What Is Negative & Positive Space in Dance?

by Chuck Robert
What the dancer doesn't do is just as important as what the dancer does do.

What the dancer doesn't do is just as important as what the dancer does do.

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Positive space in dance is where the dancer's body is when dancing. It is the space where people mostly look when watching dancers. The negative space is the empty air around the dancer. While showing off his moves, the dancer can eventually occupy the negative space. His dance partner can move into a negative space, but she can't occupy the same positive space at the same time. While seemingly obvious, negative and positive spaces are important factors when planning a dance routine.

General Space

Both the positive and negative spaces are parts of the general space, the area where the dancer can move. As the dancer takes different shapes and moves through the spaces, they transform from positive to negative and vice versa. When the dancer spins his partner, different parts of her body will quickly fill and leave the negative spaces. Part of the negative space is the dancer's personal space -- the area near the dancer that would make her uncomfortable if invaded off the dance floor. But the world of dance operates by different rules. There are some dances where participants must invade each other's physical spaces, such as in slow dancing.

Dance Space Map

The dance space map is a series of pathways, symbols and dots that guide the dancer throughout the dance floor, helping her to understand the dance. This map lets the dancer know which positive and negative spaces to enter and exit while dancing -- helpful for dancers learning new moves and routines.


To conquer the floor, dancers and choreographers must consider where the dancer will move in the negative space. The amount of negative space also influences the dance, with more negative space making the dancer more visible. When several dancers create positive space, crowding around a single dancer, the individual is not as noticeable. But isolating one dancer emphasizes the performer. How the dancer turns negative space into positive space determines her skill. This does not only mean movement but also the shape taken by the body.


Shape is the strongest component affecting the negative and positive space and how skilled the dancer looks. The shape in the positive space includes the straight lines and angles created by the dancer, the curving or organic shapes, the open and closed shapes, symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes, shapes that move in harmony and shapes that contrast each other. Another important element is body orientation, with the body looking better or worse depending on the angle in which people view it.

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