A Handbook for Dance in Education: Theme IV

Preston-Dunlop, V. (1987) A Handbook for Dance in Education. Longman, England

Theme IV: The Flow of the Weight of the Body in Space and Time


This chapter unpicks the concept of flow in movement and dance. We may begin to understand flow when we experience movement that is continuous, without starts and stops. A river, for example, is often described as flowing as the water is always moving without an apparent beginning or end. The opposite of continuous is discontinuous; if the movements start and stop then we may describe the sequence as not flowing. The sequence may be described as interrupted. An important point to note is that when we talk about continuity and flow, one is talking about how the movements follow on from one another and the transitions made between movements. What does a dancer need to do to prepare their next action when in the process of delivering their present movement? How does one control or plan for these transitions in dance? A dance sequence that incorporates sharp, staccato like movements can have good flow if the movements follow on from each other with shape and direction, even though, sharp, staccato like movements are in a sense continually starting and stopping. Flow in dance is not only concerned with sweeping, smooth, legato movements.

Body Flow

Body flow, the ways in which movements flow through the body can be described in two ways. Movements can flow successively and simultaneously. In successive flow, movements pass from one body part to a neighbouring body part in succession, for example, the successive flow of movements from shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers. Other body combinations are also offered in this chapter. In simultaneous body flow, the activity is experienced as happening in all moving body parts at the same time.

Free and Bound Flow Qualities

Free and bound flow relates to the way in which movement is controlled or not controlled. Preston-Dunlop highlights that Laban describes free flow in the following way:

“In an action in which it is difficult to stop the movement suddenly, the flow is free.” (page 28)

Laban describes bound flow as follows:

“In an action capable of being stopped and held without difficulty, at any moment during the movement, the flow is bound.” (page 28)

Controlling movement can lead to the movement being stopped, an alteration of the movement or an adjustment of the movement. With regards to the stopping of a movement, Preston-Dunlop clarifies that what stops is the natural completion of the movement in question. The movement may not stop all together but perhaps change course or direction due to a correction or adjustment.

Flexible and Direct Space Qualities

A direct movement concerns a restricted use of space. The dancer does not deviate from his or her pathway but maintains a straight, purposeful path. It is noted that ‘no importance is felt for the space that is left on either side of the pathway of the action’ (page 30).

On the other hand, a flexible movement enjoys using space to the full. Flexible movement is a ‘movement which wanders through the space, several parts of the body going into different places at the same time’ (page 30).

The Four Motion Factors As Continuous

This chapter continues by discussing the four motion factors of weight, time, space and flow in more detail. These factors also have associating symbols which are clearly illustrated. When these motion factors are combined, the following combinations are possible: flow-space; flow-time; flow-weight; weight-space and space-time. When we consider these motion qualities in connection to free and bound flow, flexible and direct space we have many more ways through which to describe movement. Movement descriptions of the above are provided with accompanying illustrations in this chapter.

Phrasing and Punctuation

This chapter concludes by reflecting on the phrasing of movement combinations and comparisons are made to speech and how we construct sentences of words (valuable connections between speech and movement are presented).

‘Phrases of movement are like sentences of words, in that a string of words does not necessarily make a sentence and neither does a string of movements.’ (pages 37-38)

Movement phrases need all the characteristics of a well formed sentence that includes a noun, adjective, verb and adverb. This is a very strong analogy.