Week 1: Bartenieff Fundamentals

Hello there!

As you have read in the syllabus we will be exploring various somatic points of view from week to week. The idea is to investigate and apply various theories (and modalities) in order to expand our choices and see more clearly our habitual patterns. Hopefully, we may understand and affect profound change that produce the desired change we seek in who we are as movers. One of the goals of this course is to increase choices for dancers in their movement vocabulary. Some of the greatest results have come from a process of reaffirming one’s intention and to ‘unlearn’ and to be disentangled from previously held ideas that no longer serve each unique body.

This week we will explore Bartenieff Fundamentals. I am posting some links here for you to look at to gain some background/perspective on who Irmgard Bartenieff was and what contributions she has given to our field. There are many more sites out there but these are the ones I would like for you to read and view. Additionally, I would recommend reading Peggy Hackney’s book, Making Connections (Ch. 4-5).




24 thoughts on “Week 1: Bartenieff Fundamentals

  1. I am really enjoying working on these fundamentals. It has been a while since I had a class so focused in Bartenieff. I do have a question about the lateral flexion (elbow to knee). Should we attempt to keep elbow and as much of the leg and foot on the ground during this action so we are utilizing the ground to share the work of the movement? .

    • In my humble opinion, since the floor is flat and our bodies are not, it is ok to let the leg, foot and elbow that are making their way together to slightly leave the ground. I believe that what is important is to clarify the lateral flexion (side bend) that is happening in the spine and trying to avoid spirals, curves or arches. If this is clear and prioritized then allowing room for those other ancillary moving body parts to do what they need to is fine. An example that I often explore is spiraling the humerous and radius/ulna into external rotation that could promote a rising of the elbow joint. So long as the spine is not flexed or curved or torqued then the expressive limbs and digits can do more melodic and embellished motions.

      • Thanks! I found myself gripping (or engaging unnecessary muscles) in certain areas while exploring different positions – thinking I had to do it in a certain way. I find the negotiation between accessing mobility and avoiding spirals and curves (which my Pilates brain thinks of as stabilizing the core) very difficult at times? That is, I think sometimes (a lot) I move toward over-stabilizing and lose my freedom of movement. I think my breathing tends to contribute a lot to this situation, so I really appreciate all of the breath reminders in class..

  2. I am enjoying – but definitely challenged by – this return to fundamental concepts. I have been moving into a fairly loose-jointed physicality lately, and this return to core ideas is strange territory. Oh yes, the head and the tail. So today I am painfully aware of my habitual sequentiality and am looking forward to getting refinding connections tomorrow and in the coming weeks.

  3. Thank you for posting these articles.

    I have little formal knowledge of Bartenieff. It’s interesting to see the Basic 6. I have a heavy background in Pilates, which has its own Basic 5 – all exercises of spinal flexion. You do so much flexion in PIlates before moving on to extension and later, lateral flexion and rotation. Bartenieff I’m noticing, works lateral flexion and rotation in half of these basic 6 exercises. This would seem to explain the perspective of core as iliopsoas in Bartenieff, while Pilates generally refers to core as abdominals.

    Pilates seems to view the core as an anchor for movement of the limbs. It feels like Bartenieff asks the core to connect the circuit of distal endpoints.

  4. For me, the Bartenieff Fundamentals have helped me to recognize how sequentially moving is a more efficient way of moving and more organic. Very different from just hitting shapes and not knowing where the initiation of the movement comes from and just arriving at the end.

    I must add that I loved the NY accents in the You Tube especially Lesley.

  5. I also am enjoying working with the Bartenieff concepts again. My training is primarily Limon and working for many years with Laura Glenn (and a bit with Irene Dowd in a movement retraining class) has invited the Bartenieff principles into my teaching and dancing. It is refreshing to come back to the re-investigation of the work and to internalize the various initiation points and concepts in more depth. I had some pain in my sciatic nerve a few days ago and I believe that doing this work helped to relieve the pain.

  6. This week has been such a breath of fresh air! It has been so wonderful to be the student. Though I often include Bartenieff Fundamentals into my teaching, I have found it to be very rewarding to revisit this information at a later point in my life. I am more familiar with how my body moves and better able to accept the information.

