Notes from an interview….. collected for a dissertation by Daisy Levy


B: And so I started dancing at 21.

D: And I started dancing at 19.

D: And I was pretty untalented.

B: I was very untalented. {Smiling]

D: And so it’s interesting to hear you talk about yourself, as a very accomplished, and well respected mover, it’s interesting to hear you talk about yourself that way………..

my injuries…….B: that was the first. Actually before that I had a back thing. And after that I had, tore a hamstring. All on the same leg. I sprained my ankle so that it was swollen for about 5 months cuz I didn’t stop dancing, and then I had an opposite injury on the inside of the foot. It was everything on this side.

D: Wow.

B: It wasn’t fun. Like 5 or 6 major injuries. And my back would go out a lot.

D: And what was that period of time. Was it like a year or several years?

B: About 4 years.

D: Ouch.

B: Yes. And then when I started studying seriously, with Susan- my back would still go out, but I would know. I learned to know when it was going to happen. I could feel my hamstrings go away. You know there’s this connection between the sits bones and the heels? And you know they talk about them in many different ways.  And So you know instead of feeling like there were grooves in the muscle, they would feel like they were like ICE. And then I would take myself to the chiropractor to get myself some body work. I would prevent. I just knew myself so well.

D: I think that’s a little bit of what I’m trying to write about. For academics – this knowing yourself, knowing your physical body in that way. So could you … I’m trying to think of how to ask a question, without telling you what I want you to say …

B: Well, I think what a lot of people learn about their bodies – is like this is good for you, and that’s not good for you. And this is good for you, and that’s not good for you. But they don’t necessarily have the time process available to them, or are encouraged, to actually experience it themselves. They just listen to what other people say this is good for, is not good for you. They come and see me and say ‘what exercises should I do.’ I say ‘well you have to come to class for 6 months.’ It’s like ‘6 months?’ [looks incredulous]. And then, now, you know people do stretching, so they just take stretch class once a week. And really stretch class is the basis for everything. It gives you your legs, it puts your pelvis on top of your legs, and brings your spine then into a much more easy upright, and brings your head up and facilitates movement from the heaven to the earth. To the ground, to propel you so you can feel powerful. You know what you said was missing. You know it’s not just stretching. And that’s really, that’s where it’s kind of stuck now. So people stretch cuz they know it’s good for them, and they do ab-work cuz they know it’s good for them. But there’s all these studies now about what the c ore actually is, and how damaging actually  some of the transverse exercises are to the lumbar spine, and you know we’ve been, people have been talking about it for 35 − 40 years. Mabel B. Todd. All of them.

D: Now – you just gave me a name. What was that name?

B: Mabel B. Todd wrote The Thinking Body in the 30s. And she … I read her book like the bible.

D: I’ve not ever … I know of her, but I’ve not ever read-

B: Its called The Thinking Body. There are some amazingly beautiful philosophical things in it.

D: Great.

B: So you know I think some people’s thinking is still somewhat cubed? Squared? You know so you don’t really  get to actually experience your body changing. And the other thing is, I think, sometimes too much emphasis on sensation. But sensation is so fleeing. You know you feel it, it’s gone. And, people have a sensation, they want to HAVE it. You know, this is my cue. But to go through this like, this self-wisdom, or body wisdom, to get to this place where you go way beyond , in terms of vertical learning, as opposed to linear learning, way deep into what that, where that sensation came from, and how, so you can use the tools, instead of aim for the sensation. Does that make sense?

D: Yes. It does make sense. I mean, I think, um, one of the reasons I came to, decided on this project. There are several, a handful of scholars in my field, who are interested in this idea of embodiment as a knowledge making practice. But it seems to me as I’m reading them, that what they’re really writing about is emotion.

D: Cuz I mean, the BODY.

B: Being in yourself. Being who you, deeply, in your self.

D: Deeply, like deep into your muscles and your bones and your nervous system and all of that.

B: Yeah. Right.

D: that is to me, that feels to me like embodiment. Affect is some part of it.

B: I completely agree.

B; But you know stretch class I think works on releasing the muscles and goes way underneath and gets the bones to be stacked up and lined up and energy, gravity travels through and bony structure actually changes – osteoblasts and osteoplasts and the whole system Wolf’s Law and so in a couple of years a body could entirely change. My body entirely changed.

D: What are some of those changes?

B: I can move my legs. That was one thing. I can backbend forever [demonstrates bending backwards from a seated position] which I couldn’t do when I was – and I can move my legs [lifts one leg far from the floor and out to the side] which I couldn’t do and I had endurance and I could move. I just couldn’t move. This is kind of a joke, but, you know, Susan said when I first was in class, I didn’t have a joint between my neck and my ankles. I was just like a sheath of muscle.

D: Right. So, this will sound like a really silly question – but what’s better about being able to move than not being able to move?

B: For me, it’s my – for me, it’s ME. I guess even way back then – I was not really an athletic kid, I was pretty uncoordinated I couldn’t ride a bike, I learned how to ride a bike at 35, I never did any sports except punch ball cuz that’s all we had – Pensy Pinky. Um … I don’t know, the expression that I feel connects me to something bigger than myself, is through moving. And through teaching, now. But through moving.

D: I’m hesitant to ask but would you say more about this connected to something bigger than yourself?

B: Well they call it, there’s a book called, of course there’s always a book, I like to read. It’s called Flow- something about flow, consciousness and flow. It’s like when you get connected to the universe, or you’re in flow with everything around you and things happen, connected to certain things, all these coincidences happen, and this leads to that, leads to that, leads to that. So That’s what I’m talking about, this kind of flow of being.

more to come……………

About Barbara Mahler's Dances

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 major contributor to Klein Technique™. Her choreography 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 2012). Her choreography is consistent with her teaching vision and work, 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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One Response to Notes from an interview….. collected for a dissertation by Daisy Levy

  1. johnrrm64 says:

    Barbara, really enjoyed that interview and your discussion of embodiment, and more specifically the idea of phenomenology. It is hard to explain ideas of bodily feelings with such articulation. Thank you! Sarah

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