Elements of Dance: Space, Time, Levels & Force

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  • 0:04 Elements of Dance
  • 0:46 Space
  • 1:53 Time
  • 2:29 Force
  • 3:08 Shape
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Dance is a unique art form, but how do you know if it's any good? In this lesson, we explore four fundamental elements of dance and see how they can be used to create an effective composition.

Elements of Dance

Look at a building. Is it a good building? How would you know? Architects tend to define their art in terms of basic compositional elements like line, shape, space, and form. Painters and sculptors also utilize these compositional elements, and musicians have compositional elements of their own.

But what about dancers? Dance is an art form focused on creating a performance that's impermanent and fluid. It's unique, but it's still very much a form of art and, thus, dancers and choreographers have their own compositional elements to work with. Understanding these elements and how to use them is the key to a great work of art. There are four fundamental compositional elements of dance: space, time, force, and shape.


Let's start with one of the most important: space, or the way the dancer occupies the physical world. Art forms like architecture and sculpture take up physical space in three dimensions, but this concept is a little different in dance because the dancer is in motion. So for us, the compositional element, space, refers to the way the dancer moves through and interacts with the physical world.

Humans can't fly or levitate, so how many ways can someone really move through physical space? Quite a few, actually. Within this compositional element, we must consider several aspects: the actual direction of the movement (sideways, forwards, backwards, diagonally), as well as implied movement in gestures or placement. We must consider facing, how the front of the body is positioned in relation to the audience. We have to envision the pattern the dancer moves in as he or she travels through space. Because this is a three-dimensional art form, we must also consider levels, the relationship of the body to the floor. Do dancers always stay with two feet on the floor? Can they lie on the floor, or leap high above it? All of these movements define the use of space in dance.


Closely related to the element of space is the element of time. After all, a dancer cannot move through space without moving through time as well. Specifically, the compositional element, time, deals with the dancer's interaction with time, and again there are many ways to do this. Dance is generally set to music, which defines the tempo and rhythm of the dance, but the dancer can accentuate or reject the music through their own movements. Does the dancer move slowly or quickly? Does he or she move with the beat or against it? How is a sense of rhythm developed and maintained? These questions help define time in dance.


Two dancers who are moving slowly through the same space may have embraced the elements of time and space in the same way. So how can we make these two compositions look completely different? What if one moved slowly and lazily but with grace, while the other was slow and jerky but powerful?

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