Was ist Bewegung?

Text von Andrea Krohn


According to the dictionary movement is a noun that could be either:

1. The act or process of moving: motion, move, stir. 2. A change in normal place or position: dislocation, displacement, disturbance, move, rearrangement, shift. 3. A calculated change in position: evolution, maneuver, move, turn. 4. An organized effort to accomplish a purpose: campaign, crusade, drive, push.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011). http://www.thefreedictionary.com/movement

This essay attempts to document the Seminar we had in Holland as well as open and broaden the questions presented by it, connecting subjects that may appear in other seminars. Following a playfull logic it will present the theme WHAT IS MOVEMENT according to the definition order from the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011).

NUMBER ONE: The act or process of moving: motion, move, stir.

A dancer enters the stage. It moves like a zombie from those cheap horror movies. It comes to the left front of the stage and slowly raises both arms to the ceiling. The head is turned suddenly to the right and the dancer start to shake its arms violently above the head, the rest of the body still. Two other dancers coming from the right back corner move diagonally towards the first dancer crossing theirs legs in front of each other. When they reach the first dancer, all colapse and sink to the floor.

LET´S MAKE AN EXERCISE: Press play in the movie below. The material was recorded in Ekeby, during the seminar with the same title of this page. See if you can describe the movements in it.

The first problem we have when we think about movement is how to catch it, or in other words, how to describe it, because movement is described as an ephemeral thing. There are several attempts made to notate dance, as Dina Öhler-Lindström explains beautifully in the page “Was ist Choreographie”. There is for example the Feuillet-notation, the Laban notation, under many others.

As Sabine Huschka describes in her text the discussion between Jean Georges Noverre and Gasparo Angiolini in the middle of the 18th century reveals a lot about the modern concept of dance as an ephemeral movement and beyond that how different concepts in the use of notation are behind different aesthetic and political concepts of dance. For both Noverre and Angilioni, movement is described as something ephemeral that is opposed to the materialization of the act of writing. Although Angilioni saw in the notation of dance, namely in the choreography, the possibility of creating a memory of the act of dancing, Noverre affirms that the notation will never substitute the moment where the movement happens, the actual performance of it, and therefore is useless for composing dances. (Huschka, 2011)

According to Huschka, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing also points a problem in the translation of movement into words, or painting. For him, both arts present a trace, a materiality of something that is immaterial, something that is not possible to catch and therefore is translated into another medium. For Lessing, what we see as movement in a painting is nothing more than our imagination of that movement, as your imagination was probably working while seeing the video and listening to the recorded sound.

So while writing or notating dance movement we have a translation problem from one media into another. Therefore, in terms Walter Benjamin, we face the impossible attempt to approach the original – in the case our inquiry, movement – without never really achieving it.

„Übersetzbarkeit eignet gewissen Werken wesentlich — das heißt nicht, ihre Übersetzung ist wesentlich für sie selbst, sondern will besagen, dass eine bestimmte Bedeutung, die den Originalen innewohnt, sich in ihrer Übersetzbarkeit äußere.“ (Benjamim, 1972:10)

The translation, the capture of movement into another media can only present something from its core of meaning, but will always remain different from the original thing.

NUMBER TWO: A change in normal place or position: dislocation, displacement, disturbance, move, rearrangement, shift.

There is in the critic Isa Wortelkamp exposes in the Text “Für eine Theorie der Bewegung ” (Isa, 2010) a second problem to analyze here: When does movement turn into dance? What differentiates a pirouette from a turn to check the clock on the wall? And why is one perceived as dance and the other not?

To continue, we first have to define better what movement is. Here are some of the conclusions about movement that we collect on those sunny seminar days back in Holland:

Number one: A body is always in movement. To a phenomenological approach, body is therefore movement. “The act or process of moving: motion, move, stir.”

Number two: “A change in normal place or position: dislocation, displacement, disturbance, move, rearrangement, shift” Movement is, as Aristoteles would say, change. (Isa, 2010: 271)

Number three: In its physical way, movement is nothing more than the relationship between time and space. “A calculated change in position: evolution, maneuver, move, turn”

Number four: For the action theory, movement is the person access to the world. Erving Goffman says that the organization of the body in time and space influences the social order and because movement is something culturally and collectively created; in his perspective orders of interactions will be orders of movement. “An organized effort to accomplish a purpose: campaign, crusade, drive, push”

So following the example above, our corporal codes are read by the others and therefore interactions orders are movement orders. As when we cross the street, we dont need to comunicate that we will pass through the right while other person will pass through the left. The movement express by the body already indicates it. When we fail and „dance“ around each other, the interaction order was not clear enough to create a clear movement order. So, the way we move is pre determinate and socially constructed, therefore movements in dance are also socially constructed.

DISTURBANCE LET´S MAKE ANOTHER EXERCISE: Which one of the videos below would you describe as a recording of movements and which one as a recording of dance? And where is the difference?

Ok. I hope you got several brilliant answers for what is the difference between dance and movement. Maybe you can also post your ideas below, for us.

