Week 5: Klein/Mahler Technique

This week we will explore the work of Susan Klein and Barbara Mahler. Between 1992-2010 I studied with these two teachers and their teachings continue to resonate with me today. Please look at their websites for more insight.

I am also including an article on Zero Balancing since I believe it is a strong influence on the Klein/Mahler work. The interface of energy and structure is at the heart of Susan and Barbara’s work with the body, particularly dancers’ bodies and their need to form patterns, repattern, integrate, contemplate and move from deep within.





21 thoughts on “Week 5: Klein/Mahler Technique

  1. As I am writing my syllabus for a high school level dance class I am interested in teaching in the fall, I am thinking about all of the useful teaching techniques applied in this class. Today it was great to first start with the Tai Chi arm movments sitting and then when we performed them standing I was really able to understand the movement and add the shifting of the weight in the legs with more ease. Taking the time to go the the wall and explore the weight of the pelvis and engagement of the hamstrings was amazing becasue later I was able to translate that experience when going from the handstand to turning and dropping to the floor. Also, the subtle changes in the choreography of the combinations (counts, or shoulders then elbow) makes such a huge difference and keeps my awareness and attention on the movement. I am certaininly going to take that trick with me and apply it my own teaching practice. Thank you Gerald:)

  2. The comment you made in class today about “not getting the combination right” or “not knowing everything” just really hit home for me. I find myself in this habit of always trying to execute every detail or correction and beating myself up when I don’t get it right. It’s the whole idea of the distinct separation of right vs. wrong and leaving no in between. (I think my mother ingrained this in me.) I have to keep telling myself that no one is perfect and there are so many ways to do one thing. No one way is the right way. It’s about choice and finding the best way for you.

    The moment you made this comment, I was at a point of punishing myself, realizing it, and trying to let go of the frustration and disappointment I had created in myself. Hearing it helped me to bring myself out of this downward spiral. So, I just need to say that I really appreciate your honesty. (Sorry to get so personal on the blog.)

    I also felt a huge difference in the way I stood and felt more of a connection to my tailbone after the wall exercise. I was grounded through my legs and pelvis and my body felt lighter when working through the floor exercises as well as the inversions.

    • I remember that same moment in class. For me, I became really aware and appreciative of the way that Gerald holds space for everyone in the class to explore. The class feels very balanced between providing a strong container of clear exercises and movement studies, and encouraging open exploration within that container. I think it is a tricky balance to maintain as a teacher, but really allows students to be creative and feel like individuals within a form. So, thanks for that.

  3. I am enjoying the focus on the connection between the tailbone and pubic bone. I feel incredibly grounded after the opening rolling down exercise and through the rest of class. It is similar to a session I had with a physical therapist, Marika Molnar, in NYC. She had me closely analyze my lumbo-pelvic rhythm. It changed the way I thought about my pelvis in connection with the rest of my body.

    The opening exercise is another way to explore this connection and is useful for teaching students about the correct lumbo-pelvic rhythm. I will definitely be putting this in my toolbox of tricks!!!

  4. I really love the way my relationship to Klein/Mahler technique seems to have changed over the years. As I have become more enmeshed in the practice of Alexander Technique, I’ve wanted to reject the ideas of Klein/Mahler. In the AT work I think more about up, and softness and space within each joint, floating and synergy. With the emphasis on the connection to gravity in the Klein/Mahler work, it has felt a little confusing in recent years. My body, especially my spine, feels more compressed in the practice of this work.

    The last two days I’ve been able to let go of past experiences a little bit and worry about it less. When we are hanging over it’s difficult and intense but my body feels more organized and grounded afterward. I appreciate this work and and its stacking nature, and it doesn’t negate all the other somatic work I’m engaged in. I feel like my deep postural muscles are activated.

    Today I became very aware of how the hamstrings attach just below the knee. As my hamstrings continued lengthen behind my knees, I noticed my knees rotating inward slightly.

    Also, I’ve been having a really wonderful time in the phrase work at the end of class!

  5. It’s been really hard for me to figure out how to write what is going on in my body and being able to find words to explain how I feel. I think this might have to do with how out of dance I have been for a while, and my body not being able to dance and now getting back into things.

    This week and the end of last my body finally feels like its understanding things again.

    I love the work we are doing this week. The hanging over our legs feels wonderful and the way of rolling up is different than what I am used to.

    I also am really enjoying thinking of the bones in my body while dancing as opposed to muscles. I feel like it is making everything easier to do as well as keeping me more connected.

