Week 2: Bartenieff Fundamentals

Hello there!

This week we will explore Bartenieff Fundamentals. I am posting a few links here for you to look at to gain some background perspective on who Irmgard Bartenieff was and what contributions she gave to our field. There are many more sites out there but these are the ones I would like for you to read and view so we can discuss in class.



Thoughts? Comments? Post here or bring in class…

See you soon,



26 thoughts on “Week 2: Bartenieff Fundamentals

  1. While watching this video, it was interesting to me when she mentioned the distribution of weight being felt on the feet. She stated that the feet are active and take on weight particularly on the sides of the feet. This was a new perspective for me due to the fact that of all the times I have done this exercise, the feet was the las thing to cross my mind. I seemed to be more focused on the spine and the knees dropping. It was good to feel something different when trying it again and letting my mind wander throughout my body, not just the obvious moving components. It gave my thought process new insight during the exercise.

    • Good observation Christina! You are not alone; many people don’t think about their feet when they are exploring movements in their trunk, pelvis and even legs. I’m glad that you are getting to explore various ways to find connections throughout the body even in the most subtle of ways. It is exciting.

  2. The most engaging point to me in the video, was when Martha Eddy was discussing the idea of reaching/extending the shoulder blade out when moving through the arm circles. I have come to realize that when I move my arms, I am primary working with a distal focus. I am reaching with my fingers rather than my whole arm. As Martha Eddy was reaching her shoulder blade out past her passive arm, I noticed that the movement was more extended and relaxed. I believe that when I focus on the distal parts of my body, I am working hard to achieve the image and drama of the movement. Movement is simply dramatic because of the contrast of distal and proximal engagement of the body.

    • Nice observation Kat! Remember that all kinds of movement are possible particularly in the arms and shoulders . I agree that working to find just the right amount of effort to express your intention is the key and that can be attributed to the way you initiate and follow through your with each movement.

  3. An idea I have been thinking about more and more during class is when the legs are turned out, turned in or parallel. As most of my training has been classical ballet, being in turn out what the only thing my legs ‘knew’. In class it’s interesting to see where my mobility is now when I’m in a turned in position or even just parallel. I’m thinking more and more about what the muscles inside my hip sockets are doing while turned in. I feel my thinking is becoming more about the finer details rather than the big picture. The big picture will come later but unless I have the control to be turned in or turned out the big picture doesn’t reall matter. Also going along with Christina’s observation, I never really thought about where the weight was on my foot, but now in class I realize there is pressure all along the edges not just the center of it. This I think would also help me in a pointe class, being able to feel where the edges of my foot are, not just on pointe or not.

    • This is good insight Danielle. I’m glad that you are exploring all potential of your hips, legs and feet. I think working on refining the details of movement is an essential part of your practice no matter what form this may take. Rotation is 360 degrees and the infinite potential for movement complexity is there. When you discuss which muscles you recruit for rotation, remember that there are smaller muscles (auxilliary) that assist the major muscle groups which may or may not be in the hip sockets at all. These could be posterior (gluteal/external rotators), inferior (hamstrings/pelvic floor) or anterior (hip flexors/quads), etc. I would love for you to be that specific and imaginative when exploring how to express this fine articulation.

  4. Currently I am taking a Laban course with Elizabeth and we are discussing Bartenieff Fundamentals so I would first like to say that having this information threaded in to our modern class as well is just wonderful. Applying this information to an actual technique class helps immensely in solidifying the information and has also given me a different appreciation for it. The other day we were talking about the specific part in our first exercise where our knees drop to the side so that one leg is turned in and the other out. We then swoop upwards to second position and then descend with the legs turned out or in the opposite direction as before. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Gerald said that to just swoop upwards straight in to second position without using the rotation of the hip joints was a bit narcissistic. This reminded me of a quote from an article we had to read for Laban. The quote is from Training in dance: Mechanistic and holistic views by Dianne Woodruff. It said, “A tendency to be body-orientated prevails, that is, arms, legs, torso move in relationship to each other but not to the space around them. Such students can be described as being ‘about their bodies’ and not about the space they occupy. ‘Centre’ is often a place instead of a dynamic state.” The specific correction given to us about the turn out of the legs reminded me of this because it helped me truly understand the difference between these two different mindsets. Swooping up to just sit in second is an example of thinking just of the body but to work the turnout of the hips gives you a completely different connection and appreciation to the floor and space itself. I find that it is much more organic feeling and beautiful to have that connection to the ground.

