Passive vs Active Movement Vocabulary

I put your hands on the floor, ready to flow. I have learnt a good few patterns already, so this should be absolutely doable, right?

It begins. 

I perform a few movements I know by heart, trying to navigate the transitions from one to the other, pacing myself nicely. The contact with the floor is mostly smooth, rougher around in the edges every time I put myself in unknown, riskier positions… 

It goes on for a few minutes. I stop. I pause. I repeat. 

I go home and take a few minutes after the shower to watch the footage… just to realise that an extremely narrow part of the movements I know came out. 

Sounds familiar?

What happened there? 

We should know that movement. We rehearsed enough to fully understand it.

So why on earth does it not come naturally when we are in creation mode? 

The answer lies in the distinction between active and passive vocabulary. 

Floorwork is a language – the language of moving with efficiency on the floor. 

And just like with a foreign language, there are words you learn and can very quickly recycle in conversations, and others you perfectly understand when you read them but never seem to quite make it to your day-to-day conversational skills. 

Understanding a word does not mean having it at the tip of your tongue whenever you need it.

Similarly, understanding a movement does not mean having it at the tip of your fingers whenever you need it. 

The distinction here is one of active vs passive vocabulary: it is absolutely natural to have an understanding of a higher level than your speaking. 

This entails a few things:

  1. You have to make peace with the fact that your usable terminology (active) will never be equal to your fundamental terminology (passive). It is pretty much impossible to expect yourself to use every single one of the beautiful movements you have been learning and articulate them in the best way possible every time you create. 
  2. There is a recency element to your usable terminology. The movements that you have been recently studying are more likely to be recycled in your improvisation.
  3. You have to craft your usable terminology if you are dissatisfied with it. 

This is one first caveat of the common interpretation of the isolation – integration – improvisation model. 

Sorry, but everything that you integrate won’t make it to your improvisation, usually simply because you won’t have the time to fully integrate every single element and maintain them in such a way that they are all available at all times.

Let’s define two contexts from there:

There is movement for movement’s sake. We just roll on the floor for the sheer joy it provides us with. No expectation, no judgment – a true form of moving meditation. 

And there is movement driven by other ambitions – aesthetics, softness, suppleness, contrast, meaning, etc. In this framework, it is important to assess on a regular basis the nature of our creations and compare it to how we would want it to be.

For that, we have to define what it is we want our creation to look, or feel, like. 

To me, it boils down to the concept of ratios, eg.

The ratio of levels

The ratio of extension / flexion

The ratio of speed changes

The ratio of power moves


In my work with online students, once the fundamental vocabulary has been acquired and the 10 Golden Rules of Floorwork understood and integrated, we start paying attention to these ratios, and what they mean for each individual. 

Once you know what matters to you – ie, how you would like to move in an ideal world – you know what to put back into the integration machine, what to maintain and what should be allowed to dust off a bit for your creative movement to be as balanced as possible.

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