  6. I enjoyed walking up the wall today! Watching everyone, you could really see preferences. Some people were really turned out, while others were really turned in. Some were turned in on one side, and turned out on the other. When we walked up the wall using pelvis only, I could almost feel people imagining their pelvis or thinking…hmmm I dont know if I can do this! I appreciated doing the exercise, paying attention to my body, and then seeing others in the same process. Somehow it seemed like a group effort. It was very satisfying

  7. I realize that my knowledge of Mahler/Klein was pretty superficial. I never experienced the roll-downs with such intensity outside of yoga. I really enjoy these inverted postures as a body awakener! I have never had my attention drawn to the backward shift of the pelvis (weight toward heels). This produced a very new sensation for me and a deep stretch at the very tops of my hamstrings. I have been sore this week and it isn’t balanced – my left leg (hamstrings) is much more sore.

  8. Oh . . .I just want to add that I miss orbits! I really fell in love with that series. Will we get to review the sequence before we leave or are the videos easily accessible for viewing or purchase?

  9. I am finding the roll down series to be more layered for me each day. On Tuesday, I had to sift though all the past versions of rolling down that my body has known before, like shuffling through a deck of cards. Most of the past “rollings” were just lowering the head to the ground using as little muscularity as possible, but the deep awareness I felt in my hips, trocanters in particular, was a deep tissue muscularity. It was harder than I expected, but great in that I could feel so close to the bone. I felt I was moving in the class not with the larger, heavier muscles, but those tiny ones which I seem to rarely get all the way into! Yes, I was sore, in my bones. I thought it was the weather, the low pressure and humidity which often brings all kinds of old issues to the surface, but as we began the exercises I could feel it was those muscles so deep I thought they were bone!

  10. I enjoyed the comments you expressed regarding the importance of exploration and the realization that it is okay to “not” always understand what you are doing as both a student and a teacher. Not being so perfect allows for much more growth, experimentation, awareness and inquisitiveness.

    The Klein/Mahler taps into those deep support muscles and I found that once I allowed myself to breathe and relax into the roll down, both my mind and body let much of the gripping go.

    Your movement phrases are so detailed and intricate and I appreciated that you clarified that last phrase. Although there are many body part initiations and isolation movements, the way the body is organized and coordinated in the phrases really seems to enhance a sense that everything is working as a whole.

  11. The Klein/Mahler work that we are doing this week has brought a deeper relationship with my bony parts that I have not experienced before. My cues in the past for rolling up has been “head/tail connection” and the “sequencing or stacking up of the vertebrae”. Although I understood what that meant I didn’t truly experience an embodied roll up until this week. The fact that the technique uses gravity and is slow in its movement gives me the time to really make the connection and not only with bones and muscles but also recognizing breathe and applying this new grounded and connected feeling to the rest of the class.

    I feel that this whole summer, all of the somatic approaches presented although different in principles have prepared my body creating support and range of motion for the rest of class and also something I continue to be aware of outside the class as well.

  12. The somatic approach has been a huge learning curve for me coming from ballet and graham. It is great to start to actually have a head tail connection on occasion but I have also found it a personal struggle to keep up with the movement phrases at the end of class. I use to think I could pick things up but the sequencing is so out of my comfort zone I am happy if I have the combination by Friday. I enjoyed the roll downs this week because of how it opened my hips, although I am sore.

  13. I just read Mary Ann’s comment about difficulty in picking up phrases at the end of class. I notice I have been experiencing that as well – and it is an unfamiliar sensation, as I am accustomed to picking up material easily. I think it is because my brain is so otherwise engaged with all the conceptual material. This week with the Klein/Mahler focus, I decided I had to give myself a break and just focus on feeling the space between my bones. This actully allowed my body’s intelligence to take over and felt surprisingly successful. And the zero balancing reading you posted really resonated with me after my experiences in class this week. I like the idea of working toward accessing and captitalizing on the strength of the body’s natural intelligence. Yay for ease and efficiency! Incindentally, I also feel like our release work in class this week integrated nicely with the “working in states” improvisation we did the other day in Deb’s class.

    • This learning the combination thread in your comment has really got me thinking about how we learn material, something that I am pretty fascinated by. I was thinking that for me the Klein/Mahler stuff, besides physically warming me up in a specific, focused way also energizes my mind to consciously/unconsciously focus on my bones, the tailbone to heel, the hip socket, etc… I was then noticing that for me if I can get my skeletal structure working in a phrase, the placement, timing, initiation that I can then layer on other systems, muscular etc… I had never thought about it in this way, starting with the bones outward before as a way to access all movement. Still new, not so formed, but maybe the nugget of something for me. thanks!

