Somatic basis for choreography?

Rebecca Blair Hillerby, a dance graduate student attending Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona recently asked  me a question in regards to my choreographic process and how it is impacted by implementing somatic principles.   This “conversation” will explore several aspects; what is somatics, and how, historically  have somatic principles presented themselves in the choreographic process.

This was my initial response to her first question.

barbara mahler/julie lemberger


What is your definition of a “somatic” approach? It has become a very popular term and seems to include many different systems of “body work”. Klein technique, and Klein/Mahler, in its evolution over the past 30 years was developed by dancers, for dancers, to experientially and intellectually learn and integrate  in parts of equal balance, how to  make better use of their bodies.  As in many other systems striving to connect the body/mind/spirit, its practice creates very real and deep changes, not only in the body’s structure, but also in the person.  These changes are carried into creative realization through time and daily practice.  They  become integrated and become a  part of the individual’s use of their body.  It need not have specific aesthetic.  It can be applied to all styles of movement, including daily life.  The goal – to create, dance and live with a healthier and better functioning body.  It therefore has no real “style”, or choreographic process. If the choreographer creates all the movement for his or her dances, then the movement quality, grounded ness, sense of space, body articulation and its connections show in that movement.  The transmitting of this to one’s dancers will take place if the dancers themselves are in their own bodies in a similar way or through the art of coaching and teaching.

The work grounds itself through the process of learning. One of its fundamental goals is  learning movement without copying shape and form, but to know, on a deep body understood level, (kinesthetically), the pathways  to achieve the choreographer’s goal, realizing  his or her vision. It works the same way from the perspective of improvisational processes – the dancer must be connected, grounded, with and in their own body.

I do not know if others choreograph from the perspective of bodywork. I do not.  My movement and ideas  comes from within. The way movement and form shape itself in space is the aesthetic choices of the choreographer.

Systems of body-oriented, or somatic movement techniques (i.e.Feldenkrais, Alexander, Yoga, Pilates, Klein Technique, Body/Mind/Centering (BMC), to name a few, work best, in my opinion, in undiluted ways.  When in a class the immersion of and mindful work of one technique, rather than the attempt to integrate many, will, I believe, be more affective. As my teacher Dr. Fritz Smith often says “I wish you could see the world (of the body) the way I do”.

I believe we, as a culture, have come to think of somatic work as having a loose and undefined physicality, as well as the opposite, which is dance as a conglomerate of outer-worldly movements and contortions, acrobatics and legs wrapping around one’s head. That is not all there is to choreography, dancing and performance.  For me, choreography has form, structure time, design, composition, emotion, perspective, clarity, movement invention, and rigor; and the many parts make up a whole.

About BarbaraMahler-Dances/Kleintechnique/Zerobalancing

Barbara Mahler is a long-standing and active member of the New York City dance community as a choreographer, performer and educator - a master teacher of and contributor to the out reach of Klein Technique™ ( first certified teacher, teaching at the school 1982-2004). She is a Zero Balancing Teacher and Practitioner, and through these mediums of touch, movement, performance - creating in all of these realms, involved in the extraordinary and intricate world of movement and the body: moving, sculpting, teaching, re-educating: always learning. As a Her choreographer, she draws upon the intricate and infinite possibilities of the textures of time, space and the (her) body, creating dances that are spare, articulate, emotional," and elegant" (NY Times). Her choreography is consistent with her teaching vision and bodywork: exploring the endless possibilities that the body can reveal. Barbara has been an on-going faculty member with Movement Research (NYC) since 2004 and was an ongoing guest faculty at the State Theater School in Copenhagen, Denmark 1994-2015. She has taught at many other studios, colleges, and dance festivals in the greater NY area as well as across the US. She travels abroad and across the United States, Canada and Europe creating, performing and teaching. Barbara is a senior teacher and practitioner of Zero Balancing, a hands on healing modality, maintaining a private practice in movement therapy, and body work.
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1 Response to Somatic basis for choreography?

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