NUMBER THREE: A calculated change in position: evolution, maneuver, move, turn

Following some thoughts of the seminar, dance would differentiate from movement in several aspects:

  • When it is in a dance context
  • When it is affirmed as dance

Let´s have a look into a brief resume of the western dance history, to understand better what dance is and differentiate it better from what movement is:

Among other dances created by the Europeans let´s have a look in the tradition of Ballet. With the establishment of the Academie Royale de la Danse by Louis XIV in the middle of the 17th century, one of its thirteen experts, namely Beauchamps, is credited for defining the clear postures that perpetuate into the ballet tradition until today: first, second, third, fourth and fifth position. From that period on, many other steps that will form this technique, focused on the vertical presentation of the body, where codified and formalized. (Needham, 1997:175)

Photo Kryziz BonnyFourth position in pointé

After the ballet, we had the modernist dancers, who in the beginning of the 20th century start to explore and present a different way of moving and who in an oversimplification of dance’s history – oversimplification because the case here is just to elucidate dance history and the different approaches on movement – rebel against the technique of ballet and created different dance languages, with different body postures. The center of force was located in another point in the body and the dance figures presented had another relation with space. Between many others we can mention Martha Graham:



And beyond her we could also mention Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn (which where teachers of Graham) Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, José Limon and many others that belong to the modern dance tradition, each one of them created its own dance technique, with its own body concepts. After the modernists other dancers and choreographers followed who again changed and developed different body ideas, like the ones involved in the Judson Dance Theater.

And let us not forget one of our video example above, Pina Bausch, which with her choreographies brought a new understanding of dance into light. About the work of Pina Bausch we can point the writtings of Jochen Schmidt:

„Since the mid-1970s at the latest Pina Bausch has been faced with the question as to whether what she was doing was really dance – and not theatre: a misunderstanding that expanded her earlier statement that she is less interested in how people move than what moves them. (…) But ultimately, the question as to whether Pina Bausch’s work as a whole and individual pieces of her total of over twenty full-evening pieces should be classified as dance or theatre is irrelevant because everything that her dancers do in her pieces – even the speaking – is incorporated in a great dancing rhythm.“ (Schmidt, 2002)


So conclusively, what where the majority of the western dancers always concerned about? Beyond the relation between time and space,  the FORM appears as a big point of interest, togheter with the affirmation that what they – the choreographers – do is dance.

But I want to make clear that this is not a definition you can simply apply to all dances, as a worldwide true. Because the analysis presented here concentrate itself in the European / North American perspective of dance and don’t take into account the discourse about dance produced in, for example, African or Asian countries. Reason for that is because I didn’t present here any theoretical reference to counterpoint the argumentation for the form as prior definition for dance. And as we see in the discourse of Jochen Schmidt, he defines the dance in Pina Bausch as beeing so originated from its rhythm, and not from the concentration on the form. And let´s also not forget the liminality existing between dance and ritual, dance and trance, dance and play.

As an example that will complement this line of thought, we also talked during the seminar that in concept dance there is not such an attention on the form of the movement. Therefore the affirmation that what we see is dance because it is in a context of dance and is defined as such for those who make it and see it, prevails in the case of defining conceptual dance.

„Theatral und kulturell operiert die Tanzkunst daher mit historisch distinktiven Wahrnehmungsdispositiven, die Bewegungen herausbilden und erkennbar machen“ (Huschka, 2011:78)

As Sabine Huschka and Gabrielle Klein well define dance is something culturally – that means also socially and historically – created, which formats and defines what dance or movement could be, in the case of this essay, European and North American centered.

NUMBER FOUR: An organized effort to accomplish a purpose: campaign, crusade, drive, push

The challenge for understanding movement is already given by Claudia Jeschke. The important critic Isa Wortelkamp points in her text “Für eine Theorie der Bewegung”(Wortelkamp,2010) based on the research of Claudia Jeschke, is that a new notation system should be created for analyzing just movement, because until now the notation systems are focusing only in dance, in its performance modus and not in movement itself. Several other questions could be made around the topic of movement and dance, and its difference. Could movement alone be understood as political? Can a movement be or offer resistance? What is the difference between a dancing body and a non-dancing body, and would that help us to understand what movement is? For more information about this topics, please follow the link to the writings of Marc Carrera – “Choreographie as Widerstand” and Su Jin Kim in “Was Körper Können”. Their reflections complement, inside their perspective point, what movement could be or offer.


All Photos are taken from Flickr under the Attribution and Noncommercial License of Creative Commons: Street Photography by Sjoerd Lammers, Ballet Shoes by Kryziz Bonny and Martha Graham by Crossett Library, and is of responsabiblity of its author. All Material posted on this PAGE is also free of use under the Attribution and Noncommercial License of Creative Commons and is of authory and responsability of Andrea Krohn.



– American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011). http://www.thefreedictionary.com/movement

– Benjamin, Walter (1972) Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers. In: ders. Gesammelte Schriften Bd. IV/1, S. 9-21. Frankfurt/Main

– Huschka, Sabine (2011) Bewegung auf-lesen – Blicke ordnen. Wahrnehmungs- und Erinnerungsräume schaffen, in: Isa Wortelkamp (Hg.): Bewegung Lesen | Bewegung Schreiben. Berlin: Revolver, S. 77-97

– Klein, Gabriele (2004): Bewegung denken. Ein soziologischer Entwurf. In: Dies. (Hrsg.), Bewegung. Sozial- und kulturwissenschaftliche Konzepte. Bielefeld: Transcript, S. 131 – 154.

– Needham, Marleen (1997): Louis XIV and the Académie Royale de Danse, 1661: A Commentary and Translation. In: Dance Chronicle, Vol. 20, No. 2. Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. S. 173-190

– Schmidt, Jochen (2002) Tanzgeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, Henschel Verlag.

– Wortelkamp, Isa (2010): Für eine Theorie der Bewegung. In: K. Fenböck, & N. Haitzinger (Hrsg.), Denkfiguren. Performatives zwischen Bewegen, Schreiben und Erfinden. München: Epodium, S. 268-276.

Kommentar verfassen

Trage deine Daten unten ein oder klicke ein Icon um dich einzuloggen:


Du kommentierst mit Deinem WordPress.com-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )

Google Foto

Du kommentierst mit Deinem Google-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )


Du kommentierst mit Deinem Twitter-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )


Du kommentierst mit Deinem Facebook-Konto. Abmelden /  Ändern )

Verbinde mit %s