    • Yes, Brenna! This is great! I too am glad that we can explore other aspects of the program in other classes to further integrate the information through practice. I think that only by practicing with the body can one accept or reject these ideas from a body-felt/understanding (place) and also the concepts don’t remain in the theoretic realm. I believe I did say it seems ‘narcissistic’ to simply move into the widest second position because it appeared to be coming from an external place – meaning that the movement wasn’t investigated fully. I see this ideological transformation at this level in technique class often because many dancers identify with how high their legs go or how nice their feet look in the mirror when pointed and how they were praised for these attributes. However, when they let go of this idea that bigger or higher is better then they can truly explore who they are as individuals through their movement (dynamics, texture, relationship to the music and other people, etc.). This is not an easy feat because ‘old habits die hard’ and to release one’s self from them can be very difficult – as if wearing someone else’s clothes for the first time. When this transformation occurs, other walls come down and one can see the artist emerge. It’s what excites me as a teacher! I like this quote from Woodruff and can particularly relate to the ‘centre being a dynamic state’. This concept has everything to do with letting the movement occupy the space around our bodies and therefore relinquishes the mover from the idea that they exist in a vacuum. I also would add that we are interdependent beings so to limit one’s concept of the body against itself is to not see and accept the rest of the world, its beauty and the potential for real interaction.

  5. So there has been a lot of Bartenieff Fundamental going on for me recently….I have found myself to explore it along with the classes, and then questioning it in order to find a “deep” answer as to why these movements are essential. So far, I have gathered that these exercises were partly built around polio victims; to find some sensations lost. I have also discovered that these sensations are quite specific and different to each one of us. This has brought me to question how each one of us approaching one movement in the exercise is either better or not? For instance, doing the saggital pelvic shift, going up and to the left, down, then up to right, down, etc. Where do we find the sensation? Is it minimal, so that we only need to flex at the femoral joint a bit, or do we need to extend the completely to find a sensation. And is it a sensation/connection we are looking for, or a stretch?
    Luc pointed out the first day of his ballet class when we began with his first exercise. Which is standing in first, looking back with the head, torso following, outside leg turning in, and then letting it all go to stand in first-neutral. He mentioned that some of us look for a stretch while others just let it happen, or think about too much which causes to tense up, and so on. And I found his comment about that fascinating. It makes sense. Some of us look for something when we dance, which explains our difference in quality of movement. We attack it, we take our time during extensions, we are soft during the movement, etc. I guess what I am trying to say, is that the reason why some of us may extend more on the saggital pelvis shift is to find a stretch because we “need” to find a stretch. In any sense, I think Bartenieff would have wanted each one of us to do the exercise until we sense a sensation, whether we extend fully or crease slightly?

    • These are good points Jose. I cannot speak for Irmgard when contemplating your question about what her intentions were nor could I ever get to a place of knowing what each of my students ‘need’. I would like to point out this very important line from Peggy Hackney’s book…”‘information’ doest not exist without the filter of the person through which that information is given.” I think we as human beings filter what we ‘need’ and carry out with or without intention our personal goals in all of our movements, which is why it is not for me to prescribe to people what is right and what is wrong. I can only offer suggestions into ways of seeing and perhaps that information can be reprocessed into a sort of repatterning. Indeed we practice the same movements in all of our classes to study a system whether in ballet or yoga or modern however it is my deep belief that it does not end there. It is up to the individual to continue this learning and reflection back on him/herself and out into the world so that the knowledge can applied to all possibilities of interconnection, and as Hackney put it, ‘self to self, self to other and self to world’. Yes, I agree with your last question that all of these exercises are meant for us to increase our kinesthetic awareness and sensation but the way it manifests will look and feel different when performed by each individual because we are all simply unique.

  6. I feel the same way about having concepts being incorporated into several classes like Brenna mentioned. I am seeing concepts being shared between my Alexander Class, LMA, Modern and even Ballet class. My ‘dance world’ is making sense and is in unity like never before. A big overall concept that I am working on in each class is letting go of my unneeded tension. I think that as the week progressed I was able to let go of my tension in my hip flexors a bit doing the knee drops and let gravity play into my movement. The first few days that we incorporated the hip rocks with the leg drops and Gerald told us to “rock” in that position, I think I had the wrong idea of what he meant by rocking. I think I thought that the movement was supposed to be similar to that of the heel rocks that we start class with. I think I was trying to move my sits bones down towards my heels, which wasn’t working too well for me. Then when we were split into groups I noticed that people were especially using their foot that was connected to the inwardly rotated leg to press into the floor and almost rock a little diagonally with their hips, rolling on the tail bone a bit. It looked more successful, so then I tried it and it worked out better for me. That is correct though, right? We are supposed to be experiencing more of a slight rolling/shifting experience than an up and down feeling, right? I enjoyed seeing the femur and other ‘bones’ actually held on top of Dr. Eddy’s body while she was moving. I’ve taken anatomy and know where the femur is and what it looks like, but sometimes it’s hard to visualize exactly what the bones are doing at a specific point in the movement. I noticed that for the upper arm circle, she initiated it with her fingertips. Is that where it is supposed to initiate? When we were working in LMA I thought Elizabeth said we should exhale and let the knees drop slightly before the arm moved. To me that seems a little more sequential than it was shown in this video, I noticed that both of her knees seemed to move together. I know there are probably several different views and preferences that vary from person to person on the little details like that. Overall, the combinations that we have been doing on the floor at the beginning of class, which incorporate some of the Bartenieff fundamentals, have improved my liking and understanding of floor work and my breathing awareness.

