To continue with Daisy Levy’s interview with Barbara………

B:  But, um, I came to Hunter College because they had a particular program for teaching in the inner city, in the inner city schools, ‘cause I grew up in the housing projects [poor audio quality] interested in teaching, in helping – and they had a program called the TTT, and I applied, and Hunter was one of the top, uh, Hunter and Brooklyn College were the top [pauses, hand gestures] colleges in the City University so I got into the program that I was interested in, and so I started teaching in the elementary schools. That’s how they do it. So instead of waiting … ’til you’re [break in audio] and then you go into the school and go [makes a face, rolls eyes, sticks out tongue] that’s not for me – straight away into these inner city school – in these uh, the worst schools in the city and  [laughs rolls eyes] THIS IS NOT BEING USED AS VIDEO TAPE [shakes head and still laughing]

Really interesting, and it was challenging. But also, at the same time, they had, maybe there were 20 dance majors – this was in the mid 70s http://bad so I was talking some improvisation classes – they were with some clubs and they had a dance major that was developed by Professor Vislocky.

D: Can you spell that for me, please?

B: V-I-S-L-O-C-K-Y – and she’s um, a pioneer in dance anatomy. I don’t know if you know her

D: I know of the name, yes.

B: Yeah – she danced in the Nikolai company for a few years and then she developed this program and also had ways of, or interesting ways of teaching anatomy to dancers in an experiential manner. And, uh I started with improvisation and composition so I could understand. Really I couldn’t do anything, but I was just in LOVE with all kinds of movement and explorations of creativity, and performance

quote/unquote it had to be in the form or anything like that. In ballet I was just a mess I was just here [lifts shoulders up closer to neck and ears, stiffens arms, holds head rigid]. I was like that for years –

D: So, um, you said you didn’t have a dancer’s body. What does that mean?

B: Oh, uh, very hyper-extended low back, uh, they tell me, [my ribcage] proceeded me into the room at least ten minutes ahead of me. Probably a little exaggeration. SO, nothing could really let go. I was stuck like this [arms out to side at 45 degrees, ribcage lifted, lower back extended] and we know that our bodies and our emotions aren’t different. So there were many many years of digging around that I had to [bad audio] for my body to change. It’s pretty normal now.

D: Yes. Yes. So would you say …if that’s NOT a dancer’s body? What IS a dancer’s body?

B: Well, now, and the way I trained, I think it depends on what somebody wants to do, the effort they  put into moving and the way they want to move. And, I think change is possible. Um, you know I just remember the frustration of being in classes, and never getting an audition, and never getting anything, and being told how resistant I was, and it just sucked. You know I had no idea what I was doing wrong, um, that I was completely cut off from my physical self, and yet, dancing was the only thing that made me like myself – it was a paradox, and so I continued to try to move and just you know stayed with more creative types of performance.

D: So, describe what some of that more creative types of performance- is that improvisational … ?

B: Yeah -( I steered away from technical uh classes until I got to be in my late 30s). I found this, what seemed to be, crazy studio on the Upper West Side – the Susan Klein and Colette Barry School of Dance and they did, what seemed then, weird stretch and placement classes, and talked very differently about the body and technique anybody else did at the time.

D: And when was that?

B: Um, I found the studio, I wandered in – that’s on my website there – I wandered in one summer, when I was, maybe in 76? And I took class there everyday, three times a day,

D: Three times a DAY?

B: I took stretch classes three times a day. [Smiling. Nodding.]

D: ok. Wow.

B: I didn’t feel anything changing. So that just tells you kind of where I am. But I was changing. So I know that by the time I got back to school, I had changed. Things were changing. But as soon as I went back to what I normally would do, and the atmosphere was different, I just found myself going back into my really rigid ways of thinking – it had more to do with thinking – and my perceptions of myself slipped back – whatever they were, they were pretty unconscious, um, I just knew I was never gonna be good enough. I mean I think that essentially, that was like the bottom line – I was never good enough.

D: So …

B: But I still, I could dance. I was not a good mover. I  had potential. But you know how can you be resistant, when you don’t – when you’re not in touch with yourself –

D: So, this may be is a tangent, but do you –  when people were saying to you, you’re very resistant to change – do you think they were talking about your body as resistant to change, or your, like your self, or your – what is your – do you know what I mean? Was it that you were so strong willed?

