Irmgard Bartenieff (née Dombois, b. February 24, 1900, Berlin; died August 27, 1981, New York City) was a German-born American dancer, choreographer, teacher, Labanotator, dance therapist, physical therapist, dance historian, and activist. During the 1920s, Bartenieff studied modern dance, movement analysis, and movement notation at the Rudolf Laban School in Munich and danced with the Tanzbühne Laban. She taught and performed in Berlin and Stuttgart, Germany through her own studio and company, Romantisches Tanztheater Barténieff.
After immigrating to the United States in 1937, she taught Laban’s theories and dance notation and continued studies in massage therapy, eventually opening a private practice with her husband, Michail Bartenieff, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts where she worked until 1942. In 1946, Bartenieff was awarded a certificate from the New York University School of Physical Therapy; she was later licensed in New York and maintained a private practice while also working with polio patients and people with mental illness at hospitals throughout her life.
Eventually combining dance and therapy, Bartenieff was a founding member of the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA). She was also a member of the Dance Notation Bureau (DNB) and the International Council on Kinetography Laban (ICKL). She taught analysis and synthesis of movement, wrote and published several articles, lectured across the United States, gave demonstrations in Bewegungsmassage in the United States and Europe, and taught Laban’s Effort-Shape theories at the DNB.
In 1977, she started the Laban Institute for Movement Studies (LIMS)—later known as the Laban/Bartenieff Institute for Movement Studies—to teach Laban movement analysis (LMA). Having developed her own theoretical approach to the study of LMA (Bartenieff Fundamentals (BF)), and set of exercises (the Basic 6), she published a book “Body Movement: Coping with the Environment” co-authored by Dori Lewis in 1980. Bartenieff died on August 27, 1981 in New York City.
The Bartenieff papers include 103 boxes (record storage, document cases, score boxes, photograph binders, audio cassette and index card boxes, oversized flat boxes, and one map-case folder) comprising 54.0 linear feet.
There are six restricted files in this collection (indicated in the finding aid). The remainder of the collection is open for research. Materials from this collection must be used in the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library's Irving and Margery Morgan Lowens Special Collections Room during SCPA’s operating hours. Please contact the curator to set up an appointment to view the Bartenieff papers, or if you have questions related to digital access of the materials.
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54.0 Linear Feet
After a preliminary assessment of the collection deeded by the Laban/Bartenieff Institute for Movement Studies (LIMS), it was determined that a large portion of the boxes contained materials collected by the founder, Irmgard Bartenieff, rather than being organizational material supporting LIMS. Thus, the decision was made to separate the collections into the LIMS organization archive and the Bartenieff papers which contains contents specific to Irmgard Bartenieff: correspondence (personal and professional); photographs; audio and video tapes; slides; transcriptions; translations of articles and letters; notes and notebooks associated with her physical therapy practice, dance, teaching, study with Laban and others; notation (her own, Feuillet, Labanotation); books; manuscripts and drafts of published and unpublished work; and work authored by others (articles and academic papers). After processing, the Bartenieff papers include 103 boxes (record storage, document cases, score boxes, photograph binders, audio cassette and index card boxes, oversized flat boxes, and one map-case folder) comprising 54.0 linear feet.
