Genevieve Stebbins and the Philosophical Roots of Somatics

A reigning prejudice today pits embodiment and feeling against thinking as a corrective for centuries of overemphasis on the latter. Apart from the contradiction of intellectually arguing for such a position, the trend of devaluing thought forgets that is it is precisely thinking which grants the observer a conscious self-awareness of the feeling body. Such observation forms a keystone in the burgeoning field of somatics, and yet rarely do we find practitioners engaging in serious metaphysical speculation regarding the conditions which give rise to this power of observation. Ancient thinkers like Plato certainly did not shy away from philosophizing about the transcendental conditions of thought in relation to the body. In fact, popular misinterpretations of Plato present him as the grandfather of body-denigrating dualism. What may be surprising to some is the extent to which the fields of somatics and modern dance were significantly influenced by a modern proponent of Neoplatonic philosophy, someone who sought to realize in everyday life the Romantic ideal of extending nature’s creativity through the conscious human being—namely, the performer, author, philosopher, and teacher, Genevieve Stebbins. With Stebbins the ancient understanding and practice of cultivating the human being as microcosm was translated into a modern context. Traces of this influence are discernible in the work of somatics practitioners and modern dancers that have emerged over the 20th and 21st centuries, but rarely is Stebbins recognized for her contributions. Former performing artist and independent scholar Kelly Jean Mullan has made it her mission to rectify this and conveys here the extent to which Stebbins’ charisma still inspires those today who come into contact with her work:

Stebbins’ name is barely recognized in dance and Somatics history. My hope is that I will be able to generate enough interest in her life and share my extensive research to celebrate the heritage of this incredible woman, so that her story will actually become a part of history and not be forgotten.[1]

I owe what follows largely to Mullan for catalyzing in me a similar reverence for Stebbins and her contributions. Before moving on to talk about more Stebbins, I first specify what I mean when I refer to the field of somatics. In her thesis, “The Art and Science of Somatics: Theory, History, and Scientific Foundations,” Mullan refers to somatics as “the field of western mind-body methods, encompassing ways of working with the body that are therapeutic, educational, artistic, and physically expressive.”[2] A foundational text for the somatics movement—Bone, Breathe, & Gesture—was published in 1995, an anthology put together by the somatic theorist and rolfer, Don Hanlon Johnson. In the introduction Johnson notes the late philosopher Thomas Hanna as he who provided the movement’s namesake, “adding the significant final ‘s’ to distinguish it from the commonly used adjective, ‘somatic.’ ‘Somatic,’ as in psychosomatic has been used to mean the physicalistic body as distinct from the mind or soul of a person… Hanna argued that it was the sacral body, gross and mechanistically conceived, separate from mind and imagination, that dominated Western thought and medicine. In his view, the teachers of embodiment practices were recovering a hidden sense of the wise, imaginative, and creative body, thus creating a ‘Somatics’.”[3] Therapeutic mind-body methods were won independently by many of these practitioners in their confrontation with illness and a mechanized medical paradigm that could not provide the help they needed. “This community,” quoting Johnson, “is best understood within a much broader movement of resistance to the West’s long history of denigrating the value of the human body and the natural environment.”[4] Unfortunately, the insidious mind-body split lived out in western culture sometimes inverts itself in advocates of bodily wisdom as an aversion, or even outright dismissal of philosophical thinking. This is something Johnson recognizes in his introduction and it shows up in the words of the practitioner who appears first in his anthology: Elsa Gindler. “I always advise my students,” wrote Gindler, “to replace my words with their own…in order to avoid getting a knot in their psyche and having to philosophize for hours about what was really meant.”[5] While one can admire Gindler’s emphasis on experience in the learning process and its individualization in the student’s own lexicon, her position inadvertently diminishes the importance of having a consistent, communal framework for understanding the wisdom of the body. This is significant for two reasons: A., because Gindler is often presented as one of—if not the—major founding figures of the somatics movement and so sets the tone for posterity; and B., because her eschewing of theory actually occludes the roots of her own practice—the psycho-physical system of culture developed by Genevieve Stebbins, what she called Harmonic Gymnastics.

