A Critical Perspective: Dewey & Randolph Bourne

Alex is very generous with books and one that he has encouraged reading in the past is Eric McCormack’s A Neglected Influence: Frederick Matthias Alexander and John Dewey.   I just finally got around to reading it but can’t think of how to summarize it except to say that it does what is sets out to do: highlight all of the influences that Alexander and Dewey had on each other.

The part that struck me most was McCormack’s chapter on Alexander’s work, specifically the second section of it titled Doctrine: General Features and the Discovery.  McCormack was apparently a Benedictine philosopher advised under Frank Pierce Jones, and although he modestly describes his experience in the Technique as being at a minimum, he must have had a fair amount of exposure to it, judging by his analysis and description, because it is so clear and well laid out.  He organizes Alexander’s ideas by three concentric circles with primary control as it pertains to physiological psychology at the center circle.  In the second circle, he places propositions related to Alexander’s discovery, and in the third, a “considerable number of propositions which seem to an outsider to be extravagances…or to be the product of personal whim and prejudice.”  It helps me to hear Alexander’s ideas organized in this way because there are questionable ideas and assertions that can seem to distract from the value of the principles of inhibition and direction.

Alex also often takes a critical look at Alexander and one of the critics he respects is Dewey’s student Randolph Bourne, a talented writer and musician (pianist).  In the early summer, Alex was interested in Bourne’s exchange with Dewey in letters, the last of which apparently never reached Dewey.  Bourne originally wrote a review in the New Republic of the 2nd edition of Alexander’s Man’s Supreme Inheritance (in which Dewey wrote an introduction endorsing Alexander’s methods) attacking both Alexander and Dewey.  Dewey then wrote a response in the journal and Bourne’s letter is a response to that.

I appreciate that Alex is willing to look at Alexander honestly and acknowledge that Alexander’s work itself is not going to make an actor find a specific style or character.  It will only help to stop what might be interfering with finding a character if the actor has good taste and open creativity to what they are looking for.  The following is an excerpt from a draft of a letter of Bourne in 1918 meant for Dewey but not sent as he had left for Stanford and then Asia.  It is now held in the Columbia University Library Bourne Archives.

“But the question whether Mr. Alexander’s method is truly experimental or not, is not nearly as important as whether conscious control is a sufficient reliance for the future of humanity. What I said about the need of a philosophy of conscious desire to supplement a philosophy of conscious control applies equally well to Mr. Alexander’s technique as to instrumentalism. All you suggest in reply is that the creative desires could not remain unaffected by a process which gave the body conscious control. Well, I should say, in the first place that it is not enough that the life of creative aims may be affected. Conscious desire for the realization  of these values in life must completely dominate the system of conscious control if the personality as well as the organism is not given its best expressive health.  How little conception Mr. Alexander has of these higher values is shown by his attitude towards music, drawing and dancing in the experimental school. He finds them dangerous if indulged in before the child has gotten its body under conscious control. In other words, he would congeal the whole process of education, even play, until the child had a perfect physical instrument to work with. Now this may be desirable, but it is clear that life is not like that. The child’s imagination and need for activity run straight on and must be provided for, Mr. Alexander does not see that the value of the stimulus to the child’s imagination which comes from taking up music or drawing of dancing when they attract him would far outweigh the evil of a faulty co-ordination, which could be corrected with comparative ease later. It is the guiding imagination which is all important, but there is not the least place in his system for that. A combination of creative imagination plus faulty co-ordination is likely to be far more useful to the future of humanity than perfect co-ordination plus a bovine vision. Mr. A’s children would be all dressed up with no place to go. The question whether the artist will be a better artist if he is in possession of conscious control is a very complex one. It may be that artistic expression is a projection of the artist’s own complexes, so that if he was completely untangled, artistic power would disappear.