B:  I’m strong willed. I grew up in the housing projects. We were very poor. Um, I had a lot of will and, um, you know it was a big thing to get out of the projects, and to even get into, to go to college, and go through the honors programs, in high school. That took a lot. So I guess I needed the will but the will at the same time, was in my way. – it’s hard to say. It’s hard for me to say.

D: Yes. I understand.

B:  I think for a lot of dancers now, technique is really very harsh. It’s kind of gone back. You know how things go in these waves of high technical facility,  and that it shortens a dancer’s life, their dancing life and they get vey single focused on doing this one thing, so they can achieve this particular aesthetic, so I’m not sure if that’s different from the way I was thinking, though I wouldn’t say it had to do with my drive for technique. But that kind of one tunnel vision to focus on what you want to do just keeps you driving in that … and the only thing that makes you change is an injury or some major incident in your life.

D: Yes. So, can I go back to – would you say that this moment when you found Susan Klein and … who was she?

B: Colette Barry

D: Colette Barry – was that sort of a transformative moment for you?

B: Well, not right away. But, it was. It was something in the fact that I wasn’t corrected. I wasn’t corrected. Which was for me, a big deal. It doesn’t work for everybody. Um, in fact, they pretty much just let me alone to work. And that was also a huge thing, very important for ME. Doesn’t work for everybody. And it, cause it goes into my teaching, and I realize that not everybody is like me, but I know that space is necessary. You can’t just throw all your information at somebody, and say ok, this is it. Eat it .Take it all in now and this is how it works. So that balance of space but letting them know that you’re taking care of them in class-  it’s a balance I’m still working on

B: I think the thing that was the most changing was that I felt like I was at a home – and everybody knew everybody and talked to everybody – it was a big studio but … you know it was like a community. And you know the work – there was a lot of breathing and stretching and breathing and stretching and letting go and things weren’t necessarily explained all the time. I think  they were still trying to figure it OUT, what it was they were doing. They both worked with Irmgard Bartenieff, and so there’s a lot of that information in there. Um.. And also Dorothy had this emphasis on the pelvis which is also what led me to be really engrossed in what they were doing at THAT studio – because they were talking about the pelvis. But it was two totally opposite sides of the spectrum-  of how the pelvis sits on the legs. One was very muscular, and one was very not muscular.

D: oh yes [nodding] Dorothy …

B: Vislocky

D: Oh right. I didn’t register the name.

B: and she was a Nikolai dancer. But still, at the same time, she would think like, she had that context, but she would also point out things that nobody could really point out to me. She’d say look at that dancer’s stage presence, or look at that, that quality – she could see way underneath, way beyond what was just presented in front of your face. You know, look at the – It’s not just the choreography, but watch the body in motion, watch the presence, see the person come out -whether they’re dramatic and – what do people say –

D: expressive, maybe?

B: no, very out or kind of like inner quiet where the person can kind of draw an audience member to them… but  she pointed out these things to me, that I could actually see them. And it made me feel kind of weird,  but also, and unique, but I knew it was different than the way most people were looking at dance.

D: And how would you say most people were looking at dance?

B: Just what was presented right in front of them.

D: So like how high their legs were, or straight, or what the position of their foot …

B: Yeah. Right. Right

D: So you said there were these two sides of the spectrum. You had this pelvis in …

B: in Motion …

D: pelvis in a muscular way, and then in a not muscular way.

B: Right.

D: Could you say some more about that not muscular way?

B: Well it’s from the deep inner muscles that Irmgard talked about a lot, and Susan was very good at analyzing everything and so she broke down all of those exercises and Dorothy broke down all of her exercises, and um, then there was like no perfect body. You know the idea was to have the person be fluid enough to, to, be resilient as a mover. And to know themselves well enough to avoid major injuries, to pursue the kind of dance career that they wanted. I mean, sometimes it actually meant that you couldn’t do this high technical stuff, but it didn’t necessarily mean you couldn’t be a fabulous beautiful expressive dancer. Mover. [Nodding] {Laughs] You know cuz there’s all kinds of different styles, you know, there’s all kinds of different styles. Less so now, I think now, everything is very, I don’t know I always think it’s the economics – you know they need a job, they just go, they try it, they don’t get a job, they go do something else. [Laughing]

B: Oh. I’m talking so much. I’m sorry.

D: No. NO. That’s the point. [Laughing]. It’s good. I’m trying to restrain myself, actually. I tend to talk too much myself.

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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