Tag Archive | evolution

Cult of the hands

My friend and colleague Terry Fitzgerald, a fine teacher of both the Alexander Technique and Ballroom Dancing, told me while attending one of his classes many years ago that “a good dance teacher can make it work for you”. It’s true! When one begins to study and practice partner dancing it soon becomes apparent that there is a communication between leader and follower which is similar in many ways to that between teacher and pupil in an Alexander lesson. Intention, typically related to familiar outcomes – be they dance steps or, in our case, the rather more prosaic movement in or out of a chair – is transmitted through movement and touch. In both cases though, all parties need a basic familiarity with both the choreography involved and the language of the leader or teacher. In finer moments of Dance the delineation of roles becomes blurred; two people move as one, moved by and moving to the music. There is neither leader nor follower – reminiscent of that moment in an Alexander lesson when “It’s just happening”.)

FM is reported to have come into the training course one day and announced to everybody that “Now I can give it to them whether they want it or not!”. Like Terry’s “good dance teacher” FM could “make it work” for his pupils.

It can be beautiful to watch gifted dancers moving together to music. Watching a couple of people performing their Alexandrian “pas de deux” can look rather bizarre, though for the trained eye there are nuances of significant change taking place.

Nevertheless, the process is largely one of becoming familiar with the nature of the messages and how to respond to them. Different lineages have different languages of touch and different choreographies, which can make it more difficult for teachers or students from one school to work with those of another than for most dancers to adapt to a new partner; it’s more like learning an entirely new dance.

Patrick Macdonald once commented that it did not matter which words one used to represent the directions, one could, for example, say to oneself “Coca Cola” instead of head forward and up – as long as the words corresponded to the experience. The teacher gives the experience and by a kind of association the words come to represent it. “Up to a point, Lord Copper,” for herein lies a trap. Unless and until pupils go through the process of rediscovering Inhibition and Direction for themselves, they will continue to seek out the sensory satisfaction that comes from the teacher’s hands. A good teacher can make it work for you, but also needs to know when not to, and when and how to help you find your own insights. Learning to respond to the teachers hands must, at some point, give way to learning to make your own decisions and respond to your own intentions.

Trying to teach without hands is fraught with difficulties as the Alexander brothers discovered in the early years. The attempt to explain everything in words can all get very complicated.

Hands-on work, the great gift of the Alexander Technique, has in some ways become its limitation. The medium has become the message. Although in its present form the Technique is indeed a boon for humanity, the evolutionary secret at the heart of it still has to be found in the depths of one’s own being, in places which cannot be touched by even the most gifted hands – but only by one’s own consciousness.

© 2018 John S Hunter

Tips4Teachers – ‘Monkey’

The primary purpose of ‘monkey’ is to teach a pupil about the postural pulls which provide support for the body: head against hips against knees (‘against’ in the sense of ‘away from’ or ‘in opposition to’).

As many pupils will have various mis-uses which are interfering with these antagonistic pulls, it is advisable to take time to establish as far as possible each stage of the procedure.

Firstly, while indicating a ‘forward and up’ direction to the head, ensure that the pupil sends the knees ‘forward and away’. At this stage the torso is still vertical. If necessary, use a wall to help the pupil maintain an upright posture.

The second stage is to come forward from the hips without either the head pulling back or the knees pulling in. A helpful ‘trick’ is to ask the pupil to bend the knees ‘just another inch’ and as soon as he or she begins to do so, bring about a hinging at the hips with one hand on the head and one below the hip bone at the ‘crease’ between the pelvis and the thigh.

It is very advantageous to then reinforce the kinaesthetic experience of being in ‘monkey position’ by again having one hand just under the back of the skull and one at the hip whilst, being oneself in monkey, imparting a two-way (antagonistic) direction through one’s own expansive tendency. This should then be modified with one hand either behind the knee or just below the knee cap and one at the hip to indicate the opposition between hip and knee.

As the directions are imparted, the ‘orders’ or ‘directions’ should be clearly stated: head against hips, knees against hips.

© 2013 John S Hunter

Tips4Teachers – Lying-down Work, #1 – Horizontal ‘Monkey’

Lying-down work, or ‘semi-supine’ has, of course, many aspects. What I want to address in this post is one of the physical aspects, namely its usefulness in helping the pupil to understand kinaesthetically the body’s primary antagonistic or postural ‘pulls’.

WIth the head supported and the knees bent, pressure is taken off both ends of the spine – allowing for a natural lengthening to take place as tensions release; it is also thought that intervertebral discs can reabsorb fluid during such a period of rest.

These are what might be termed ‘mechanical therapeutic effects’ which come about largely just by lying in this position.

From the perspective of ‘education’, it can be helpful to think of lying-down work as a ‘horizontal monkey position’.

Using touch to sequentially inform the pupil of the antagonistic pulls between head and hips, and hips and knees, the teacher can demonstrate how and where these ‘pulls’ function; pulls which, it should be noted, ‘do themselves’.

To the extent that the pupil is able to respond – which requires an expanding attention – a general expansion of the musculo-skeletal frame ensues.

When giving ‘lying-down turns’, it is advisable to include this aspect, as it makes the whole procedure more than a (nevertheless valuable) therapeutic experience of ‘letting go’.

Lying-down work becomes a powerful tool for developing kinaesthetic information about the antagonistic pulls of the Primary Control.

It also prepares the ground for a more subtle work with energy which may follow in due course.

© 2013 John S Hunter