How little the attainment of conscious control may affect those higher qualities of taste, imagination, reasonableness, sensibility, is shown, I think, in Mr. Alexander’s own case. Not only in his general opinions, does he seem other than what we might expect of a colonial bourgeois of the most faulty co-ordinations. His friends say that his mind is anything but open on social and political questions, not to speak of the theories in his own field: that he lacks artistic sensibility, but freely utters judgments on artistic matter; that his philosophical ambitions give him almost the air of a crank; in other words, that personally he is just an ordinary matter-of-fact human  being, with about the full set of prejudices, of artistic complexes and irrational subconscious motivations.  If it is true that this most perfectly conscious controlled of human beings cannot be distinguished in personal and spiritual attitudes from types which are unconsciously controlled – however superior his physical functioning may be, it must be that conscious control need much supplementing both by psychical and cultural techniques to make it an acceptable all-inclusive philosophy and technique.

Mr. Alexander has devoted considerable attention to acting and elocution, has trained actors, and writes himself. A friend of mine who was taking his treatment,heard him impersonate a Shakespeare play. He said that, however perfectly co-ordinated Mr. A’s organism might be, the acting was very bad. This was due, of course, to Mr. A’s faulty imagination, and no amount of conscious control could remedy that. He could give orders to his body, but he did not know what orders to give to produce the synthetic artistic effect that he wanted. Neither did he know that he did not know. In spite of his perfectly controlled body, he not only could not conceive the parts, but he was still in the grip of unconscious illusions which still deceived him as to the reality of his powers.”

Here is the whole letter: Randolph-Bourne.

There’s nothing else I have to add, but if we get lucky, maybe Alex will contribute some insights to what I’ve given here. 🙂



Up Out of the Hips

Joan talks about getting people up and out of the hips and how Marjorie Barlow showed it to her.  Because Walter Carrington had broken his hip during the War (due to a faulty parachute when having to jump out of a failing plane), I think he wasn’t able to have normal use of his hips.

Anyway, once you get the experience of being up and out of the hips compared to down and into them, you will never want to go back!  So many people push into their hips for whatever reasons modern life gives us to distort our poise – often these days it’s phones, of course!

Here’s a video I made for the Daily Procedures, Part 2 post to see something Joan does when we’re in “hands on the back of the chair” to get us out of the hips: she has us straighten our legs and let the knee release away from the hip without dropping it down.  Here’s the video:

Joan has talked before about her daughter as a toddler looking through her legs and thinking it was so fun to say hi through them.  That is an example of them developing the thrust to be up and out of the hips.  Below is a picture of my niece playing around at an outdoor yoga class that perfectly shows her thrusting her legs up from the ground, pushing her hips up and back, and balanced between her head and hips:IMG_0741

Also when we talk about the Jimmy and Johnny videos (on Anna’s weebly site) in class (from a McGraw study at Columbia Presbyterian), Joan often says she can hardly bear to see Jimmy, who is perceived as weaker.  And she feels that if someone could have given him the experience of thrusting from the feet as an adult, which children often do as they crawl up stairs (in another video of my niece below), he wouldn’t have such a hard time going up the ladder (at 12:54), for example.

And that’s a happy baby, especially happy when I helped her through the gate!

Hands on the Back of the Chair

It seems like “hands on the back of the chair” is a misunderstood or controversial subject in the Alexander world – all the McDonald elbows vs. Carrington vs. whatever stuff – not fun!  I remember, though, Becky coming back from a conference one time saying, “Everyone said how they hate hands on the back of the chair,” and we all gasped with responses like, “Oh, I love hands on the back of the chair” or “What?”  What I love about it is the integration that I feel between arms and the torso or arms and hips and how nicely it seems to get my tone/direction going when Joan takes me through it.  Because of that and because Joan uses two versions, I thought I would go through them.

Actually the one we use often lately is different from Alexander’s.  Joan calls it the “McConnel” because of the Murrays’ work with a man named Colonel McConnel (will talk more about him in another post).  Basically, McConnel used the pattern that you see in monkeys as they run on branches – not the swinging motion when they hang, but when they run across horizontal-ish branches.  They aim with their thumb (which he said had many nerves/muscles/motor cortex space associated with it?) and the rest wraps around.