    One struggle that I continue to work on is “letting go” as I enter the classroom. I find myself tightening in my jaw and often times my neck. Not allowing for my upper body to “give” into the floor. However, I have found that having Yoga before class has helped me to recognize and release this tension much sooner. As well as bring attention to the inner and outer rotation of my muscles, bones and joints. I think that I have found my daily routine.

  7. This class is truly an awakening to me. I have not previously been exposed to the Barteneiff concepts, however I found them so simple, yet soooo complex. I never realized how much excessive force I use when I dance, which probably contributed to the habit of holding my breath. I literally feel like a new born baby, exploring new ways of using my body that actually feels good. For so many years, I have pushed through the pain to get where I need to be. I just figured that was all a part of the “joy of dancing.”

    The head/tail connection is really key to me in all this movement. It allows me to move much more efficiently and feels almost effortless. I can tell when I have lost the connection, because my body goes haywire and right back to forcing my way through the work. Also, the idea of moving sequentially makes so much sense, however it is very difficult for me. My challenge will be resisting overworking and allowing my body to move as it was intended.

    Nevertheless, I really appreciate the time you are taking to navigate through the fundamentals, while including our own discoveries, opinions and questions in the process.

  8. I come from a very physical and shape oriented background in dance. I am enjoying approaching movement from a very meticulous and detailed point of view. This is a very freeing experience and gives me the opportunity to explore the process of how I am arriving from point A to point B. It is a thrilling sensation! I am excited to see how this approach develops my sensibility and quality of movement.

  9. I was delighted to feel I made progress in the third class today. My background is much more codified techniques such as Graham, Horton, and ballet. I enjoy finding my stability on the floor and when accomplished it is great to feel it standing. I particularly enjoyed the articulations of the feet on the first day. In GaGa they have us do a good deal of singular manipulation of the toes and fingers. It really awakens me.

  10. I am really enjoying working with the Bartenieff Fundamentals right now. We touched on it a bit last week in Jan Erkert’s Pedagogy intensive and it’s great to be in a class that so clearly incorporates these principles. I love that we are also DANCING a lot and examining this somatic practice simultaneously. It feels as though my habitual movement patterns are able to fall away little by little as we go. For example, on the turning version of the ‘handstand’ we’ve been doing, I’ve noticed that if I think about lateral flexion on the way back up, my airborne leg is more available. I can explain this in person if necessary! Ha.

  11. I have realized in the last few days that some of the Bartenieff fundamentals are familiar to me from my training but I was never told specifically where it came from. I am glad that I know now what to call it! I am incredibly eager to learn more about this technique. I enjoy the challenge of this class and the ease in which Gerald teaches. In class I don’t fear failure and look forward to seeing where my body falls, recovers and balances.

    I would really like to learn more about the Bartenieff Fundamentals and would love a few other good resources (besides the one’s listed on this site) from anyone who has suggestions…

    • Hi Kim, as a resource I would look into LIMS (Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies: http://www.limsonline.org and be sure to check out Peggy Hackney’s book, ‘Making Connections’. Peggy also teaches as part of Integrated Movement Studies and elsewhere: http://www.imsmovement.com
      And of course, please ask Elizabeth Johnson on Laban and Bartenieff related topics. She has a wealth of knowledge and is here this summer.

      • Thanks Gerald! I have LMA with Elizabeth and have already asked her about further training in the fundamentals. I look forward to researching your suggestions!

  12. All of the Bartenieff concepts allow me to focus on moving through shapes and trying to find where the movement should come from . I think that I’m very fortunate that this program is so focused on Bartenieff because in my opinion, it goes hand in hand with efficiency. I’d like to dance as long as my body allows, and finding this efficiency through the concepts really shows me where I hold extra tension. Really enjoying the pace that we’re working with the fundamentals as well.

  13. I have found that this week has been both challenging and rewarding at the same moment. After a few years of having technique class weekly, this has been so refreshing to get my mind and body working together and realizing the joy in the technique.
    I find myself invested in the floor warm up and am coming to understand how important it is to keep my “standing leg” engaged while doing floor work.
    It feels wonderful to dance while simultaneously learning the fundamentals of the technique. Thank you for class.

