A Journal of the F. M. Alexander Technique
Vol. 1 No. 1, Spring 2007, Publ. Mouritz, ed. Jean M. O.
Fischer, 96pp, ISSN: 1753-853X,
Review by Stephen Cooper
(first published in Statnews, September 2007).
Three major journals -Direction from 1986 to 2005, The Alexander Review
from 1986 to 1989 and STAT’s own The Alexander Journal
since 1962 -have contributed handsomely to the Alexander
Technique literature over the years. Back numbers of
Direction may still be available, (see
www.directionjournal.com). The Alexander Journal
is alive and well under its present editor, Francesca
Greenoak, and we have seen five new editions since her
editorship began in 2001. Jean Fischer, on his website at
http://www.mouritz.co.uk/, has helpfully catalogued the
various editions of these journals.
Now, through his
publishing company Mouritz, Jean Fischer has launched a new
journal, called Conscious Control. Vol. 1 No. 1 is
now available. Let me encourage you to subscribe. This first
volume is worth your money, and your subscription will help
this new venture to succeed.
In this first issue
there are articles by Steven Hallmark, Christine Ackers and
Polly Waterfield, a short polemic by Walter Carrington, two
interviews with Walter Carrington and a book review by Jean
Steven Hallmark starts
his article The Alexander Technique in the training of
actors by talking about his own experiences of training
as an actor and of discovering the Technique. It freed him
from the specific exercises -tongue exercises, movement,
voice and acting exercises -with which he was struggling
and taught him that, as his teacher said, "the head and neck
are more important". (p8)He then outlines six workshops for
actors, giving the benefit of his lesson plans to anyone who
wishes to conduct workshops with actors themselves.
Believing that (p36) the Alexander Technique provides the
how in achieving genuineness in acting, he repeatedly
justifies his workshop plans by outlining the Alexander
implications of the exercise being undertaken.
Christine Ackers has
some new ideas for us to consider. She argues that human
beings, having uniquely extended upwards onto two feet, are
more flexible and mobile than all other mammals and in
particular have a unique capacity to bend. Updating
Linnaeus, she renames us ‘flecto-sapiens-orials’. Panthers
are cursorial in their movement, kangaroos are saltatorial,
and so humans are flectorial. (Latin flectere, to
bend). To function efficiently, we humans need to extend in
activity, but unfortunately we tend instead to shorten -"or" as Christine says, "in Alexander Technique parlance, we
pull down. We become overly keen on flexing," (p48). We must
instead learn to keep our muscles long -and help is at
hand, for "Alexander Technique teachers are bending
specialists." Christine’s article is full of ideas about how
we function. It is illustrated with an idiosyncratic set of
drawings by Jing Sheng Wang, two of which are reproduced
article Looking both ways should really set us
thinking. There are within the broad church of the Alexander
Technique differences of understanding and of teaching
styles. On the receiving end, the experiences of pupils and
students are often positive but are sometimes negative.
Unless you get all the answers from ‘the hands-on
experience’ and your subsequent work on yourself, we need to
talk, we need to write and we need to read.
"Janus-faced", as she says, as a newly-qualified teacher
looking back on her training and forward to teaching. While
committed to the principles of our work, she says "I have
sometimes had to wonder about some ways in which they are
taught." (p55) She often felt confused and discouraged
during her training "by the discrepancy between what I read
about the Technique … and my own process in struggling to
apply it", and she sees the possibility in training "of
falling into ‘Alexander habits’ and therefore being no freer
than before." (p56)
Alexander writes in
The Use of the Self, "I have found that in this
process of acquiring a conscious direction of use my
pupils gradually develop a higher standard of sensory
awareness or appreciation of what they are doing in the use
of themselves". So it’s not surprising Polly finds that
"there are ways in which the principle of faulty sensory
appreciation can become undermining and self-defeating"
(p64) when "teachers often say ‘don’t feel’, or ‘don’t feel
it’, which creates confusion in me at gut-level" (p65). This
is not uplifting or elucidating writing; it is challenging
and we should not dismiss it but must instead address the
issues it raises about our training and our understanding of
the fundamental principles of the Alexander Technique.
Hidemi Hatada carried
out two interviews with Walter Carrington in 2004. If I were
to say that these are ‘just’ two more interviews with Walter
Carrington it would be because we are already spoilt with a
wealth of material, from the talks in Thinking Aloud
to the interviews with Seán Carey in Explaining the
Alexander Technique. I find little new here, only
repetition, but if you find something new or fresh in the
following example, then these articles will be of value to
you. [Walter Carrington] "Well. I think the most important
thing in the training course is for people to learn what it
means not to do. It is to understand the meaning of what we
call ‘inhibition’. [Hidemi Hatada] Could you explain how
you now think of ‘inhibition’? [Walter Carrington] Well.
I think the sense of the whole thing is the belief that in
nature, in life, the right thing will do itself if it isn’t
interfered with. If you don’t do the wrong thing, the right
thing will do itself." (p88)
three-page article entitled Reflections on the ‘Opinion
survey on voluntary self-regulation’ finds little good
in STAT’s attempts to move forward and concludes (p73)
"Teachers must be allowed to continue their work as they
have done since the days before the Society was formed, and
the latter should confine itself to offering all support and
encouragement to that end." Nothing new there, then.
Jean Fischer, in his
review of Posture, Pain and Positive Health by
Grahame Fagg, makes clear his opinion that the author’s
voyage of self-discovery did not carry him to the territory
of the Technique as we know it. In the process, though, Jean
comments on the diversity within our own teaching methods
and, by implication, our understanding. As an example, he
claims teachers use one of three approaches for teaching
directions. He then says, "I shall refrain from
expostulating their philosophies. I do propose, however,
that it is useful for teachers to be … aware of their own
teaching approach." (p94) So here is something for us to
Every piece in this
first issue of Conscious Control is interesting in
its own way: all support the argument that we have much to
discuss and much to clarify.
A question arises: for
whom was each of these articles written? Polly Waterfield’s
article is clearly for us, the Alexander community.
Christine Ackers’ article is very interesting, but seems to
be as much about proselytising to a wider audience as it is
about sharing insights with an Alexander one. Steven
Hallmark’s article seems mostly concerned with proving the
value of the Technique to actors and only coincidentally
provides workshop models for Alexander teachers.
This question gives rise
to another. The provenance of these articles is not at all
clearly indicated. Steven Hallmark’s piece refers to his
first lessons in 1973 and his work with actors after he
graduated in 1978. He says his inspiration for writing was a
remark made during a lesson with Walter Carrington -but
when? Christine Ackers’ piece is already available (i.e.
published) on the web -see
http://www.ate.org.au/articles/bending.pdf . Hidemi
Hatada’s contribution begins "One of the questions is"
(p74) and ends with an acknowledgement: "I am grateful to
everybody who sent me questions" (p91). A short note at the
beginning of each contribution explaining how and when it
was written would put each piece in context for the reader.
As it is, one speculates that, for this first issue, rather
than producing much new writing for an Alexander audience,
the editor has made a trawl of already extant material.
That’s fair enough for the launch of this new project; new
and original material will surely follow in subsequent
But, however this first
issue came about, and however the articles got there, I have
learnt from them all and look forward to the next issue -which might contain a contribution by you!
© Stephen Cooper