Joan had a violist trainee who suffered from carpal tunnel and couldn’t do Alexander’s pronated hands on the back of the chair, so she tried out an adapted version based on McConnel’s procedure.  Now we use it all the time to tilt the chair forward and back (see Dart Procedures, Part 2), which relates to the baby pulling along the floor and pushing back to his/her haunches.  Here’s the aiming with the thumbs…Leading with the Thumbs

…and letting the rest wrap around:

Of course, wrapping around on the chair becomes lengthening the fingers downward on it in the same way that Carrington talks about the extensor grip.

When we do Alexander’s “Hands on the Back of the Chair,” the teacher places our fingers flat against the chair first:
Lengthening the fingers
Then we “lengthen the thumb down to oppose the middle finger.”

Lengthening the Thumb to Oppose the middle finger

Pronated Hands on Chair

Joan talks about (and I think Alexander did too?) the wrists direct toward each other and elbows start going apart.  Then Joan puts a hand under our wrist and one under the arm (spiraling it outward at the insertion of the latissimus in the same direction as this post but with the teacher’s hand in a different position underneath) and asks us to think of the elbow going out and down as you widen at the upper part of the arm to pull yourself forward and up over the chair.  I always find that even that small thought widens my shoulders and directs me up.

The pronation makes beautiful, spiralled wrists that become strong in the rotation.  And as people pull themselves up and over the chair, Joan often has them do a whispered ahh because there is such nice tone and direction forward.  For me somehow it makes it feel like my exhale is an inevitable consequence of the tone and direction.

One time I read an article relating music technique to the Alexander Technique, and they encouraged people not to use the word pull.  To me, that is when the Alexander Technique becomes a cliche and doesn’t have the power to give you both support and engagement but also freedom and release.  Hands on the back of the chair seems like a perfect example of an instance where without the pull, you are probably interfering with your full length and direction forward and up.

Dart Procedures, Continued

In the first post about the Dart Procedures, I only go through fetal.  In this post, I’ll take you through several other patterns to show the procedures Joan took us through in April.

Rolling the head side to side:
I remember Luc showing me this one years ago when I had some pain in my shoulder.  It seems to me that it is the beginning of the spiral just like searching for a hand in the chair.  Even this small movement of the head affects the shoulders, back, pelvis, and legs.

Spiraling out of fetal to back:
As you keep turning the head from side to side, the spine will lengthen into a secondary, and the head will eventually turn you over onto your back.  Joan emphasizes to roll over on whatever side is comfortable, and almost everyone that did it at the course preferred one side or the other.  We thought it might have something to do with which foot or arm the student puts on top when wrapping them across in fetal.  As you can see the body knows what to do and on the way to my back, my head didn’t stay in secondary but had a built-in response to reset in a primary so that my head didn’t hit the floor.

Eyes lead to roll over to secondary:
I always feel like my mom could be standing right above me at this moment because it always flips me easily with my intention out and wanting to be part of the world above and in front of me.  To me it is a good example of the difference of the Dart work to other movement.  In dance, this might be a choreographed movement in which I try to direct the legs, arms, torso all to be in shapes, but if I lead from the intention of my eyes, there is a pattern already in place that takes me around easily.  It is a patter that people often don’t use to get up from lying on the floor but would be much easier if they did:

Looking up to pull myself forward:
If I were to lie my head down from the position in the previous video and then look up, it would look like this:

And this is the pattern that Joan uses so often in the chair when she has them look up.  The extensors of the back get tone, the arms respond in an engaged pull to go forward that is felt all the way to the sit-bones or even feet (I could have allowed this to happen in the video even further down my spine/legs).

Homolateral movement:
In this pattern, you turn your head towards your hand that is up, so that your thumb is in front of your face (see example 3 in “Figure 11” from the Institutes).
I took two videos,  one where I didn’t look up to turn to each side and one where I did.

Joan tells a story about demonstrating this with a large man and at first the limbs weren’t coordinating easily, but when she had him look up as he switched, everything magically coordinated together easily.  Joan also talks about the rotation of the legs here.  The straight leg rotates in (and foot often sickles as I showed in fetal) as the bent leg obviously rotates out.  It is a pattern that people often don’t fully allow to happen when they are standing and in a class where people tell them to keep square hips, etc.  It is also a fantastic way to see how turning the head directly affects the rotation of the hips.