    • Hey Carrie, yes letting go of unneeded tension is part of the process. As a teacher I especially am thrilled at this state of the dancer’s development. Regarding your questions about the way to do these Fundamentals, well…there are several versions, interpretations and ways to look at them. As long as the basic 6 are considered and the intention is about connectivity then I think exploring what works best for each person is the most important part. What might work for someone may not necessarily work for someone else simply because of the place each body’s state is in relative to the exercise. I think your observation regarding the rocking action in diagonal knee reach is very true. There has to be a diagonal component and a connection from legs to pelvis to trunk in this one and if you’re only rocking up and down (sagitally) then the process gets confused with the traditional heel rocks where the legs are in line with the pelvis and truck. Using the edges of the feet is a good way to receive proprioception, and to allow that material to travel back up to the rest of the body is great. In terms of the arm circles see what is feeling stuck for you. I would try both different initiations and notice which feels best. I like the knee dropping to connect to connect to the arm and yes that would seem more successive as well – which could mean that you have two different and simultaneous initiants – the knees and the arm. Imagine a jump where you use your arms in direct relationship timing-wise to your legs – perhaps that is one way in which this co-initiation could be helpful? These details are transformative and I encourage you to keep looking out for them.

  7. As we continue to learn about the Barenieff Fundamentals in class I’ve been wondering lately what most people are thinking as they do the exercises. I have tried both focusing on certain body parts as I move and trying to not focus at all, in order to move as naturally as possible. I do not feel as though the quality of my movement differs either way but as Emily Rabbit (who was my observing partner the other day) pointed out, that my second side in the floor exercise was more fluid and natural than the first and I can specifically remember that my mind started to wander so much that I messed up on the directions. So basically, I am just wondering how the mind can effect the body’s movement quality as we dance.

    • Thanks for your comment Libby. Yes, the mind is indeed very tricky. I would offer the suggestion that my meditation teacher gives: “not too tight, not too loose”… When you are practicing and the mind is too rigid then the body will most likely follow the same course. When it is too ‘all over the place’ then it can also feel unorganized in our bodies. Another way to look at it is that the body in motion can be a way of thinking. It seems the mind is always in charge and the body never gets to have its say. Why not subvert this expectation on yourself? Perhaps the intelligence of the body could inform the mind and they could work together instead of against each other. Allowing the mind to wander is not such a bad idea but too much of this could make you feel too disconcerted. Finding the right balance is the key. Stay open and observe your habitual patterns of mind. It’s just as informative as watching the patterns in our bodies. I like to refer back to this quote when body and mind are discussed: “The mind is like the wind and the body like the sand; if you want to know how the wind is blowing you can look at the sand.” Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen

  8. I have been struggling for several years now with holding an exorbitant amount of tension in my hip flexors and quads. As a younger dancer, I never really worried about it. It wasn’t until I started dancing at UWM that I realized that the tension was seriously holding me back from my full movement potential. However, once I was aware of what I was doing, I felt completely unable to change that habit. Working with the Bartenieff Fundamentals has been an absolutely fantastic experience for me. For the first time, I am able to feel myself begin to grip, which gives me a chance to stop myself. I think it is the simplicity of the movements that make the Fundamentals so practical. I don’t feel like I am doing an “exercise”, which automatically puts me into muscle mode. It’s more like relaxing out of my old habits. I feel that, while I’ve understood the concept, I’ve never been able to really feel how my movements connect through my body. It’s as if my mind always understands what is needed to be done, but my body has a hard time catching up. Over the past week I feel as if I’ve finally started to feel all of the connections in my body. It really is wonderful to be learning and applying the Fundamentals in all of my dance classes. It speeds up the process of learning and, more importantly, of physically understanding.

