Barbara Mettler (1907-2002) and her approach to dance

Barbara Mettler’s work explored the roots of movement expression to make dance available to everyone. She used improvisation to awaken creativity and engage the whole person. Balancing freedom and artistic discipline she brought her students to the level of craftsmanship necessary to create satisfying improvised individual and group dances.

Mettler’s career spanned more than 60 years--directing dance companies, writing books and articles, making videotapes and teaching thousands of students in a variety of settings. Mettler stated her goals as follows:

  • to liberate and cultivate the natural creative movement resources of
    individuals and groups
  • to practice dance as the universal language of movement and as the primary
    central art
  • to develop freedom, awareness, and control in the use of the body as the
    instrument and movement as the material of dance
  • to provide teachers with material and methods for teaching creative dance
    on all educational levels.

One of Mettler’s greatest discoveries was an approach for having groups-even very large groups-improvise freely together. Mettler’s teaching was known for its clarity. She used carefully selected progressions of creative problems to lead people ever deeper into dance experiences. Examples of themes explored by Mettler include:

  • the kinesthetic sense as a guide for discovering movement
  • force, time, and space and their connections to drama, music and visual arts
  • organic form, where movements and themes evolve naturally one from another
  • the unity of sound and movement--using voice, hands, feet, and instruments
    while dancing, rather than pre-recorded music
  • dance with the environment--indoors, outdoors and the use of costume or held object
  • skills for group work--cultivating activity and passivity; sensing the group body in configurations such as circle, line, clump and scatter; learning how
    to compliment, contrast, and work in unison in groups.

Her work emphasized dance as a pure art activity with the intent to create movement forms that are satisfying in and of themselves.

Mettler’s books, films and videos are available through Mettler Studios at