Contralateral crawling:
In this version, we used the contralateral pattern to crawl forward.  I keep my intention forward towards something and my arms pull along the floor as my feet and legs push me forward.  I’m not thinking of those as separate actions as much as keeping my intention/eyes wanting to go forward towards a specific object/place in the room.  As you can see, it still involves the rotation of the legs in relation to head and shoulders/arms.  I might be interfering with the overall pattern a little in this video, but it gives you something to play with:

Getting up to standing, Hands/knuckles on back of the chair, & Going up to the toes :
We did not do this part of the Dart Procedures that week (or I missed the day that they did?), but you can see Gray do them on Becky and Luc’s video that I posted in the first Dart Procedures post and some of it in the Daily Procedures, Part 2.

Dart’s description of these patterns can be found in Skill and Poise, “Postural Aspects of Malocclusion,” 100-106.

As you can see from the daily procedure and the above explanations, though, they are not something we practice like exercises, but are more tools to help understand what takes us in the direction of up and coordinates us so that we can help ourselves and others.

The Daily Procedures, Part 2

Continuing on from Part 1, once we take people out of the chair, there are a number of things we do.  They usually involving hands on the back of the chair (which I go into more detail about in another post).  Below I have described a couple of the many options:

Pulling the chair towards us and pushing it away:
As you can see in the video, Joan even has a “means-whereby” for bringing our hands to the chair that is related to developmental movement.  Instead of lifting the hand to the outside of the chair, we bring it through the middle as you would if you were going to bring it to your face (the teacher can help give this experience by scooping up the student’s hand and bring it up in the same way).  Then we place it on the chair “Colonel McConnel” style in order to proceed:

Then we ask the person to pull the chair in towards them.  You can see in the above video that pulling the chair towards me takes my whole self forward and up.  This is the same as the baby pulling along the floor.  Then we place it back on all fours and lift the fingers to push it away.  If you let the weight of the chair passively stretch your thumb, it feels nice and, to me, feels like part of “non-doing.”
Thumb Stretching

This directs hips back and away from elbows.  It is another place where people like to over straight the elbows, so sometimes Joan will encourage the upper arm to spiral out (just like Sally did in the video of Joan, the Observer) which encourages the elbows to bend.

Straighten and bend knees to take student up and out of hips:
Joan noticed at one point that a baby crawling up stairs pushes on their feet to thrust themselves up and forward.  I talk more about being “up out of the hips” in another post.  She also is interested in the action of a jump, I think, which is where the knees bend to then straighten and take you up.

Anyway, in this video, I tried to start kind of down in the hips so that you would see how far up straightening each leg (we do it while the chair is pulled into us) takes me.  Then I think of keeping up out of the hips as I allow my knees to bend away from the hips.  Sometimes Joan gives tactile feedback at the hips here, so the student can feel if they’re staying up.  As you can see, the knee just releases away without the hips/pelvis going lower.

Knuckles and backs of hands on the chair:
This has a very direct relationship with the Dart Procedures.  First we bend at the hips and knees to allow the fingertips and then back of each knuckle to touch the chair.  As we do it, we think of coming up and away from the hands.  After my full knuckles are on, we sometimes pronate the thumb and think of thrusting ourselves forward and up.  Kind of feels like you are looking up over the terrain 🙂 and most importantly it brings the hands to the same position as Alexander’s hands on the back of the chair.  Then I roll down to the backs of the wrists and “paint the chair,” meaning I slide the back of my hand on the chair and flip it to slide the hands under my shoulders (and again thrust myself forward and up).  At this point, the student has a ton of tone and can easily be taken into and out of the chair.

Taking student into and out of chair:
From any of the positions each of these procedures left the student, they can be taken into and out of the chair.  I had Sally do it to me because I think it’s nice for people to see the antagonistic action of it: she takes me forward to go back into the chair and back to take me forward and up out of the chair.

