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The Up within the Curve

Topics in the Alexander Technique

Rivka Cohen, Published privately 2008, pbk, 99pp, $20.00 + $3.00 S&H . Available from http://www.rivkacohen.com, cohen.rivka@gmail.com

Review by Malcolm Williamson (First published in StatNews January 2009)
 

This book marks the author’s fifty years of working with the Alexander Technique. Rivka notes that the Technique and its principles are understood differently by different people according to their background and where they gained their expertise. She concludes "we teachers need to understand one another so that we can all progress and develop in our own chosen way while maintaining our links to the core principles." (p48)

Rivka Cohen’s own background is in sport and dance. At 16, she was Israel’s sprint and long-jump champion. By the age of 18, however, she had lost her easy co-ordination and could only win races by sheer willpower and determination. It was Feldenkrais who encouraged her to go to London to study the Alexander Technique with Charles Neil in 1957 and then with Walter Carrington, qualifying as a teacher with Patrick Macdonald in 1961. In 1980 she established The Haifa School for the Alexander Technique where she continues as director.

The book is a collection of teaching notes useful to other teachers. The numerous full-colour pictures are well chosen, but some are small and of low definition. There is an energy and zeal to Rivka’s writing that is infectious and inspiring. Rivka’s focus in teaching is to establish the working of the Primary Control, which she describes as the fluid power of the life force within the body (direction). Not only is this vital for ourselves, but each of us has a duty to optimise this inner force for the general good. She quotes Martha Graham: "There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that translates through you into action … And if you block it, it will never exist … The world will not have it." (p25)

As well as explaining her understanding of the Technique and the influence of her mentor, Macdonald, she talks about her approach to teaching. This is definitely one-to-one so that the experience of the Primary Control can be given "independently of what [the pupil] may previously have thought it meant." (p38) Much of this assumes ‘chair work’ with an emphasis on "finding the ‘up’ of the vertical axis within the curve or spiral"; not tilting forward to go up.

Crucial is the giving of directions for the multi-dimensional opposing forces which provide stability -head and limbs opposed to the torso; feet opposed to the ground. This reminds me of Alexander’s principle of antagonistic action (see MSI, Mouritz: p218) -"antagonistic [muscular] pulls" which he later talks of in the 1934 Bedford Lecture. (Articles, Mouritz: p177) There are several instances where the meaning is unclear, such as when Rivka speaks of the "critical moment". Does she mean the same as Alexander? (UOS, Gollancz 1985: p31) This may be due to problems of translation or to poor sub-editing. The Glossary in fact reads like a useful summary of the book, but I found some of the definitions still left me wondering. Rivka explains in her Foreword that "even if I wanted to be logical and systematic I would not succeed. The reason for this lies both in the nature of the Alexander Technique and in my own nature." As she asks her readers to "Please accept this as it is" I have read her book with interest and growing admiration for one of our most experienced and much-loved teachers.

© Malcolm Williamson 2009

 

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