    • Great to hear Madeleine! I like how perceptive you are in your comments. Keep going with your curious spirit and remember that this process of undoing or unraveling tension is a lifelong inquiry. Things will come up occasionally that will make all of us feel physically stuck again and I encourage you not to give up the work. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…

    • I was reading what you were saying about holding the extra tension in your hips and quads and how the Bartenieff Fundamentals have helped you. I just wanted to tell you, I have had a very similar experience! The first day we worked on the Bartenieff Fundamentals, Elizabeth stopped me in the middle of an exercise to inform me that I was lifting my toes and pulling into my ankles! Apparently I hold a lot of tension in this area, I honestly had no idea. This was even further emphasized when we worked on heal rocks with partners in Gerald’s class. I find it very difficult to let go of this tension. But like you said, the Bartenieff Fundamentals help relax through these bad old habits, instead feeling like I’m doing and “exercise”, which usually makes the tension worse. I will even take this feeling of relaxation into my metal state. I feel an immense psychological weight is lifted when we start of our Modern class with the Bartenieff Fundamentals. They aren’t an exercise we are expected to do “right”, and the relaxing nature reminds me of the mental state that is most beneficial to dance within. I have found that if I can keep my mind quite, a lot of my counter-productive habits also stay quite.

  9. This video gives a very good description on the Bartenieff Fundamentals that we have been doing in class. It made me think about the way I shift my movement with my feet and my legs or if I may be holding to much tension in certain parts of my body. I think that it is very neat that we are also learning about this in our Laban Movement Analysis class. I am able to better connect with the movement we are doing in our modern class and focus on details of the exercises.

  10. I really enjoy doing the Bartenieff Fundamentals at the beginning of class. The Connectivities really bring my mind/body connection to the forefront of my focus. Another excellent benefit that I have noticed is how aware the exercises make me of my lower body and how grounded I feel. A lot of times I get excited or hyper in class and grounding becomes secondary. This makes all of the combinations feel more difficult than they really are. But when I begin class focusing and establishing the Connectivities, my body will subconsciously maintain those elements which allows my mind to focus on the sequence of the combination.

    • Being grounded is a good thing and if these exercises allow you to connect to yourself in a deep way then we are working in the right direction. I value your focus and commitment in class Julie. keep it up!

  11. The most important benefit that I found from having studied the Bartenieff Fundamentals and her Connectivities is the focus that these exercises give both my mind and body. By starting class with these exercises not only are they an excellent way to warm up, my bodily connectivities can become almost second nature for the rest of the day. To me this is very important because often in class I get hyper which leads to tension. By having already focused my connectivities, I can relax my body and let it do what its been trained to do, leaving my mind free to concentrate on the sequence of the combinations.

  12. I do realize that the Bartenieff Fundamentals help in releasing tension and I agree with what Madeleine said with my own body. I do pay attention to my feet rolling on the floor but when doing the knee drop and what I pay most attention to is my internally rotating leg and that hip. I cannot seem to release the tension in my hip even if I’m trying to relax or when I’m breathing. On occasion, when laying on the floor, I feel the uneven part of my back and it takes awhile for me to release beause of my slight scoliosis. The left side of my back is more tense and it is bigger then the right side of my back. So I engage more of the left side and therefore it depends on what side I am doing the knee drop because I feel the release more right than I do with the left. Laying on the ground in general and doing the knee drop or the arm circles, I do not feel my body fully relaxing into the floor and I feel that is the reason why I cannot connect to the fundementals as fully as I would like. But breathing through the fundamentals and trying them does help other parts of my body to release tension so I know I have to keep working on specific details with knowing and learning about my body and I think everyone wants to know how to “fix” themselves. This is a great way to start the year.

    • Thanks for bringing this up Kao. It is good to work with what we have and not the concept of what we wish we had in our bodies. Our limitations and idiosyncrasies support who we are as individuals. Keep trying to find the connection to the arm circles in the diagonal knee reach and don’t worry about arriving at the ‘feeling’ of being relaxed – just yet. This will come. These are new patterns of movement and we are layering them on top of older patterns that are stubborn (to change). I would say give yourself time to allow the process to happen and your body will do what it needs to do. “Fixing” is also another word I would not recommend in these classes. It implies that something is broken. Sure there are issues that need to be improved and encouraged but to fix seems to be about trying to find a way out. I would recommend finding the way in and to stay there a while and be a courageous explorer of your body and mind.

  13. The Dynamic Moving Blocks article makes great points about connectivity and function that echoed some of the things Gerald said in class today. We often focus on turn out and parallel, but never sickle. Why not explore the entire range of movement? As the article says, “By enhancing function, physicality improves.” We want to use our entire body when we move from our nose to our fingertips, but we don’t actually do it in practice. Also, the article says, “A poor thigh lift disconnects to the deep use of the abdominals and the psoas will be lost. Other muscles will have to take over for the lack of this connection.” This makes total sense and thinking in this way will definitely help me to think about my body and what each part is doing while moving and will help prevent injury.

    • It’s great that you are finding this article useful. I think it’s absolutely in our best interest to explore all possibility of movement in class and not favor the ones that we like or that feel and look good. This has to do with the distinction between being drawn to aesthetics versus functionality in a technical practice. It’s no easy feat but it can be accomplished.
      It’s so nice to have you in class Marquita. So effortless and so mindful…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s