Irmgard Bartenieff (née Dombois) was born February 24, 1900 in Berlin, Germany. She was married twice and had two sons, Igor and George, with her second husband, dancer Michail Bartenieff. Throughout her life, she was a dancer, choreographer, teacher, Labanotator, dance therapist, physical therapist, dance historian, and activist.As a child, she studied German folk dance and ballet. She attended elementary school and the German Realgymnasium for Girls (Berlin-Wilmerdorf) in Germany, where she studied languages (Latin, French, and English), mathematics, European history, geography, and the sciences. In 1919, she graduated from the Cecilienschule and then matriculated at the Philosophical Faculty of the Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin for courses in botany and basic science. She then studied chemistry, physics, anatomy, and biology at the pre-med level at the University of Freiburg. She continued her studies in science at the Albrecht University in Freiburg, Baden and added courses in archeology and art history. No degree was conferred. In 1935 Bartenieff enrolled in a massage and therapeutic exercise course at the Freiburg University Clinic in Munich under the direction of Dr. Johannes Ludwig Schmitt. After immigrating to the United States in 1937, Bartenieff studied massage and electrotherapy with Drs. H.F. Wolf and S.E. Bilik. In 1942, she enrolled in the New York University School of Physical Therapy where she studied for two years. In 1946, Bartenieff was awarded a certificate in Physical Therapy and was later licensed in the State of New York as a physical therapist. Bartenieff received her United States citizenship in 1946. Between 1922 and 1925, Bartenieff studied modern dance, movement analysis, and movement notation at the Rudolf Laban School in Munich and danced with the Tanzbühne Laban. Between 1925 and 1927, she studied at the Choregraphisches Institut Laban, Wuerzburg, Berlin where she earned a diploma in dance notation and movement analysis. In 1927, she began teaching technique, theory, and notation and was an assistant choreographer at the Lang-Corret Laban School. In 1928, she studied Ballet with Michail Bartenieff, Victor and Tatyana Gsovsky, and Eugenie Eduardowa. In 1929, she formed her own studio and company in Stuttgart, the Volkshochschule Stuttgart, where she taught courses for professionals and laymen. Between 1931 and 1933, Bartenieff and her then husband, Michail, formed a dance company in Berlin, the Romantisches Tanztheater Barténieff, which performed throughout Germany. While in Germany, Bartenieff performed under several names including Irma Doom, Irma Dombois, Irma Prym, Irmgard Prym, Irma Kan-Bartenieff, and Irmgard Dombois-Bartenieff. The political situation in Germany in 1933 caused the Bartenieffs to close their company and Bartenieff resumed her study of dance history and Kinetography Laban (Labanotation), working with Albrecht Knust. In 1936, Bartenieff and Michail traveled to the United States to find work in dance, leaving their sons in Germany. In 1937, they immigrated to the United States where they performed sporadically while Bartenieff repeatedly returned to Germany to try to bring her sons to the United States, which finally happened in 1939. In 1938, Bartenieff was awarded a certificate and license to practice massage in New York under the name of Kan-Kogan. This is a surname of unknown association with Bartenieff, but that appears in one or two included papers. The meaning of the name is "of the tribe of Cohen," and, as it is acknowledged that Bartenieff was a name assumed by her husband Michail, it may actually have been their legally-recognized name. Working with Irma Otte-Betz, Bartenieff taught Laban’s theories and dance notation, teaching at the New School for Social Research in New York and the Lieberman School in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Otte-Betz and Bartenieff also co-authored an instructional text on Labanotation, but the final draft was lost during one of Bartenieff’s trips to Germany and thus was never published. Otte-Betz died in 1940. Unable to support themselves with their dance performance, the Bartenieffs opened a private practice in massage therapy in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where she worked until 1942. In 1944, following her course in physical therapy at New York University, Bartenieff was asked by her professor, Dr. George Deaver, to work in the poliomyelitis unit of the Willard Parker Hospital. She eventually managed the unit and worked there until 1953. From 1954 until 1958, Bartenieff was a physcial therapist and coordinator of the rehabilitation program at the Blythedale Home for Children in Valhalla, New York under Dr. A.D. Gurewitsch. From 1958 through 1960, she was a research therapist for Dr. Gurewitsch at the Institute for the Crippled and Disabled and continued that role the following two years in Gurewitsch’s private practice. An early experimenter with combining dance and therapy, Bartenieff discussed her ideas with Laban, who fully supported her and eventually added therapy to the Laban Art of Movement’s curriculum (in England). Eventually combining dance and therapy more formally, Bartenieff became a founding member of the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA). A believer in disseminating information, Bartenieff taught and lectured on various aspects of physical therapy. In 1957 and 1958, she traveled to Denmark to teach courses on techniques for the treatment of polio and advanced kinesiology. From 1960 until 1962, she taught several courses on movement, massage, and physical therapy at NYU School of Physical Therapy, Columbia University, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, including a course for doctors and graduate students. From 1959 through 1962, she taught dance therapy at the Day Hospital Department of Psychiatry (Jacobi Hospital) and at the Turtle Bay Music School, where she also taught ‘Language of Movement.’ In 1963, she was invited to speak on ‘Analysis and Coding of Human Movement’ at the Harvard Center for Cognitive Studies. In the 1970s, she traveled to Hawaii where she pursued studies in ethnic forms of dance and Tai Chi while teaching courses in movement analysis at the University in Manoa. In addition to teaching, Bartenieff wrote several articles on movement therapies (published and unpublished). Bartenieff also wrote and published articles and developed book drafts on dance notation and movement analysis. With expertise in several kinds of movement notation, she transcribed Feuillet’s Baroque notation (Pecour’s dances) into Labanotation and published an article on this work in 1935 and again in 1956. Bartenieff was an early member of the Dance Notation Bureau (DNB) and the International Council on Kinetography Laban (ICKL) where she worked with colleagues such as Ann Hutchinson (Guest), Albrecht Knust, Lisa Ullmann, Martin Gleisner, and others. Her influence was wide as she worked with and taught scholars, dancers, physicians, and notable people including Judith Kestenberg, Warren Lamb, Martha Davis, Marion North, Rudolf Laban, Eleanor Roosevelt, Kurt Jooss, and Robert Dunn, among others. Many of these individuals studied with her as she taught Laban’s Effort-Shape theories at the DNB. In 1977, she began her own Institute to teach Laban Movement Analysis (LMA), the Laban Institute for Movement Studies (LIMS), eventually allowing her name to be added (the Laban/Bartenieff Institute for Movement Studies). Having developed her own theoretical approach to the study of LMA (Bartenieff Fundamentals (BF)), and set of exercises (the Basic 6), she published a book “Body Movement: Coping with the Environment” co-authored by Dori Lewis in 1980. Falling ill in late 1980, and hospitalized in May of 1981, Irmgard Bartenieff died on August 27, 1981 in New York City.
This collection is arranged into 13 series separated into subseries. Books cataloged and stored in the Lowens Reading Room in the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library, or those that are awaiting cataloging and/or preservation, are listed in this finding aid as Related Material with Title, Author, and Date.
The first accession, 15-21-LIMS, was received on April 28, 2015 by Vincent Novara from the LIMS storage facility (City Storage) in Brooklyn, New York. Two additional transfers of materials occurred: Accession 15-128-LIMS was received May 14, 2015 and accession 2016-02-LIMS was received July 13, 2015.
According to a Deed of Gift discovered in the materials, Irmgard Bartenieff’s oldest son, I. John Barrett (Igor Bartenieff), offered 21 boxes of materials to the Laban/Bartenieff Institute for Movement Studies (LIMS) two months after Bartenieff’s death in August 1981. According to an item in a LIMS newsletter dated 1983, LIMS processed some boxes by rehousing the materials in archival quality folders. It is not known if original order was maintained, nor if the boxes processed in 1983 were part of the original gift from 1981 in part or in whole. Anecdotal information maintains that that the Bartenieff materials were kept physically separate from other LIMS materials and were not touched or accessed after Bartenieff’s death until 1997 when LIMS moved this collection along with the LIMS organization records to an off-site storage facility. In 2015, Special Collections in Performing Arts, acquired the LIMS records, including the Bartenieff papers, as a single donation from LIMS.
After a preliminary assessment it was discovered that the collection contained 78 boxes that appeared to be specifically associated with Irmgard Bartenieff (including 50 boxes with label numbers x-I and folders labeled ‘IB’s folders’); thus, the collections were separated. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to determine the provenance of the 78 boxes; however, the contents are clearly related to Bartenieff and her work from the 1920s until 1981. Due to a lack of a recognizable original order, order was, in part, imposed on the collection. Any items housed in multiple series (e.g. duplicates) represent an attempt to maintain some original order, as some materials in the folders marked ‘IB’s folders’ were kept as is while duplicates were contained with other loose materials in different boxes. Further description of preservation and arrangement actions taken are included in the series descriptions. All materials were rehoused into archival quality enclosures, with fasteners (e.g. staples and paper clips) removed when necessary. Additional preservation actions are required for this collection.
Information regarding some materials was offered by individuals who worked with Irmgard Bartenieff or LIMS: Peggy Hackney; Ann Hutchinson Guest; Karen Bradley; Carol-Lynne Moore; Martha Eddy; Martha Davis; Elissa Q. White, Mimi Berger, Catherine McCoubrey, Nina Robinson, Anna Rider. Two graduate student assistants contributed to this finding aid: Samantha Flores Guerrero and Hannah Dara.
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