A Three-Day Seminar for Alexander Teachers

I have taught this seminar, in whole or in parts, to Alexander teachers all over the world. If you're a teacher and the seminar interests you and your colleagues, let me know about it and we can try to schedule it, in Paris or in your city.

Day 1, Session 1: End-gaining

Alexander teachers talk often enough of misuse and inhibition. But they tend to forget that what causes misuse is end-gaining; indeed, it's our universal habit of end-gaining that ought to be inhibited, not the misuse that's but a consequence of end-gaining. I believe that the best way to teach inhibition is to provoke pupils into end-gaining, then bringing their end-gaining to their attention and helping them inhibit it. I have developed a series of procedures-dirty tricks, let us call them-that nearly systematically cause unwary pupils to end-gain. In one of these procedures I create what Frank Pierce Jones has called the "startle reflex." In another, I tempt a pupil to misuse his or her arms; in yet another, I create many opportunities for a pupil's breathing to go wrong, always through sheer end-gaining. There's a playful aspect to these procedures-they are games; if the pupil end-gains, I win; if the pupil inhibits, I lose.

Day 1, Session 2: Opposition

"Singing is accomplished by opposing motions and the measured balance between them. This causes the delusive appearance (…) of relaxation. The singing voice in reality is born of the clash of opposing principles, the tension of conflicting forces, brought to an equilibrium." Thus wrote a great singing teacher a century ago. The same rule applies to the use of the self generally; Alexander wrote of "antagonistic pulls", Patrick Macdonald of "opposition". I choose to speak of "resistance", which I consider perhaps the single most important aspect of direction. We'll study a series of procedures (including the monkey) of varying levels of difficulty, all meant to help us create opposing forces within ourselves.

Day 2, Session 1: Speech

Alexander started his journey by working on a vocal problem, thanks to which he discovered principles that apply universally, and not to voice only. Had he started out working on his handwriting, for instance, or his walking, he might have reached similar conclusions. Yet the voice, multifaceted and representative of the whole person, seems the ideal vehicle for a journey of discovery and change; to direct your voice is to direct your Primary Control, and therefore to direct yourself. We'll work on the rhythms of speech; the capacity to think before speaking and think while speaking; the capacity to shout and yell with a free neck; the capacity to memorize, describe, define, and extemporize. (Be prepared to make a fool of yourself.) Needless to say, the whispered "ah" will serve us well.

Day 2, Session 2: Touch

It's possible to give a meaningful Alexander lesson without touching one's student. Nevertheless, touch remains one of the richest ways for the teacher to communicate with his or her student, and Alexander teachers are justified in cherishing their hands-on skill. In this session I aim to explore two practical aspects of touch: what one looks for when touching and how one might place one's hands on the student. The former includes opposition, release, separation, and integration. The latter includes the Poke, the Grab, the Pull, the Twist, the Rub, the Sandwich , and others still, culminating in O'Malley's Two-Wristed Counterclockwise Loop (not to be attempted without parental supervision).

Day 3, Session 1: Rhythm

The dancer, the orator, and the orchestra conductor all share an essential characteristic: a sense of rhythm, without which their skills would lack any meaning. This seems obvious to most observers. What may be less obvious is that all skills without exception demand a sense of rhythm, which includes elements of timing, length and quality of effort, and patterns of energy distribution. Indeed, there's no activity in life that isn't in some way rhythmic: breathing, circulation, love-making, locomotion - but also driving a car, stroking a cat, playing golf, or even entering data on a computer. Logically this applies equally to the skills of an Alexander teacher. In this workshop we'll look at the basics of rhythm, drawing examples from the art of the dancer, the orator, and the orchestra conductor; and we'll apply those basics to the use of one's self, to touching one's students, and to managing the rhythm of one's teaching practice.

Recommended reading: Constantin Stanislavski's Building a Character, in particular the long chapter titled "Tempo-Rhythm in Movement."

Day 3, Session 2: Object Wisdom

Carrying a large and misshapen package up two flights of stairs, we quickly conclude that there are some objects that definitely invite us to misuse ourselves. By the same token, however, there are plenty of objects that seem to invite us to use ourselves well, if only we attune to their properties. In this workshop, we'll handle ordinary household objects - brooms, brushes, hangers, soccer balls, elastic bands, water bottles, free weights - and see what lessons the objects can teach us. Then we'll apply those lessons to working on ourselves and our students. Participants with specialized skills - playing an instrument or singing, calligraphy, dancing, and so on - are encouraged to bring an activity to the workshop for the group's consideration.