Genevieve Stebbins was born in San Francisco in 1857; a performer from a young age, she pursued a career in acting as a young adult and apprenticed to Steele MacKaye who in turn had been a student of the famous French orator, singer, coach, and aesthetic philosopher, Francois Delsarte. Stebbins quickly became an enthusiastic disciple of the Delsarte method, shifting focus from her career as a performer to learn Delsarte’s living philosophy and disseminate to others. Apart from Delsarte and the field of physical culture (the 18th century forerunner somatics), Stebbins drew from a vast array of disciplines including the physical and social sciences of her day, religious metaphysics, Romanticism, esotericism, and the arts in both western and non-western traditions. Delsarte provided a substantial background for Stebbins’ thought and practice, but by the end of her life she had devised a theory and system that was at once unique to her and, as she describes in her book Dynamic Breathing and Harmonic Gymnastics, “the common property of all ages.”[6] Stebbins founded the New York School for Expression at Carnegie Hall in 1893 and taught there until retiring in 1907. During that window Hade Kallmeyer was a disciple of Stebbins and went on to teach Harmonic Gymastics in Germany when she completed her training. According to Kelly Mullan’s research, Elsa Gindler was a student of Kallmeyer’s and “developed her experimental work in part by drawing upon her training in the philosophical and practical basis of Harmonic Gymnastics.”[7] Thanks to Mullan we can now recognize the major role Stebbins played in the emergence of the somatics movement by tracing the lineage that streamed from her and through Kallemeyer to Gindler, Gindler’s students Charlotte Selver and Carola Speads, and beyond through the wide influence the latter figures had on other practitioners over the 20th century. Ruth St. Denis, one of the major pioneers of modern dance, was also inspired by Stebbins after attending one of her Delsarte matinees; in her essay “The Intellectual World of Genevieve Stebbins,” Nancy Lee Chalfa Ruyter points out the crucial role Stebbins body of work and thought had in catalyzing the “new dance” as represented by figures like St. Denis, Isadora Duncan, and Martha Graham.[8]

To recognize the importance of Stebbins in the emergence of both modern dance and somatics is at the same time to reveal that a philosophical perspective undergirds them. Obscured upstream from Gindler and those after her now appears a figure whose thought has been variously described as an aesthetic translation of scholasticism and “Swedenborg geometrized,” Francois Delsarte (1811-1871). Unfortunately, Delsarte died before publishing any explication of the applied metaphysics he painstakingly cultivated for over 35 years; Stebbins sought to make up for this loss. In one of her first publications, Delsarte System of Dramatic Expression, she precedes her interpretation of Delsarte’s work and a series of exercises with a hitherto unpublished manuscript of a speech he gave to the Philotechnic Society of Paris. Delsarte’s central concern in this speech is to define art apart from its application—to elucidate the very essence of art. Such a definition, he claims, has never been ventured and is only accessible to those “pure of heart.” True art arises from the human soul as mediator between the eternal and the time-bound; true art brings to the soul salvific tidings from its divine origin. Though sparse, there are moments in Delsarte’s speech in which his personality shines through and conveys a life of many sufferings. For example, contemporary somatics practitioners might be surprised to know that a major historical influence on their field described the body as hideous “vestment of rags,” a statement that reflects both his personal trials as well as the more general piety of his practical philosophy.[9] For him, to love the body for its own sake was tantamount to loving art for art’s sake, both being variants of idolatry. True art raises the human being and the world up into the ideal; true art is, as Delsarte says, “divine in its principles, divine in its essence, divine in its action, divine in its end… the essential principles of which…[are] the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.”[10] A rhythmic relationship between the divine and the human is effected through art whereby art “emanates from His divine perfections,” thereby endowing us with the very idea of them, which in turn realizes in the individual human being, her community, and the world at large, virtues which correspond to divine perfections.[11] Delsarte contrasts his understanding of art with what he saw as its pretense all around him in 19th century Paris. While acknowledging the talent and skill exhibited by so-called artists, Delsarte dismisses all schools of art as only so in name and not practice; pedagogical instruction in these institutions, says Delsarte, “proceeds only from an instinct badly defined and arbitrarily interpreted:” “all the law rests upon the opinion of the master; all the science dwells in a confused mass of prescriptions and examples that no principle comes to support.”[12] He goes on to describe the state of art in his time as one of bondage to the more enlightened tradition of antiquity, the vagaries of personal taste embodied by vain “masters,” and the atheist charade of naturalism. “What,” asks Delsarte of the influential Beaux Arts school, “is their systematic entity and their community of belief?”[13] Because this “school” lacks a unifying principle, he concludes, it is more apt to refer to it as a mere “heterogenous assembly.”[14] His critique of the arts applied equally to the sciences of his day, both of which produce only specialists:

