Barbara Mahler’s Klein Technique class always begins the same way: Students slowly roll down until they’re completely folded over—and stay there for about half an hour. This, dancers say, is where tiny miracles happen. There’s a Zen-like calm so strong it’s palpable, as Mahler weaves through her students, gently inviting them to “bring attention to the hamstrings” or cueing the “weight of the head to pull on the tail.”
To a novice, a Klein Technique class might appear monotonous or even strange. But “it’s a way to re-educate and facilitate change—it’s knowledge for people to help themselves move better, with less pain and more ease,” says Mahler, who has been teaching it for 34 years. Klein Technique was developed by Susan Klein in the 1970s as a response to her own injuries. Part somatic practice, part movement technique, its repetitive, slow-moving approach helps students realign and repattern their bodies, leading to the dissolution of bad habits, a new range of motion and injury prevention.
A latecomer to dance as an undergraduate at Hunter College, Mahler found herself plagued by injuries. “I was always having back problems,” she says. Then she found Susan Klein’s studio and noticed a dramatic transformation in her body. “I realized I wasn’t in pain and my back was getting better,” says Mahler. “I was learning how to understand myself.” She quickly became a devotee and eventually a certified teacher.
For many modern dancers in New York City, Mahler’s class is a source of revelation. “I grew up doing lots of ballet, so when I went to college for modern dance, I was constantly told to be more grounded and give in to my weight,” says Trina Mannino, a student of Mahler’s for two years. “It was in the hanging over that I felt this surrender in my body. It started to shift for me.”
The beginning of class isn’t the only time revelations occur. Near the end, when Mahler noticed her students going from a fetal position on the floor to a spread-eagled X-position by initiating from the feet, she suggested they pair up and try moving from a different part of their bodies to see if that led to any discoveries. While one partner lay on the ground, the other placed their hands on their partner’s trochanters (the two bony protuberances at the top of each thigh bone) for tactile encouragement. Afterward, Mahler had them walk around the room to feel the difference in their bodies.
The change was immediately visible: The side of the body that had been touched appeared longer and more relaxed. “I feel like my legs are walking me!” said one student, clearly surprised.
That surprise is what Mahler hopes her students leave class with. “I want them to have a different experience of being in their body,” she says. “And that information is something you take away and apply to other classes.”
Barbara Mahler has been teaching Klein Technique since 1983. She was on faculty at the Klein School of Movement from 1983 to 2002; today she teaches at Movement Research and Gibney Dance Center in NYC. She has a BA in dance from Hunter College and an MFA from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Her choreography has been presented by Danspace Project, Brooklyn Arts Exchange and Dixon Place in New York.
Trina Mannino is a professional dancer who has been Mahler’s student since 2014.