, in LBMS terms, is the way in which the action of rotation (both anatomical action as well as the more generalized Basic Body Action) supports the Mode of Shaping (Shape). And this connection of rotation to interaction in the environment also links this action to the Space Factor (Effort). Rotation allows us to get a new perspective, specific perspective and/or access a wide perspective. In this way, rotation relates to the senses and Body Action that support Indirect and Direct Space Effort, allowing us to scan our environment or to swivel to hone-in on something. Access to rotary motion also supports finding the full 3Dimensional volume and access to all zones and Directions of the Kinesphere (Space).

Rotation as expressed in both form and function is an aspect Space Harmony. This is well illustrated in the spiral shapes illustrating the Fibonacci sequence as can be found in the spiraled shape of a Nautilus shell. Rotary forms such as the spiral and the helix are also about an efficiency of Space. The form of chromosomes containing our genetic code in the DNA molecules are in the shape of double helixes, a form that allows a lot of information to be contained in a small space – expressing the efficiency of this rotational form.

Like the endless circle there is always more that can be expressed about the phenomena of rotation. And when in doubt one can always rotate!

** this document was initially written at the request of students in a movement analysis training program and was based on a class I taught in 2009 to that group. Most of these ideas /musings have subsequently been included in the text, EveryBody is a Body written by me with my WholeMovement collaborator Laura Cox.