Sylvia Bodmer Collection

Scope and Content

Notebooks containing drawings and notes by Sylvia Bodmer and Rudolf Laban, correspondence, photographs, dance theatre programmes, moving image material, and news sheets of the Manchester Dance Circle.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sylvia Bodmer was born in Duisberg, Germany in 1902. During her 50-year career, she gained a reputation as one of the foremost proponents of the inclusive and free-interpretive dance style of Rudolf Laban. Her father, a British national, died shortly after she was born and her mother moved her to Switzerland. Bodmer showed an aptitude for mathematics as a child, but her gender proved an obstacle to employment in that field, despite a good qualification. She gravitated toward dance, and came to know about Rudolf Laban's work through Suzanne Perrottet, one of his earliest followers. After 18 months with Perrottet, she went to study with Laban's school in Stuttgart. Laban, impressed with her dancing, asked her to join his performing dance group at Gleschendorf, with whom she spent two years.

In 1924 Bodmer joined with Lotte Mueller in Frankfurt to form a school based on Laban's ideas, and then joined with Edgar Frank in 1927 to form a chamber dance group. Laban's popularity ensured that her solo venture was successful; her school provided choreography for the Frankfurt Opera House. That same year she married Ernest Billigheimer, a Jewish doctor who assumed the name Bodmer in 1947. In 1938, she persuaded her husband to visit her cousin in England. A day later the Nazis arrived with a warrant for his arrest. She followed him to Manchester in 1939. In 1942, she began teaching dance, and founded the Young Dancers' Group after learning that Laban had a following in Britain. Laban was now in England with his associate Lisa Ullmann. Bodmer and Ullmann founded the Manchester Dance Circle in 1943. Bodmer taught at the Art of Movement Studio. She died in 1989.


This collection was originally part of the Laban Collection in the Laban Archive. The collection has been sorted into the following series:

  • D1/A Letters and correspondence of Sylvia Bodmer
  • D1/B Notebooks of Sylvia Bodmer
  • D1/C Notes, articles and transcripts of Sylvia Bodmer
  • D1/D Drawings, diagrams, floor plans and Labanotation of Sylvia Bodmer
  • D1/E Minutes, papers and dance theatre programmes of the Manchester Dance Circle
  • D1/F Papers of the Art of Movement Studio, Laban Art of Movement Guild and other Laban-related organisations and events
  • D1/G Press releases and newspaper cuttings relating to Sylvia Bodmer and her work
  • D1/H Moving image material related to Sylvia Bodmer and her work
  • D1/J Photographs and photograph albums of Sylvia Bodmer and her work
  • D1/K Miscellaneous

Access Information

Temporarily closed to the public.

Acquisition Information

Sir Walter Bodmer.

Other Finding Aids

A card catalogue exists for this collection at the archive study area in the Laban Library and Archive. This collection is currently being catalogued on to the Laban Archive catalogue.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Jane Fowler, Archivist and Nicholas Webb, archive volunteer.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies can be made according to copyright law and depending on the condition of the documents. Please consult the Archivist.

Appraisal Information

Duplicates have been weeded.

Custodial History

This collection was donated to the Laban Archive by Sir Walter Bodmer, son of Sylvia Bodmer.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

Further material about Sylvia Bodmer can be found in the Laban Collection, held at the Laban Archive, and in the collections held at the National Resource Centre for Dance, University of Surrey.