Image courtesy of The Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies

As the pandemic continues in various forms and contexts, it is clear educators will be moving in and out of learning spaces online, in the classroom/studio, in hybrid forms, but likely without proximity or touch as a teaching and learning modality.

At the Laban/Bartenieff Institute, we had been thinking about online teaching and learning for some years, especially since many prospective students wanted to study the work but could not reasonably or affordably come to New York City or other locations globally to do so. We had been using Zoom for meetings for a far-flung Board and Staff, and the Global Water Dances program, a bi-annual global event, had been exploring a variety of live-streaming tools for the 2013-2015-2017-2019 performances.

But as March 2020 unfolded, it became clear that we needed to ratchet up our efforts, and quickly. The mechanics of online teaching were not the problem; we were Zoom experts. The biggest challenge? How to be embodied and teach embodiment in the virtual world.

Three areas of concern and ultimately, intersection emerged: the pedagogy (teaching practice), the methodology (curriculum delivery) and technology (what is possible in the two-dimensional world?).

We began by recognizing that the platforms that we needed to use were designed for collaboration and not for presentation and certainly not for a movement class, where the teacher needed to be seen in full body and needed to be able to see all the bodies in the room. Changing our pedagogical mindset needed to be a first step.

As Bob Bejan of Microsoft describes in this video, the presenter needs to be aware of the cinematic nature of the medium, as compared to the theatrical nature of the in-studio, in vivo medium. The teacher needs to be aware that they are framed in a space that requires extreme clarity of physicality, tone, voice. And the students are in isolation and need to be aware of their own presence, physicality, and clarity as well.

Since the most critical support for full engagement with the felt body is the touch of others, for example the touch of someone running their hands along the trapezius, or down the spine to illuminate lengthening through the core, or along a neck that’s compressing, we have tried some ideas to address that. To a certain extent, self-touch informed by anatomical knowledge, visualizations, illustrations, help, along with sharing perceptions of shift in the felt experience afterward.  But we have had to acknowledge that holding hands in a circle at the end of the class and truly sensing everyone through the haptic connection is not possible in the online environment.

We have also recognized when two people are in the class together, as happened in one class where two sisters worked together, the difference in the comprehension of what shifts were possible was clear, compared to the comprehension of the individual movers, alone in small spaces. Two people can facilitate the experiential learning for and with each other.

Back in April 2020, the Laban/Bartenieff community of practitioners began a conversation online about what IS possible to teach online, what is challenging but do-able, and what is problematic, ironically in the online space of a listserve and a subsequent Zoom session. The major questions arose around the ethics and health and safety issues of teaching movement sequences online. For example, how can the teacher note potentially injurious technique? How much responsibility for safe practices can a student have? And what kinds of cautions need to be taken around language use and imagery? 

Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) and Bartenieff Fundamentals (BF) lend themselves to value-less description, but each teacher has their own way of describing the experience of movement. An example: the teacher asks the students to breathe fully into the back of the lungs, using the image of wings spreading, and the student becomes flooded with a release of emotions, resulting in loud sobs that the teacher cannot hear or see. In the studio classroom, that student would be supported into self-care and perhaps, written personal reflection.  But in the online environment, such moments can go unnoticed.

And that brings the question of methodology into focus. Can the online teacher demonstrate, watch, move the class along, include reflective discussions, take time to answer questions, address individual needs? Do the learning outcomes for the course need to shift? What needs to change in terms of expectations for both the teacher and the students?

And the technology matters. Zoom has evolved to include features that help, including separate functions for sound source, screen share, whiteboard, breakout rooms, etc. but bandwidth and internet access viability can be limiting factors. For some students, the need to continually orient toward the camera is frustrating, whereas for others, turning the camera off is freeing.

To address all of the above requires several considerations:

First of all, make sure that the purpose of each activity is increased embodiment: sensation, perception, and reflection on the experience. Just as in the studio classroom, grounding a movement experience in reflective discussion is a way to remember and be able to apply that experience to future challenges. We have come to believe that the online experiential process of learning in an embodied way is a slower process but can be a deeper process as well, as long as each theoretical construct is applied to movement directly and followed by insightful discussions.

Second, make room for observation of each other. Students can watch the teacher, the teacher watches each student, students watch each other, and everyone utilizes best coaching practices, in order to assure each student makes progress toward their individual and group learning goals. 

Prepare students for the learning experience with inspirational and engaging messages and small activities. Rather than collecting homework, offer a provocative reflective question on the work to be presented, so that the students can be eager to share their own thoughts and responses in the class. 

Build in recuperation from an activity. Fatigue sets in more quickly when one is alone in the learning space. 

Rethink scope and sequence of activities. Is retention of a concept from one session to the next a challenge? What can the teacher challenge the students to do to more readily retain and take ownership of a concept? How is the teacher defining progress? How is the student defining progress? What is the most authentic way to assess progress? 

And finally, what technology is needed for the teacher to be able to present clear and embodied material? What is needed for the student to learn best? What about the setting? We have learned to be aware of back-lighting, clothing colors, and lighting, including where the sun might be. But we are also aware that students taking the class via their phones will have a different experience than those taking class on a large screen monitor. This then becomes an issue of equity and access.  

Having the organizational space for designing scope and sequence, fostering reflective discussions, tracking growth, and providing space for resources and artifacts of learning can support the exploration of all of the above. And so we are excited to be experimenting with Kadenze, Inc’s Learning Management System (LMS) Kannu, and working to expand its capabilities to support a fuller, more embodied learning experience that is also engaging, effective, and inspiring.

About The Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies
The Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies, LIMS® is a non-profit educational organization, centered in New York City, with a global network of movement professionals. As an accredited school of higher education, research center, and cultural arts institution, we have been training movement observers, teachers, and coaches for forty years.

Explore different perspectives and approaches to digital learning during COVID-19 and beyond with our occasional series by guest authors across the globe. For more on embodied learning, read our article by Jonathan Pitches, University of Leeds, United Kingdom. is powered by Kannu, a Learning Management System designed and built by a team of working artists, engineers, and educators. Kadenze, Inc. welcomes the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies to the and Kannu communities.