  14. I found the Klien/Mahler exercises to be incredibly painful in the beginning of the week, and it was difficult for me to concentrate on hollowing out my hip sockets and think about my bones stacking up because it was such a stretch for my muscles. By Friday however, my body felt different and I could see (in my mind) my bones working and stacking in a way I had never experienced before.
    I have felt quite a change in my body this week and I think that this will be a continued practice for me as well as our body/mind work that we did last week.

  15. It’s funny how techniques and “languages” travels across the world, up until this week, most terms and applications I encountered in the US has been fairly new to me. Klein Technique is the only language I’m comfortable with. Your class this week has joined two of my worlds together 🙂 By the way, looked at Susan’s website and smiled when seeing both Mira’s, Janine’s and Karin’s names on the list of teachers.
    Klein/Mahler exercises strengthens my hamstrings and allows a physical sensation between tailbone and head-connection. Things that are being mentioned in modern classes over and over, but are never really given the actual time to physically WORK with. Through this summers work in several classes, I finally feel that I’ve re-found my head-tail connection after my pregnancies.

  16. This has been my first introduction to Klein/Mahler and I am interested to learn more. Normally when I teach a modern class I begin with a series of head-tail exercises rolling through the spine. This week, I struggled to roll down through the spine for two reasons. One, I experienced a lot of tension and tightness in my thoracic. As I would roll down, I felt a very intense sensation. This also tightened my chest limiting my breathing. Because of this, I found it difficult to bring my focus to the connection between my tailbone and pubic bone. Not only that, but the lack of flexibility in my arms prevented me from truly reaching and feeling my tailbone. However, I found that by beginning with focus on the tailbone and pubic bone I payed more attention to where my weight fell over my feet. This will be a very useful addition to my exercises.

    Now, that being said when we began class with the Tai Chi movements and moments of stretching through the side, I found the rolling through the spine to not be quite as intense. I found the Tai Chi arm movements to be therapeutic. I really struggle with meditation, or sitting quietly and clearing the mind. But as we moved through these Tai Chi arm gestures, I was able to visualize moving a ball of energy around my Kinesphere. This really quieted my mind and I felt centered and at ease at the beginning of class. I am very curious about this. I wonder if a regular practice of Tai Chi would help that sensation last longer throughout class?

  17. The beginning of the week was really a challenge for me. I never realized how painful a roll down could be. The combination of gravity and muscle tension really caused my back and sacral region to ache and burn. Granted as the week went on, my body got familiar with the movements and sank into it better. i wonder, though, if my scoliosis palyed into the pain of the roll down exercise? Maybe I should be doing this more as it seems like using gravity to almost lengthen the back might be helpful to the “crunching” of my vertebrae when I am standing?

    Overall this week felt odd, I was stressed with running late due to my internship and my body felt uncoordinated which was frustrating. But as previous comments have mentioned, your suggestion to not worry about “doing the combination correctly” really helped diffuse my feelings about my somewhat uncoordinated body this week. I have to constantly remind myself, that the end result isn’t what matters, but rather the process of getting to the end.

  18. This past week’s class has been a good experience for me. I really appreciated the rolling down sequence and Klein technique. It was nice to focus on the small articulations my body experienced and still feel warm after the series had been executed. I usually have tight hamstrings and this helped my muscles release into stretches I haven’t been able to do without incredible pain before! YAY!

  19. This past week was frustrating for me. I found that moving so little and meticulously at the beginning of class did not seem to set me up for the rest of class, unlike the Irene Doud work. I appreciated the rolling down sequence for stretching benefits and feeling my muscles release, however like Marquita said in class, my lower legs became numb. For whatever reason, I also had a lot of difficulty remembering the combinations this week. The first two weeks I really felt like I absolutely knew the center and across the floor combinations, so then I felt as though I could really perform. This last week was different for me and while I’m glad you mentioned something about not worrying about memorizing the combination, it’s a bit unfulfilling for me to try to perform it without having it committed to memory. I feel like when I don’t have the movement in my body, I can’t focus on anything beyond it such as my shoulders, breath, my ribs, bending at my joints or whatever else I’d been focusing on. When I have a combination at least 75% committed to memory, I can try to improve on my technique. I really like the combinations and when I can’t memorize them, I feel like I am also cheating myself out of that infamous “dancer high”. I love class and it’s such a bummer when I feel like i can’t perform because of something silly like lack of memorization skills.

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