Meiotic chromosome segregation requires homologue pairing, synapsis, and crossover recombination, which occur during meiotic prophase. Telomere-led chromosome motion has been observed or inferred to occur during this stage in diverse species, but its mechanism and function remain enigmatic. In Caenorhabditis elegans, special chromosome regions known as pairing centers (PCs), rather than telomeres, associate with the nuclear envelope (NE) and the microtubule cytoskeleton. In this paper, we investigate chromosome dynamics in living animals through high-resolution four-dimensional fluorescence imaging and quantitative motion analysis. We find that chromosome movement is constrained before meiosis. Upon prophase onset, constraints are relaxed, and PCs initiate saltatory, processive, dynein-dependent motions along the NE. These dramatic motions are dispensable for homologous pairing and continue until synapsis is completed. These observations are consistent with the idea that motions facilitate pairing by enhancing the search rate but that their primary function is to trigger synapsis. This quantitative analysis of chromosome dynamics in a living animal extends our understanding of the mechanisms governing faithful genome inheritance.