They form there [the schools], if you will have it so, painters, sculptors, musicians; but they form no artists. I would say of science what I say of art, if my subject permitted me. I see men who treat of all sciences except the science. I see mathematicians, anatomists, chemists, physicians, etc., but I see no savant.[15]

Delsarte’s critique of disciplinary specialization and the corresponding absence of a metaphysical perspective that could unite them in mutual understanding—and, by implication, morally ground them—reflects the extent to which he was a man before (and after!) his time. Only today has the need to recover a holistic or transdisciplinary understanding of the human being and the world become widely recognized. “In art,” insists Delsarte, “one must love something besides art if one would know how to love art.”[16] This “something besides art” is its “sovereign principle,” that which is communicated to us by the beatific appearance it bodies forth for the soul—the grandeur of the Creator. Just as the scientist does not love the telescope for itself, but for the insight it conveys concerning the Wisdom of God in nature, so must one love art, not for itself, but as “the telescope of a supernatural world.”[17] Just as the sovereign principle expresses itself in a trichotmoy (the Good, the True, and the Beautiful), so must the foundational instruction for all art be threefold. No school in the truest sense of the word will arise until, says Delsarte, “music, eloquence, and plastic art, these three co-necessary bases of art, are taught unitedly as they are together united to the constituent essences of our being.”[18] Delsarte’s triune foundation for the instruction of art reflects the triune metaphysics which underlies the constitution of the human being. “Man,” says Delsarte, “made in the image of God, manifestly carries in his inner being as in his body, the august imprint of his triple causality.”[19] Stebbins later contextualizes Delsarte’s ontological trichotomy in world history by drawing out the same theme as it has been expressed by different cultures throughout the ages. She also equates Delsarte’s Christian understanding of the trinity with Emmanuel Swedenborg’s, defined as that which consists in love, wisdom, and power:

Love, being the origin and parent of all existence, is called Father; wisdom, which is the form of love, is named the Son, and the only begotten; while the divine power, consisting in the perfect union of love and wisdom, going forth in creative energy and life-imparting influence, is the Holy Spirit.[20]

Delsarte describes the relationship constitutive of the trinity as a “harmonic consubstantiality” and deems it the sovereign criterion for all matters of examination in science; art, he says, “is the generalization and application of it.”[21] Said otherwise, true science proceeds from a consciously held metaphysics of the trinity which serves as a hermeneutic light for interpreting the creativity of nature; art is the harnessing and extension of this creativity in like manner as the Creator. Both serve to elevate the human being in her aspiration for wisdom and her expressive extension of divine creativity. The harmonic consubstantiality of the trinity capitulates itself in the transdisciplinary reunion of science, art, and religion—a reunion Delsarte captures beautifully when he piously observes how “art and prayer so confound themselves in one ineffable unity that I cannot separate the two things.”[22] Just as the Holy Spirit unites the Father as love and the Son as wisdom, so does the power of imagination unite the inner human being with her external form and the rest of nature’s body. In lineage with figures like Plato and Thomas Aquinas, Delsarte’s trinitarianism exemplifies a metaphysics of participation by affirming a real relationship between the heights of divine transcendence and the sensual depths of created immanence. As Delsarte himself says,

