Barbara Dilley

EP 167: Making Friends with Yourself through Aging with Barbara Dilley


In this episode, Kimberly and Barbara discuss Barbara’s iconic career as a dancer and performer in the 1960s, her work as a founder and President of Naropa University, and her pedagogy which combined dance and performance with mind-body practices and various spiritual traditions. She also discussed the early days of Naropa University which symbolized the creative and expansive, alternative movements that were happening culturally at the time. Barbara then shares her reflections on aging, sickness, and internalized ageism as well as creative ways for aging people to live and embrace the end of life.



Barbara Dilley (Lloyd) (born 1938) is an American dancer, performance artist, improvisor, choreographer, and educator, best known for her work as a prominent member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and The Grand Union, from 1969 to 1976. She has taught movement and dance at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, since 1974, developing a pedagogy that emphasizes what she calls “embodied awareness,” an approach that combines dance and movement studies with meditation, “mind training” and improvisational composition. She served as the president of Naropa University from 1985 to 1993.


What She Shares:

Early career as a dancer

Performing as a young mother

First President of Naropa University

Origins of Mind-Body practices in the 60s and 70s

Ageism in spiritual and New Age communities

Kindness through sickness, aging, and death


What You’ll Hear:

Being the “first” in various fields

First President of Naropa University

Transition from ballet into modern dance

Pregnancy and mothering while performing

Shadow-side of touring the world as a young mother

Modern dancing in India in the 1960s

Strain on family life while  touring

Leaving marriage and family during the 60s

Personal drive to pursue a performing career

Cultural environment of new thoughts, opportunities, creativity, avant-garde world

Origins of Movement Studies work

Improvisation performance technique styles emerging

Began teaching at Naropa in 1974

Created dance program at Naropa and leaving NYC

Teaching alongside Ram Dass and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Contemplative Education from East and West at Naropa

Incorporating Mind-Body practices into Dance courses

Spiritual appointment of serving as President at Naropa

Transitioning to retirement from writing and teaching

Feeling emotionally and physically drained leading to health issues

Learning through aging and cultural ageism

Working through cultural imprints around aging

Feeling in competition with the younger self

Ageism in spiritual and New Age communities

Kindness through aging which is inevitable

Accepting the inevitability of aging and death instead of turning away

—”Spiritual materialism”

Becoming invisible as an aging woman

No cultural appreciation for elders

Holistic understanding of the human journey including aging and death

Multicultural and multigenerational living instead of nuclear families

Finding a small community to discuss sickness, old age, and death

Stormy waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death