While all the Dance Elements are interconnected, Space is perhaps the most crucial in its relationship to each of the other elements. Teaching about Space in Primary school dance lessons can be overwhelming and seem complex. Keeping it simple is key to students understanding this Element of Dance.
Focusing on the basic components of Space mean that children can see how powerful and compelling the use of Space in choreography can be. These components include Direction, Level, Dimension, Pathways, Shape, Focus.
Why is the Dance Element of Space so central to dance?
The patterns that dance forms in space will affect the meaning and the emotional qualities of the movements.
Space can be used to shape and form dances.
When dancing a solo, Space can be the unseen partner in the dance.
Because the dancer moves through the space, in motion, the three-dimensional use of shapes is enhanced.
By manipulating Space, it emphasizes the physical connection with the performance space.
Symbolic Space is used to represent something or someone else.
The components of Space
The following are the key components of Space. There are others that play a role in how we use Space, but it is important to keep this as clear as possible for our younger students.
The body can move in multiple directions for long or short durations of time. They can go forwards, backwards, diagonally, sideways, up, or down.
The dancer can be elevated briefly in the air by themselves or lifted by other dancers. Short of flying, our bodies can move through space in any direction.
The use of directions creates Pathways in the Space forming patterns in the air or on the ground. These can be zigzag lines, right angles, squares, arcs, spirals, circles.
Pathways become a road map of our choreography as different parts of the body initiate movements that are curved, angular or a combination of these.
As the body creates these pathways they exist on different levels in the Space. The movements often exist between levels. However, using a particular level for a section of a piece of choreography can create meaning within the dance.
Low level movements are often associated with being earthy, grounded, and heavy.
Middle (medium) level movements seem as if the dancer is going somewhere or standing on the ground.
High level movements may signify elevation, flying, or defying gravity. This sense of height can be assisted by partners, physical platforms, or represented through technology.
By combining these levels, the choreographer can build tension, or create empathy. You can create a sense of heightened dynamics by moving from a low to a high level.
By changing different parts of the body, either individually or as a group of dancers, the choreographer implies meaning and emotions. These shapes can be curved or angular, symmetrical, asymmetrical or a combination.
The use of symmetry and asymmetry in groups of dancers is particularly powerful. Symmetry suggests balance or possibly that there will be no other movement. We often see this at the end of a dance.
Asymmetry is more irregular and off balance. Motion is implied as the dancer’s balance is seen to be disturbed. The use of asymmetrical shapes is exciting as it suggests continual movement.
Dance Shape Activity # 1
Imagine you are a mirror, smooth, glittering, and fragile. The glass shatters and as you collapse, moving from a high level to a low level, you are creating angular shapes using percussive energy.
Write a paragraph to describe the movements. Here are some adjectives that may be useful; hard-edge, sharp, jagged, rigid, unyielding, inflexible, stiff, jerky, angular, direct.
How many components of Space did you use in your movements?
What other themes could these movements represent?
The size, height, and width of the movement in the Space is also a way in which movement may be varied. When combined with Relationship it can represent changes in the connection between the dancers or the meaning of the movements.
The dancer directs the focus of the audience by how they respond to the space. They may shrink away from or be drawn towards an imagined object in the space.
The dancer’s use of the Space creates dramatic attention, which may be emphasized by the dancer’s line of sight, further projecting intent.
Using Space to create meaning in choreography
Lockhart and Pease (1982), describe how by changing the dancers use of Space, the emotion and meaning of the movement can be implied. This may be applied to the shape created with the body, the grouping of the dances, or their position in the performance space.
Straight line – bold, strong, formal, emphatic, stimulating.
Vertical line – disquiet, sense of breadth, resistance.
Long curving line – calmness, gentle, anticipation of continuing motion.
Moving forwards – dynamic and affirmative.
Moving backwards – less powerful.
Dance Space Activity #2
Taking a phrase of movement, experiment with some of the uses of Space included above. Try creating a table that includes the use of space and the children’s feelings about the movement.
How does it make them feel?
What was it in the dancer’s use of Space that changed the meaning, or the emotions associated with the movement?
Moving in Space
Using Space as an inspiration for choreography can be a simple way to introduce children to the complex nature of dance design. Even experimenting with the contrast between curved and angular shapes is an opportunity to talk about positive and negative space, asymmetry and symmetry, and three-dimensional shapes.
Insights into using Space come from students having opportunities to explore, create, and observe how it is used in dance. Try these ideas for your students to interact with Space.
Blom, L and Chaplin, L (1989), The Intimate Act of Choreography, Dance Books, London.
Lockhart, A and Pease, E (1982), Modern Dance: Building and Teaching Lessons, William C Brown Pub.
Pomer, J (2009), Dance Composition. An Interrelated Arts Approach, Human Kinetics.