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ELEMENTS OF DANCE

The elements of dancebody, action, space,


time and energy are visible in all dances.
The acronymB.A.S.T.E.helps students and
teachers remember the elements:
Body
Action
Space
Time
Energy
The elements of dance are part of the
foundational concepts that dancers
understand and practice, and they provide a
way of framing and talking about movement
in any type of dance. While different dance
styles call for specialized skills and stylization
choices, the underlying elements of dance
body, action, space, time, and energyare
visible in all dance experiences.
No paints nor brushes, marbles nor chisels, pianos
or violins are needed to make this art, for we are
the stuff that dance is made of. It is born in our
body, exists in our body and dies in our body.
Dance, then, is the most personal of all the arts . . .
it springs from the very breath of life.
Source: Terry, Walter (1942). Invitation to Dance.
New York: Barnes, 16.
In dance, the body is the mobile figure or
shape, felt by the dancer, seen by others. The
body is sometimes relatively still and
sometimes changing as the dancer moves in
place or travels through the dance area.
Dancers may emphasize specific parts of
their body in a dance phrase or their whole
body.
When we look at a dancer's whole body we might
consider the overall shape design; is it symmetrical?
twisted?

Another way to describe the body in dance is to


consider the body systemsmuscles, bones,
organs, breath, balance, reflexes. We could describe
how the skeletal system or breath is used, for
example. The body is the conduit between the inner
realm of intentions, ideas, emotions and identity and
the outer realm of expression and communication.
Whether watching dance or dancing ourselves, we
shift back and forth between the inner~outer sense
of body.
These are just some of the ways to describe
body:

Parts of the Body:head, eyes, face,


shoulders, fingers, torso, legs, feet, etc.
Whole Body:

body shape: symmetrical/asymmetrical,


rounded, twisted, angular, arabesque,
elongated, squat
body systems:muscles, bones, organs,
breath, balance, reflexes
Action is any human movement included in the act
of dancingit can include dance steps, facial
movements, lifts, carries, and catches, and even
everyday movements such as walking. Dancers
may choose movement that has been done before,
or they may add their own original movements to
the existing dance movement vocabulary. Dancers
may also revise or embellish movement they have
learned from others.
Dance is made up of streams of movement and
pauses, so action refers not only to steps and
sequences, but also to pauses and moments of
relative stillness.
Movement that travels through space is broadly
called locomotor movement in contrast to axial
movement, which occurs in one spot.
Understanding and discussing action does not
require extensive dance terminology since
movement can be categorized and described
according to its qualities. For example, while a
sashay in American Square Dance might be
called a chass in Ballet or an undercurve in
Modern Dance technique, we can also describe it
as a slide since that essential characteristic is
present in all those steps.
These are just some of the ways to describe
action:

Non-locomotor (axial):
stretch, bend, twist, turn, rise, fall, swing,
rock, tip, shake

Locomotor (traveling):
slide, walk, hop, somersault, run, skip, jump,
leap, roll, crawl, gallop, chain turns, do-si-do
Dancers interact with space in a myriad of ways.
They may stay in one place and move parts of
their body or their whole body, or they may
travel from one place to another. They may alter
the direction, level, size, and pathways of their
movements.

Dancers may focus their movement and attention


outwardly to the space or inwardly, into
themselves. The line of travel may be quite direct
toward one or more points in space or indefinite
and meandering. The dance may take place in
one corner of a stage or in a big open circle
outdoors with the entire community surrounding
the dancers.
Dancers may also orient their movement
toward objects or in relation to natural
settings. Sometimes dances are created for
specific locations such as an elevator or a
barge for site-based performances. Spatial
relationships between dancers or between
dancers and objects are the basis for design
concepts such as beside, in front of, over,
through, around, near or far.
These are just some of the ways to describe space:

Size:large, small, narrow, wide

Level:high, medium, low

Place:on the spot (personal space), through the


space (general space), upstage/downstage

Direction:forward/backward, sideways, diagonal,


right/left
Orientation:facing

Pathway:curved/straight, zig-zag,
random

Relationships:in front, behind, over, under,


alone/connected, near/far individual & group
proximity to object

Human movement is naturally rhythmic in the broad


sense that we alternate activity and rest. Breath and
waves are examples of rhythms in nature that
repeat, but not as consistently as in a metered
rhythm. Spoken word and conversation have rhythm
and dynamics, but the patterns are characteristically
more inconsistent and unpredictable.
Rhythmic patterns may be metered or free
rhythm. Much of western music uses
repeating patterns (2/4 or 3/4 for example),
but concepts of time and meter are used very
differently throughout the world. Dance
movements may also show different timing
relationships such as simultaneous or
sequential timing, brief to long duration, fast
to slow speed, or accents in predictable or
unpredictable intervals.
Time may also be organized in other ways
including clock time, sensed time, and event-
sequence. Dancers may take sight cues from
each other to start the next phrase or use a
shared awareness of sensed time to end a
dance. They may even take cues from an
event such as a train whistle during an
outdoor dance performance. The inherent
rhythms in our movement and our aural
landscape are a rich source of variation in
dance.
These are just some of the ways to describe
time:

Metered:
pulse, tempo, accent, rhythmic, pattern

Free Rhythm:
breath, open score, sensed time,
improvisation

Clock Time:
seconds, minutes, hours

Timing relationships:
Energy is about how movement happensit
refers to the dynamics of an action and can mean
both the physical and psychic energy that drives
and characterizes movement.

Energy is not a single dimension. For example,


saying that a dance has a lot of energy is a
broad statement, so in describing energy, look
for specific dimensions of energy such as the
ones on the Elements of Dance Graphic
Organizer. Choices about energy include
variations in movement flow and use of force,
tension, and weight. A run might be free flowing
or easily stopped, and it may be powerful or
gentle, tight or loose, heavy or light. A dancer
Energy choices may also reveal emotional
states. For example, a powerful push might be
aggressive or playfully boisterous depending
on the intent and situation. A delicate touch
might appear affectionate or perhaps suggest
concern, even fear.

Variations in energy are sometimes easy to


identify. At other times, the dynamics can be
quite subtle and ambiguous, and change from
moment to moment. Perhaps more so than
the other elements, energy taps into the
nonverbal yet deeply communicative realm of
These are just some of the ways to describe
energy:

Attack:
sharp/smooth, sudden/sustained

Weight:
Strength: push, horizontal, impacted
Lightness: resist the down, initiate up
Resiliency: rebound, even up and down

Flow:
free, bound, balanced, neutral

Quality:
flowing, tight, loose, sharp, swinging, swaying,