Space, time, energy: the fundamental components of dance

Architects tend to define their art in terms of basic compositional elements such as line, shape, space and form. But what about dance? Dance is an art form that focuses on creating an impermanent and fluid performance. Although unique, it is still an art form and therefore dancers and choreographers have their own compositional elements to work with. Understanding these fundamental elements and knowing how to use them is the key to a successful work of art.


Space, i.e. the way the dancer occupies the physical world, is the most important of the fundamental elements of dance. It refers to how the dancer moves and interacts with the physical world. For this element of the composition, several aspects must be considered, namely the actual direction of movement as well as the motion implied in the gestures or placement. One must also consider the orientation, i.e. the way the body is positioned in relation to the audience. All of these movements define the use of space in dance.


Time is closely related to space. After all, a dancer cannot move in space without also moving in time. More specifically, the fundamentals deal with the dancer’s interaction with time. Again, there are many ways to do this; the dance is usually set to music, which sets the tempo and rhythm of the arrangements, but the dancer can highlight or reject the music with their own movements. Does the dancer move slowly or quickly? Does he or she move with or against the rhythm? How is the feeling of rhythm developed and maintained? These questions help define time in dance.


The dancer moves through space and time using energy. Energy helps to identify how dancers move and how hard they are working. Their movements may be swift and strong, or they may be light and free. Energy also represents the quality of the movement, its power and its variety. There are many possibilities for choreographers and dancers. The effort involved in the sequences can communicate meaning, depending on the energy involved. A touch between two dancers can be soft and gentle, perhaps indicating concern or affection. They can also become energetic, indicating anger or playfulness. Energy is indeed crucial in bringing the inner expression of emotion to the stage.