Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Alexander Technique

The MFAIA program at Goddard College is growing. Each new G1 class is bigger than the last. I don't know if I will even meet everyone this residency. Sometimes I confuse some of the G1s for Goddard staff.

There is one kid who I did not confuse for staff. He does not look old enough to be in college, let alone graduate school. He is not much taller than me, blonde with big blue eyes.

There is a woman who transferred from the Port Townsend, Washington campus to the Plainfield campus. This never happens. This aparently is not an option. I was not aware. She is a voluptuous woman with long strawberry blonde hair. I think her name might be Susan. She talks of having been a printmaker and having a near death experience and hearing a voice instructing her to sing. So now she sings, and I hear she sings beautifully. She also coordinates burlesque shows and maybe rock operas.

She calls herself the problem child, mostly for breaking what I didn't even realize was a rule.

Moving on:

There used to be a student in one of the other programs at Goddard who studied yoga. He would come to our residencies and do a class 3 mornings. I suppose he has graduated, these opportunities no longer exist.
To create other opportunities for movement, the call was put out for people to step up to the plate. Some really hokey things came about, with very vague activity descriptions. I chose to not attend any of these.

Someone put a poster up on the bulletin board about Alexander Technique. It was described as a way to reduce tension within the body during daily life. There were a list of times, and I decided I would go to the one Tuesday night, after the Bread and Puppet Theater performance.

Post B&P Q&A, I walked three doors down to the media room. On the center projection podium sat a lamp, like you might find in a living room. It was the only thing illuminating the space. The blonde boy stood in front, giving instruction in a less than totally self-assured way. Three women sat in chairs, listened and followed directives, two very thin, tall-ish women, and Susan who had her feet on some books. I looked around and noticed that everyone had removed their shoes, so I did the same. I introduced myself to the blonde kid, who is probably about 5'6", 120lbs. He gently shook my hand and told me his name is Luke. He tried to quickly catch me up, explaining that the goal of AT is to get you to open your body up and out (here he demonstrated open body language, head up, back straight, rib cage open, appendages free) instead of the closed and down (here he slouched and compressed his torso, drawing his right arm across himself so the right hand was at his left hip. The resemblence to the guarded body language of a shy friend was uncanny.) Alexander Technique, he told me, is not about doing, it is about thinking. The main directive is this:

"Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen."

We considered direction of bones and muscles, and practiced walking with these things in mind. Susan made some very observant statement about herself, and when it was discussed that she would be a great first student, she argued that she would be a terrible student.

"You have a 'bad student' hang-up" I told her.

We practiced sitting down and standing up, considering how many muscles and movements we used and should be using to do these things. One of the women expressed difficulty, and Luke placed a hand on either side of her neck, fingers extended, to help her do this and think about this in a correct way. The ring finger of his left hand, facing me, proudly displayed a silver hued band with a small (diamond?) set into it.

'Not only are you not fourteen, you are married!?' I pondered, incredulously.

I noticed that I was the only one not having an incredible change in experience and perception at the change in thought. "How do you all know so much about this?" I inquired of Susan.

"We're all dancers," she responded. Ohhhhhh. I wondered if this meant that Luke is a dancer. I assumed that it did.

We did some active rest at the end of this exercise, using books for pillows. Much of the active rest exercise and language sounded the same as that used by Rodney Yee on the yoga DVD I got from the library. I asked how much yoga and Alexander Technique are related. Susan voiced that they are essentially inseparable.

Luke guided us through this, and came around, starting with me, and touched our feet and our shins, instructing in direction of thought. The physical contact was really gratifying, which makes me realize that I am lonely. Every now and then I am reminded of this.

After this session, I spoke with Luke about my experience, and he said that the sensitivity and observation is something that develops over time. The way he breeched this conversation was by inquiring if it had been really weird for me. He asked this in a way that was slightly self deprecating.

I spoke with Susan in the hallway for a while, and she told me that AT is really an awareness of the skeletal structure, and that it works really well for modern dancers, and angular movement. She said that these people are very much thinking from the bones, and they have a better understanding of architecture and things of this sort because of it. She said that she sensed that I, like herself, am very much in my organs, which gives me a sense of empathy and of people. She mentioned the facet that I picked up on her, had figured her out immediately. She said that a type of dance that was more curvilinear would probably suit me best. I had shared my dancing experience with everyone (I quit in fourth grade, I watch recital tapes and I'm easy to pick out: I'm a step behind). She suggested Salsa, Belly Dancing, African Dance. She said that being in the skeleton was a very close knit relationship between the nervous system and it, the thoughtACTION contrasts the t h o u g h tprocessAction of those people in the organs. Relating the way we engage our bodies with the way we relate intellectually with the world is something so far removed from anything I've ever thought about. It blows my mind. I told her so.

So even though a more fluid dance might be the dance for me, I do notice that the more active I am, the more I want to extend my limbs and engage my muscles in this way. I have noticed that my walking style normally encorperates a good deal of looking down and slouching. It makes me wonder if my body language is at all off-putting, if I walk with more confidence, will it make me appear older and therefore get a few less comments from students and teachers in middle schools about confusing ME for an 8th grader? If I walk with my neck free so my head can go up and forward so my back can lengthen and expand, will I seem more confident in a way that is attractive?

Most of all, will I stop having backache so that I can stop scheming plans to get people to give me a back rub?


Anonymous said...

The Alexander Technique is amazing!

Check out their site at

Emily said...

Who are you, Anonymous?

Fraggle said...

To your last comments, I will respond with a resounding yes. I understand the body awareness that comes from dance...because I danced for so long. I DO walk back straight, mostly head up. I consciously don't slouch. Figure drawing was easier for me partially because I COULD envision and feel where the model's weight was located, where the bones held things up, thanks to dancing.

Upon moving to NYC...well, people ask me things. People will frequently ask me directions or where things are, where this subway goes, about books I am reading, if I want their seat on the train...and I can only think that I must look approachable. and body language is ALL about that. I love dancing, and I practice yoga w/ Mr. Yee in my apartment. This class sounds very interesting and potentially back-saving...although I have the tightest shoulders of anyone I've ever met, and have yet to find a cure.

thumpzshn said...

"I asked how much yoga and Alexander Technique are related. Susan voiced that they are essentially inseparable."
An ignorant observation.

Emily said...

Sounds like fighting words, thumpzshn. I believe she would have more carefully considered her word choice if she knew I would be recording her in this way. From discussion with some other dancers, it seems that the Alexander Technique derives things from yoga, and unlike yoga, is copy-written.