This manner of looking at man shows us the role of his two natures in all their manifestations. To each spiritual function responds a function of the body. To each grand function of the body corresponds a spiritual act. Thus we can at the same time study separately that which is of the spirit and that which is of the body; thus from the concurrence of these two powers in the same person, results the intimate fusion of art and science, which, though each one is born of a different source, nevertheless ally, interpenetrate and reciprocally prove each other.[23]

The 35 years Delsarte devoted to the realization of true art consisted largely in his empirical study of outward human expressions and the inner soul-soul states corresponding to them—a science of correspondences. After Delsarte’s address Stebbins begins to unpack his metaphysically dense aesthetics into its practical application. Of the address itself she writes,

I advise you to read it; but beware of too much reading on the subject. You may then content yourself with the brain’s knowledge; and what we are aiming for is unconscious cerebration, not conscious. The first is only acquired by a patient practice of the technique, as a singer studies her scales.[24]

By emphasizing unconscious cerebration over brain knowledge Stebbins conveys the extent to which learning Delsarte’s method, as transmitted by her, effects a total transformation of the human being through a transdisciplinary form of training. Even still, metaphysical understanding is crucial for developing confidence in the espoused method. To inculcate this, Stebbins enjoins the reader as her pupil to consider an example:

Look with me at this aster. Do you realize that the purple star is as much the result of its ‘superior principle’ as you or I am of ours? The spirit [or sovereign principle] in a plant is its power of gathering from the earth and the air dead matter, and shaping it to its chosen form. The flower is the sign, the end, the creature, that the spirit makes. You see, then, dear pupil, two things to observe. One the life-power and energy; the other, the form proceeding therefrom, and most perfectly adapted to bring them into outward manifestation. What we produce is merely the form of what exists in our minds. Every stroke of the artist’s brush is made within ere it glows on the canvas. In the actor, every accent, every inflection, every gesture, is but the outer reverberation of the still small voice within. The idea, as separate from the object, exists prior to the object itself; and the outward work is but the material form, the effect of the spiritual idea or spiritual form.[25]

Stebbins makes clear the primacy and antecedence of spirit in the genesis of what appears to the senses. She also makes clear how human consciousness participates in spiritual creativity through the power of imagination, that which serves as the medium for the realization of art—“the outer reverberation of the still small voice within.”

Thus, perhaps surprisingly, a major tributary of the somatics movement flowed from a trinitarian metaphysics and its practical application of the esoteric principle of correspondence. In one of her final publications, The Genevieve Stebbins System of Physical Training, Stebbins characteristically situates her work in a long lineage of practitioners:

The principle of correspondence, thoroughly understood, is the key that unlocks many doors, physical and spiritual. It was first formulated in the grand old Valley of the Nile, as the axiom of both science and religion; as it is above, so it is below — as on the earth, so in the sky — as within, so without. Art could not speak if there were no instinctive comprehension of the language of expression.[26]

If Delsarte’s Christian terminology seemed to obscure the cosmos, Stebbins general explication of the principle of correspondence makes plain that what applies to the human being as microcosm equally applies to the visible macrocosm. The inner life of human beings is coordinated with the inner life of the cosmos as a whole, a perspective that interpretations of the new physics may have brought back into view, but which otherwise conflicts with the materialist world conception still reigning over many imaginations today. That Stebbins passed this on to her pupils is evident in a statement Charlotte Selver made about her own work and the influence her teacher had on it:

One can learn not to restrict one’s view; to feel oneself as a member of this planet we all live on. It’s important that people learn to stop circling around themselves and instead to become open to the world and active. When I started to study with Elsa Gindler, I was very deeply impressed by her including the whole cosmos in her work.[27]

