Space (Updated: 02/07/18)

“I don’t dance in the place, but I am the place.” – Min Tanaka¹

There are three ways to think of space: (1) Positive; (2) Negative; (3) Neutral.

Positive space is associated with the doer or performer and the ego. This is the natural state we might find ourselves in. The performer uses positive space when they want to feel that they are doing the moving.

Negative space, on the other hand, is associated with someone or something outside of oneself. When utilising negative space, the performer is being moved by someone or something. There is little or no ego involved and there is a general openness or innocence.

Neutral space is associated with both positive and negative or beyond. In neutral space, the performer touches the negative space with positive space. Neutral space may also be associated with the origin, the source, death, or the unborn.

Exercise 1: Child Vision

Look around the entire space as if for the first time. Have child vision. Do not judge or compare, only notice.

Exercise 2: Single String Puppet

To shift focus from utilizing positive space to utilizing negative space, attach an imaginary string to any part of your body and move as if it were pulling you. We will be working with the concept of the string further in the text.

Exercise 3: Breath Across Space aka Lunging

The participant goes across the space on inspiration and backwards upon expiration. Work with different speeds connected to breath. You can also do the same along the walls in the room, returning back to where you began. We will be working more with breath further in the text.

Exercise 4: Space Stretching

Take 5 seconds to get from one side of a space to another. Then go back toward the other side but only half way for another 5 seconds. Then go back with yet another half for 5 more seconds. Continue this until the space is stretched so thin, you appear to be nearly frozen. Try to keep the time it gets from getting from one space to the other uniform. After you have become proficient in this, then you can stylize the timings like with crescendos, etc.

Merging with the Space

The following is a space resonance exercise documented by P. Liao during a Hokutobo Butoh Dance Company workshop in Taiwan, 1996.

Stand in a corner of a space. Observe and feel the space. Try to move the body. Find the gesture/posture that is felt to best correspond to the space. In other words the bodily gesture/posture should best represent the sensations given by the space, such as its length, width, and depth, whether it is spacious or crowded, bright or dark, warm or cold, the air flow if any, the texture of the wall…

Stand further away from the corner. Repeat the previous sequence until a new gesture/posture has been found. Change the standing locus for a third time. Repeat the same sequence.

Compare the bodily gestures/postures obtained in the three loci. Examine and feel how they link to the whole space and are influenced by the change of loci. Develop a sequence of bodily movement, moving from the first locus, through the second, to the third locus. The bodily gesture/posture in each locus should keep corresponding to the space, and the transition from one bodily gesture/posture to another should also keep corresponding to the space.²


There are high, middle and low levels of space. Maximum high level takes place physically on the balls of the feet or visually in the sky. Maximum low level takes place physically as a body flat on the ground or visually down to the core of the earth.

Exercise: Laser Chaser

Like a cat who chases a laser, chase the laser at ground level, but also at the varying levels against the wall.


This is a low movement (though can also take place along a wall) with the focus being a constant hover one inch from the ground by as many parts of the body as possible.

Exercise 1: Back Body Hover

On your back, engage core by gluing the lower spine to the floor. Now, hover dance each of the limbs from the floor one inch off the ground.

Exercise 2: Belly Hover

On your belly, hover dance all the limbs one inch off the ground, and even the shoulders and thighs if possible.

Floor Resonance & Suction

Floor Resonance in Belgrade, Serbia

Try building a relationship with the floor. The floor is your friend.

Whether on the surface of the ground or wall, you move with as much surface of the body suctioned to the ground or wall as possible. You can also imagine a high gravity or centrifugal force situation.

Exercise: Pushing Partner

We might not be aware how much more body surface we can touch to either the ground or wall, so a partner will see any gaps and gently push any of these areas, whether with the hands or other parts of the body.


The performer can resonate within any space, whether it is a big gymnasium or a small suit case, e.g. Hijikata’s boxed body from his Quiet House butoh-fu


¹ Viala, Jean, and Nourit Masson-Sekine. 1988. Butoh: Shades of Darkness. Japan: Shofunotomo.
² Liao, P. An Inquiry into the Creative Process of Butoh. City University London. 2006. page 56. Print.
³ Lee, Rhizome. Behind the Mirror: Butoh Manual For Students. Print.