Understanding the use of Levels in dance

Levels, in dance, is how we use different heights in the Space. It refers to the vertical distance from the floor. It is a component of the Elements of Dance and is part of the basic content and vocabulary of a dance class.

Levels describe movement that happens a High, Medium (Middle) or Low area within the dance space. The level that a movement is performed at, can give us information about the meaning, mood, or emotion of the movement.

using Levels in dance
The three Levels of movement

Low level movements are seen as grounded or dragging and heavy. These levels are no higher than crawling under a fence.

using Levels in dance

Medium (Middle) level movement are often about travelling or ‘going’ somewhere, moving towards or away from. This level is at waist height or standing.

using Levels in dance

High level movements are linked to lightness, giving the illusion of flying or defying gravity. These are the movements of elevation and reaching high.

using Levels in dance

Low level movements: rolling, sitting, kneeling, crawling, crouching.
Medium level movements: walking, stepping, balancing, running.
High level movements: leaping, pushing off the ground, stretching into the air, skipping, jumping.

What are Levels in dance?

Each of the Levels is only a guideline so we can name the place in space in relationship to the body’s distance from the ground. Of course there are all the levels that occur between each of these. So when we think about High, Medium (Middle) and Low we think of them in a band or zone within the space.

The most interesting use of Levels happens when we transition between these ‘zones’ as we move through the space. Having said this, moving on one level can be highly effective when using a level to convey meaning or emotion. This is an example from Terrain by Bangarra Dance Theatre (1:56 – 2:49 m )

What do the different Levels in dance mean?

How children understand the use of levels in dance will depend on their age group.

The Early Years

In the Early Years their focus will be about discriminating the difference between the three Levels of High, Medium and Low. This could involve children individually making shapes or creating movements that happen at each of the levels.

It could also include the children observing how their body looks different or the same at each level as they make shapes. Alternatively, they could focus on how their body feels. Which Level uses the most amount of effort.

using Levels in dance

To children of this age, identifying Levels as a part of how they use the Space, is an important part of developing the vocabulary to communicate about dance. They need to have opportunities to talk about their own dances and how they are moving their bodies.

This new vocabulary also gives them the words to describe what they are seeing when other children move. This helps to develop their ability to interpret and make sense of what they are observing.

Try asking questions that encourage children to explain what they are seeing and experiencing. Draw their attention to their sensory experience of movement.

How did it feel to move on a low level?

Which parts of your body were pressing against the ground?

Was the surface of the ground rough or smooth? How did that feel as you were dancing?

Did the level you were moving on change how much energy you had? Did it make you move faster or slower? Smoother or jerkier?

Years 3 &4

At this age children are exploring levels from a more structural perspective. They investigate transitioning between levels and how the contrast between the levels can be explored.

Children will look at shape making on different levels with other dancers. They will develop balance skills by exploring these shapes and movement as they connect a range of body parts.

Sinking and rising through the Space are investigated in Years 3 & 4, further challenging their balance skills. This can be used when performing locomotor (travelling) movements and non-locomotor movements (on the spot).

Choreographically, children in this age group can respond to more complex stimulus. They often see the use of levels as way of creating contrast in their own dances. Using contrasting music can encourage them to explore levels.

Does the deep base sound in the music suggest a level?

How can you reflect the changes in the music by using different levels?

Levels in dance are also used to convey emotions and to represent stories and ideas. Children can often communicate their ideas in quite abstract ways using different levels.

Similarly, they look for meaning in the choreography of others. This could be identifying meaning or describing the use of levels in a professional dance works or in response to watch their classmates.

As they develop a more versatile movement vocabulary children find it interesting to discuss where the zones of the different levels begin and end. I love this conversation as there really is no definitive answer…just in-depth discussion as a part of the process.

Years 5 & 6

This age group are making more sophisticated links between the use of Levels to make meaning. They are looking at it as a vehicle of composition. More advanced students will begin to develop partnering skills that use balance, contrast, and sharing of weight at different levels.

They also explore Level as a part of the overall structure of the dance’s design or as a major point of emphasis. They examine how other choreographers have used Levels as a way of constructing their dances.

In their compositions they are also starting to observe the use of levels as a way of making their dances interesting to the audience. They move beyond using levels as a way of solving a movement problem and begin to explore the aesthetic implications of how we use Space.

Using levels in dance

This could include using level to represent a character or create a particular mood in their dance. Level can be used to signify the status of a character or give insights into their noteworthy traits.

This is also a chance to introduce how Level can be manipulated using costumes, props, or stage setting. An example of this includes the giant heart-shaped skirt of the Queen of Hearts in Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, that lifted the character above all the other dancers. Or the entrance of Don Quixote on his horse in the ballet of the same name.

How does the costume change the level of the dancer? What impact does this have on how think about the character?

What are some changes to the stage setting that could impact the level of the dancer? How could this reflect the intended meaning?

How could you use different levels to emphasis a particular trait of your character?

Using Levels in dance

There are many ways you can explore Levels in dance as a component of Space, using still shapes or locomotor movements.

Describing movements using levels is a way to build your students dance vocabulary. It empowers them to be able to talk about their own choreography and better reflect their ideas in their dances.

As a part of the DTI Membership resources there are many dance activities that help students to understand the use of levels.  These practical dance resources are supported by reflective worksheets that help to capture student understanding and achievement in dance.

Become a part of the DTI community today and bring more dance into your classroom.