Selver’s statement conveys the unique capacity human beings have to creatively participate in the cosmic reciprocity of within and without. Nonhuman animals, apart from those domesticated by humans, do not err from the cosmic coordinations of life. Human beings can, and have, but may also reattune to the cosmic dance and, with wisdom gained from overcoming alienation, extend its creativity further. Stebbins’ system works to effect such a metanoia and begins by addressing the way our habits shape the quality of our lives. According to Stebbins, any emotional and/or physical expressions I take on (willingly or not) build the picture of my overall personality. Informed by the principle of correspondence, I may have more agency than I realized to transform the melancholia I believe defines my personality; if the sadness I feel inwardly expresses itself as a frown across my face, perhaps venturing a smile more often—contrived as it might feel—will eventually create a corresponding shift within my soul. Stebbins also emphasizes the reciprocity between soul states and rates of respiration. If one is often beset with anxiety, as many of us are today, its correspondence in shallow breathing can effect detriment to one’s overall psycho-physical health. Because Stebbins’ system of psycho-physical culture brings intention to the dynamic of correspondence through the use of imagination and physical movement, it is intrinsically therapeutic and militates against the legacy of Cartesian dualism:

Recognizing the interdependence of mind and body, and the great power of habit, let us learn this beautiful philosophy — training the body easily to express a beautiful soul, or vice versa, training the body to right normal expression — that through reflex action a sickly spirit may grow into uprightness.[28]

The power Stebbins conveys for this beautiful philosophy to the grant individual increased agency in matters of wellbeing anticipates the resistance future somatics practitioners would pose to an overly mechanized medical establishment. Physicians of the latter have much to offer us, yet we should not cede all authority to them, but should instead build toward a culture that promotes individual training in the art and science of somatic awareness. The training Stebbins references consists in Delsarte’s “three co-necessary bases of art” and beyond, first in a phase of pure physical exercise to develop the body (plastic art) and singing exercises (music) to develop the voice before advancing to practices of graceful movement, eloquent recitation (eloquence), intellectual learning, and the cultivation of noble states of soul. Paradoxically, the effort required for meeting the demands of Stebbins’ regimen is directed toward an end that exceeds individual agency in grace. As Delsarte expressed earlier, art becomes indistinguishable from prayer when raised to its highest potential. “The imagination,” writes Stebbins, 

the ruling and divine power, is never governed. The rest of man is but an instrument on which that plays, a canvas on which that harmoniously, if the strings be true, the canvas white and smooth; wildly, if one be broken, the other stained. Thus, you see, while work must be done, the instrument perfected, art is only valuable as it expresses goodness and greatness in the soul.[29]

In recognizing the ultimate subservience of individual effort to transcendent grace for achievement the of living art—the virtuous life—Stebbins and Delsarte are in good company with spiritual practitioners the world over. For Stebbins, the imitation of Greek statuary was of particular importance for attaining a vital understanding of the highest of human ideals: “The Greek gods,” writes Stebbins, 

are not expressions of individual mind but of universal ideas. They were carved to embody those splendid abstract laws of the universe—form, power, balance, rhythm, repose—in one word, beauty. In the statutes we see represented the emotions of the gods. The practice of them gives ease, dignity, and calm, removing agitation.[30]

Imitating such forms garners the pupil’s momentum toward the overall goal of Stebbins’ system: to merge life with art, what she called the “great art,” “the art of being able to always express the true self, to elevate the soul to its highest aspirations, and the mind to its best thought.”[31] Thus, as was the case for Delsarte, Stebbins enjoins her pupils to undergo a rigorous training of body, mind, and soul and so attune themselves to the beautiful—a moment once reached when one may cast off all rules in coincidence with life divine. This great art of human life consists in becoming an instrument for that which is highest:

through our training we make the ground flexible for tender rootlets as we aim to make the clay of which we are made plastic to the inner emotion, revelatory of the soul. The music of the spheres might be echoing in the brain of some inspired master; but without an instrument how could he convey its wondrous vibrations to his fellow souls?[32]

Stebbins emphasis on approximating the classical perfections both within and without could be interpreted as an ableist promotion of spiritual bypassing. Is the system of psycho-physical culture really applicable to everyone, or just those of a “normal” constitution? And moreover, does this so-called “ideal” physicality render what is not considered ideal—disease for example—morally inferior? Finally, is the cultivation of noble states of soul not just a dissociation from the psychological wounding we have yet to address? Stebbins anticipates such questions and responds by pointing to the primacy of the moral soul:

