What Is Positive Space in Dance?

by Lauren Bailey
These dancers create a positive space that is vase-shaped.

These dancers create a positive space that is vase-shaped.

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Dance, like fine art, is all about what the eye perceives. When a couple dances, it is both the shape they form together and the shape of the empty space between them that creates the appeal. The same goes for a solitary dancer -- by contorting the body in different ways, the viewer may see the lightness of a bird or the menacing presence of a lion.

Positive Space

The definition of positive space in any medium is space occupied by an element or a form. This is true for art, sculpture or dance. Where you are is positive space. When you move away, the space becomes negative space.

Negative Space

Understanding negative space in dancing is imperative to understanding positive space. Negative space is that with nothing in it. Without negative space surrounding your limbs, you could not create a graceful picture. If you firm a circle above your head with your arms, the hollow in between your arms is the negative space.

Using Positive Space in Dance

In group dances, there is a lot of positive space. This allows for large formations and impressive routines. The audience, however, may find it more distracting and harder to focus when there is so much positive space. Ballroom or partner dancing creates a balance of positive and negative space. The partners together form a positive space that usually moves together, maintaining a consistent amount of negative space around their bodies. This is why Johnny chastised Baby in "Dirty Dancing" for her spaghetti arms -- she was changing the balance of positive and negative space by not keeping her arms firm. Solitary dancing, like that of a ballet soloist, uses the least amount of positive space. It is negative space that really makes the dancer impressive to watch. The audience could not view the shapes of her body as easily with other positive space surrounding her.

Recognizing Positive Space

To notice positive space, it is important to see the negative space around the object or dancer. Both form shapes if you look for them. When dancing, think about what your body looks like (the positive space), as well as what the empty space around your body looks like (the negative space). It takes both to make dance an impressive and appreciated art form.


About the Author

Lauren Bailey began her professional career in 2010, when she became a reporter for the "Charlotte Observer." She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earning a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism with a minor in creative writing.

Photo Credits

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