  14. My goal today was to limit the amount of self-judgment, embrace the floor, and observe everyone’s use of the spine. Gerald I really appreciate the clarity, specificity, and calmness in the language you use. I find that it helps me to embrace the floor and pay attention to where my mind goes as I’m working in class. The overlap between this class, LMA, and the pedagogy intensive is having a profound affect on me, which is good and scary at the same time. As we repeat exercises and my mind ventures to wonder off into never never land, I find myself breathing, thinking about my bones, thinking about the sagittal plane, thinking about what my pinky toe is doing, thinking about what my spine and head are doing. I’m excited to see where we go from here and what discoveries we will make. I am also trying to make the class more about how to teach and how to use the body in an efficient way, rather than going into dancer/student mode-which is difficult at times especially when it is so fun and freeing! Is there a way to do both?

    • Thank you Marquita. I think there is a thin and porous border/membrane that separates and surrounds the vacillating space between my experience as a teacher and student. It can be quite overwhelming sometimes given that I am around such intelligent and extremely articulate moving specimens. In those instances I try to concentrate on what my mind is doing…watching the critical mind take over the information sharing that is necessary and I often get stunted. It may not seem that way but it happens frequently. Then I have to remind myself to be as true to the words that I am saying as I can and also to show in action (how I demonstrate in my body and in the construction of my class) what underpins the principles that I am trying to share. Somehow, being on task takes the burden off of the judgment and criticism and the sharing and deep investigation happens on both sides of this border/membrane – teacher and student. As I watch closely how my students interpret my words, I listen to what their bodies are telling me…if they are not clear, I am probably not being as clear as I can be. And if they are not focused, I am probably also very distracted. So I believe there is definitely a way to do both – the key that I have found is gentle precision and physically, the breath and eyes can serve as great indicators and metaphors of how we treat ourselves and others. If we are not breathing, we cannot possibly share. And as one of my teachers have said, if you can look someone in the eye it probably means you have had the courage to look at yourself with the same generosity and respect you want and need.

  15. I have had no practical experience with the Bartenieff fundamental concepts. I am surprised that I was not exposed to it as a young dancer, as I instinctively can understand how important and useful it is!
    I am loving the flow of movement, and am discovering moments where Gerald’s patient directions find their way into my body without my intellectually placing them there; much to my delight. I am still finding my way, as much of the class is challenging for me, but I hope to focus on incorporating the concepts through the joy of small discoveries that will inform my body in the coming weeks.

  16. I’ve really been playing/struggling/noticing my patterns of moving sequentially in this first week of class. I come from a background where sequential movement patterns have often been worked by initiating from distill points and then focusing on release through the body as that distill point leads the movement. During this week I feel like I started to explore a more conscious patterning through my body, paying more attention to the ways that inhibiting some patterns that my body goes towards (lower ribcage!) might facilitate a clearer and more direct line of movement through my body.

    Also as someone who has mainly been teaching/taking short workshops and drop-in technique classes it has been a real pleasure to get back to a class that can build on phrase material and to feel as a dancer the ways that I can ride my experience of specific movement from day to day.

  17. I have had little experience with Bartenieff Fundamentals, and was surprised this week by the amount new connections I was able to make within my body in such a short amount of time. The comment you made about finding interconnectivity before expressing further with my limbs and exterior resonated for me and helped me find some less useful habits I have developed over the years. I find that I put more energy into movement than needed, and end up gripping in my hip flexors, quadriceps and trapezius. The warm up exercises helped me find relaxation in those areas and begin moving from a deeper place, initiating from my core and the inside out. Thank you for an amazing first week, I am looking forward to Tuesday.

  18. I loved the first class and our feet warm up, I wish I had done feet “exercises” like this 15 years ago! Also, the way you describe the image of having four dots outlining both the inside and outside of the feet- was really helpful to me. Some images works and some don’t. (Imagining your foot as the trunk of a tree with all the roots spreading underneath, has never been helpful for example) I’m talking about feet because I constantly strive for a better balance and a calmer and wider standing foot. Many of the Fundamental movements you presented in class reminds us to keep our feet active and articulate, which is great.

    Pelvis. I think my pelvis both widened and slid down (returned to a more neutral position) an inch or two during first week of class! I think it widen’s because of all the stretching from feet and hand initiation. Moving from the limbs instead of core. I think the pelvis relaxes and return to a more neutral place because of the focus on “sit bones- floor/heals” and “head- tail” -connection. But due to sore hamstrings, I know I am working those muscles as well! Just letting the front rest a little and making the back sides do the job….

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