Bodily condition, disease, has its expression; mental conditions, efforts of the mind, vacuity or indifference, their expression. Moral defect or obliquity is indelibly stamped, and to the trained eye can never be confounded with physical weakness per se.[33]

At the end of the day what counts most is the state of soul characterized by divinely inspired aspiration—a state of soul that shows itself clearly in the renewed wonder and gratitude of those who, faced with a terminal illness, wake up in grace to the glories of the most mundane features of existence. Stebbins intellectual appreciation of the marriage between the infinite the finite reflects the fusion of Neoplatonic philosophy and Christianity she has inherited. Just as the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ sanctified the flesh with the spirit, the temporal with the eternal, so does Stebbins’ metaphysical foundation allow for a reappreciation of the finite body (from the perspective of spirit) in contradistinction to the machinic corpse of the materialist medical imaginary. Philosophically speaking, the field of somatics could not emerge if we did not participate in something which exceeds the time and space conditions of our bodily existence. If we were just material, mechanical bodies—consciousness a mere epiphenomenon—we could not even think about or become aware of our bodies. Because somatics entails the vantage point of the observer in consciousness it methodologically affirms—when philosophically consistent—that we participate in something that transcends the given. Awakening to the transcendent presence of the observer within is the therapeutic potential of Stebbins system of psycho-physical culture; only then can we truly value our bodies, our individualities. This is the immanent possibility Stebbins and the somatics practitioners influenced by her offer people of the modern west—the sublimation of materialism’s skin-encapsulated ego by our inwardly illuminated, irreducibly unique individuality—our “I.” Martha Graham, one of the 20th century’s most famous artists of modern dance (a field that, as I mentioned before, was majorly influenced by Stebbins) sums this up beautifully in her famous encouragement to Agnes de Mille: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.”[34] 

Recovering the legacy of Genevieve Stebbins not only paints a fuller picture of somatics and modern dance history, but also further clears a path for moderns alternative to the nihilistic descent of materialism. Like the Romantic philosophers and poets before her, Stebbins philosophically integrates the apparent world of nature with the world of spirit in a way that celebrates the expressive particular, the irreducibly individual. Without the remove of spirit implied by such rigorous thought, such metaphysical speculation, we could not consistently affirm the value of our bodies, for we would be completely identified with them. Just as, in Delsarte’s words, “one must love something besides art if one would know how to love art,” so must one love something besides the body if one would know how to love the body rightly. That something besides the body is the divine, that which gives us to be and by whose light we may recognize the gift of life, of our bodies, of the world itself. As performers, Delsarte and Stebbins translated Romantic metaphysics into an applied aesthetics that streams down to us now in the field of somatics, offering contemporary individuals a renewal of meaning through life lived as an art—the great art—our bodies, instruments of the spirit, temporary shrines, dwelling places for our everlasting divine.  And “physical life,” declares Stebbins, “is simply one of the soul’s educational courses in the infinite university of existence.”[35].


Johnson, Don Hanlon. “Introduction,” in Bone, Breath and Gesture: Practices of Embodiment. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1995.

Mille, Agnes de. Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham. NYC: Penguin Random House, 1992.

Mullan, Kelly. “Harmonic Gymnastics and Somatics: A Genealogy of Ideas.” Currents: Journal of the Body-Mind Centering Association, (2016).

Mullan, Kelly, “The Art and Science of Somatics: Theory, History and Scientific Foundations” (2012). MALS Final Projects, 1995-2019. 89.

Mullan, Kelly. “Somatics herstories: Tracing Elsa Gindler’s educational antecedents Hade Kallmeyer and Genevieve Stebbins.” Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices 9 (2017): 159-178.

Mullan, Kelly. “Somatics: Investigating the common ground of western body–mind disciplines.” Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy: An International Journal for Theory, Research and Practice. 9 (2014) 10.1080/17432979.2014.946092.

Ruyter, Nancy Lee Chalfa. “The Intellectual World of Genevieve Stebbins.” Dance Chronicle, 11(3) (1988): 381-387.

