Living Dance: The Barbara Mettler Collection



“Living Dance: the Barbara Mettler Collection” is an exhibit that highlights select items from the hundreds of still images, 16mm films, brochures, scrapbooks, letters, architectural specifications, etc. that comprise the Barbara Mettler Papers, 1931-2002, at Hampshire College. Born in Chicago in 1907, Barbara Mettler studied at Smith College before enrolling in the Mary Wigman School where she studied in Weimar era Germany. She taught improvisational dance in New York City from 1934-1940, from her farm studio in New Hampshire from 1941-1953, and in Tucson, Arizona from 1961 until her death in 2002. The displayed items represent key moments in Mettler’s life as an educator and creative dance innovator, important themes in her work, and items that are unique to the style of political dance that she pioneered. For more information, please consult the resources listed below:


This exhibit was curated by Emily Drummer from materials from the Barbara Mettler Collection at the Hampshire College Archives. We would also like to extend a warm thank you to Mary Ann Brehm and Mettler Studios, whose feedback was invaluable to this project.



Barbara Mettler moved to Dresden, Germany in the Spring of 1931 to study at the Mary Wigman School of Dance where she studied a range of dance subjects including ballet, the teachings of Rudolf von Laban, as well as the fundamentals of improvisation and composition. Music became a vital component to her identity as a dancer and she began to experiment with dances that incorporated her own improvised musical compositions. Five months prior to her graduation Hitler was made chancellor of Germany and the school changed drastically under Nazi rule. 

New York

After graduating from the Mary Wigman School of Dance, Mettler moved to New York City to take classes with modern dancers Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey. Frustrated by the rigidity of her teachers, Mettler decided to open a studio of her own. The Barbara Mettler School of Dance opened in the fall of 1934 out of a single floor in a building owned by Carnegie Hall on West 56th Street. Mettler’s theory of dance began to evolve into an all inclusive method that viewed dance as a form of creative movement that could benefit the masses rather than the select few. Although she still practiced many of the conventional principles that she had learned while in Germany, Mettler’s instructional aesthetic emphasized the joy in creative activity rather than rigorous exercise and preparation for performance. 

New Hampshire

Mettler and Hammer moved to New Hampshire fall of 1940 where they purchased an old farmhouse that they renovated into a dance studio with a group of dancers and musicians. A year after the studio was completed a fire devastated the barn as well as the instruments contained within it. The dance school that the group envisioned was put on hold for a few months until another barn was acquired. For thirteen years Mettler housed a residential summer school for dance students. She began to teach children, and outdoor instruction became a key feature in her work. 


Mettler opened The Tucson Creative Dance center in the fall of 1963. Designed by the Taliesin West group of Frank Lloyd Write, the studio was round and featured an outdoor dancing area. Recreational dance courses for adults and children, demonstrations, and intensive summer courses attracted students from across the globe. It was also during this period that Mettler traveled to Costa Rica to teach courses, creating a longstanding partnership with Costa Rican dancers and educators. 


This section features miscellaneous photographs of Barbara Mettler, her students, and instructional instruments.