Stebbins, Genevieve. Dynamic Breathing and Harmonic Gymnastics: A Complete System of Psychical, Aesthetic, and Physical Culture (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Edgar Werner, 1892.

Stebbins, Genevieve. Delsarte System of Expression (2nd ed.)New York, NY: Edgar Werner, 1887.

Stebbins, Genevieve. The Genevieve Stebbins System of Physical Training. New York, NY: Edgar Werner, 1913.

[1] Kelly Mullan, “Somatics herstories: Tracing Elsa Gindler’s educational antecedents Hade Kallmeyer and Genevieve Stebbins.” (Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices 9, (2017) 159-178), 174.

[2] Mullan, Kelly, “The Art and Science of Somatics: Theory, History and Scientific Foundations” (2012). MALS Final Projects, 1995-2019. 89., 4.

[3] Don Hanlon Johnson, “Introduction,” in Bone, Breath and Gesture: Practices of Embodiment, (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 1995), xv.

[4] Johnson, xvi.

[5] Elsa Gindler, “Gymnastik for People Whose Lives Are Full of Activity.” Bone, Breath & Gesture: Practices of Embodiment, edited by Don Johnson, North Atlantic Books, 1995, pp. 5–14, 6.

[6] Genevieve Stebbins, Harmonic Gymnastics and Dynamic Breathing: A Complete System of Psychical, Aesthetic, and Physical Culture (2nd ed.). (New York, NY: Edgar Werner, 1892)., 19.

[7] Mullan, “Somatics herstories”, 160.

[8] Nancy Lee Chalfa Ruyter, “The Intellectual World of Genevieve Stebbins.” Dance Chronicle, 11(3) (1988): 381-387, 393.

[9] Francois Delsarte, “Address of Francois Delsarte before the Philotechnic Society of Paris” in Delsarte System of Expression by Genevieve Stebbins (New York, NY: Edgar Werner, 1891)., xviii.

[10] Delsarte, xx.

[11] Delsarte, xx.

[12] Delsarte, xxxi, xxxii.

[13] Delsarte, xxix.

[14] Delsarte, xxx.

[15] Delsarte, xxx.

[16] Delsarte, xxv.

[17] Delsarte, xxv.

[18] Delsarte, xxxi.

[19] Delsarte, lvi.

[20] Stebbins, 33.

[21] Delsarte, liv.

[22] Delsarte, xix. 

[23] Delsarte, lvii.

[24] Stebbins, 18.

[25] Delsarte, 59-60.

[26] Genevieve Stebbins, The Genevieve Stebbins System of Physical Training. (New York, NY: Edgar Werner, 1913)., 11.

[27] John Schick, “Interview with Charlotte Selver.” Bone, Breath & Gesture: Practices of Embodiment, edited by Don Johnson, North Atlantic Books, 1995, pp. 17–22, 19.

[28] Stebbins, The Genevieve Stebbins System of Physical Training, 14.

[29] Stebbins, Delsarte System of Expression, 78.

[30] Stebbins, The Genevieve Stebbins System of Physical Training, 138.

[31] Ibid., 27.

[32] Ibid., 60.

[33] Ibid., 11.

[34] Agnes de Mille, Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham, (NYC: Penguin Random House, 1992), 264.

[35] Stebbins, Dynamic Breathing and Harmonic Gymnastics, (my emphasis) 23.

4 thoughts on “Genevieve Stebbins and the Philosophical Roots of Somatics

  1. May I post a link to this essay (or full text) in a citation about it for the National Dance Education Organization’s online “Dance Education Literature and Research descriptive index”? It is accessible to all NDEO members and library subscriptions. I am the coordinator for the index and Stebbins work is historically significant to many of our members. thank you.


    • Sure! I am actually in the midst of trying to publish a revision with the Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices so hopefully that will go through and I can reply again with a link to it as well. Thanks for your interest in this piece!


  2. Ashton! So excited to hear that you will have an upcoming publication! I would love to read an updated version. This is so awesome!! Kelly Mullan

    Liked by 1 person

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