Floppy Arms

I was out of town for much of May and the beginning of June, but I made it back for the last two days of the course before summer break.  On one of these days, Joan talked about flopping arms and finding support for them.  I think what she is getting at is that the arms support the torso and the shoulders support the arms, so when she sees someone collapsing their shoulders from the supposed weight of the arms, she finds that it is not a very directed, free use of them.

From my own background in dance, I find that what many would think of as “released” arms are often collapsed, overly burdensome arms that aren’t connected into the back.  Of course people look for released arms because they see the opposite – overly held arms.  And Joan is not looking for this either.  It’s just that people collapse and lose support of the arms/shoulders by trying to release them.

There is also the problem in music of an over-emphasis on the weight of the arm – the bowing arm for example or hands at the piano.  It’s not that we would want the opposite of that with holding tension or not allowing freedom of the arm, but often it can interfere with patterns of support through the spiral musculature that allows a lot of strength, support, and freedom of the arms and hands.  And we get this support through our direction.

For me, when sitting on a chair in a turn, I love getting tactile feedback from the hands on the legs so that I have something concrete to come up and way from.  That way, I’m not pulling myself up or going down and into my hands, but poised so that I can do what I want with my arms and hands easily.

Joan showed an example of what to do if a student overly flops their arms when getting out of the chair.  She ratchets people up from the “scruff of the their neck,” and finds that it helps their shoulders to be more supported rather than dragged down.  Here’s a video of Sally doing it to me (with me over-exaggerating the floppiness as I get out of the chair:

To all of us finding free and supported arms. 🙂



The Daily Procedures, Part 1

Each day after Joan and Alex give turns, we do work teaching each other in the chair.  It is what Joan calls the “procedure for the day.”  It always seems to me that Joan chooses to do things that she feels are essential for helping people to lengthen and widen.  And of course, being the Alexander Technique, they are not exercises you copy but instead tools to use elements from with a student when you feel that it could help them go up.

Here is a video of Alex taking me through them in the chair at a conference:

Basic Procedures in Chair
And I’ve made a shorter video (thanks to videographer Sally!) of it here that starts with me already looking down:

Broken Down Version
First, let me say a few things that stand out to me in Joan’s approach to having-us-take-people-through-whatever-procedure-she-decides-on-that-day:
One thing Joan emphasizes in this is to keep your hands off and observe.  The only places where we put a hand on is basically when we get people out of or into the chair.  I can see/feel why Joan insists on this, especially for the developmental movement that is transposed onto the chair.  I often feel that when people put hands on while I’m looking up/down or going into the spiral, they often just interfere with motion that already is built into my system and wants to happen.  Also, when people have their hands on and think they are great at fixing the student all the time, they (and I) often lose sight of just observing the student’s habits and making a useful decision about what might be help them find length/width.

Also the Procedures are very “not static.”  Joan changes them in small ways everyday depending on what has happened that day, and if something comes up for someone during it or someone forgets what to do next, they can always experiment and see what happens.  It’s just a chance for us to move people around and keep our own use.  The Murrays also don’t make a big deal about students teaching other people or having hands on from the beginning of their training.  In Joan’s training, she had to wait until her 2nd or 3rd year to put a hand on and finds that it made a bigger deal out of it than was needed and made people nervous to do it.

Looking down at the top of the sternum:
Joan often recommends tapping a person at the top of their sternum for this because people often won’t do as you describe.


She says that looking at the top of the sternum gets the primary curve going all the way from the top of the spine where the head meets it, which in turn makes the hips go back.  Sometimes we also say here, “Look down at the top of the sternum to let the hips go back and the weight of the head roll forward.”  Obviously, as you can see from where I end up at the start of the next video, the intention inward takes people into a fetal/primary curve.  It’s also interesting that the movement of the head forward here makes your want to rotate towards supination (another example of the head’s affect on the whole).

With your eyes closed, search for a hand:
Joan finds that everyone almost reflexively closes their eyes in the fetal curve.  If you have  your hands on the back of a person’s neck/head while in fetal and you have them open and close their eyes, typically you will feel the secondary and primary curves engage respectively.  Here, Joan felt that even searching for a hand engages the spiral, and I think it might be while we’re still in primary (not engaging the secondary curve in the spiral). Anyone with an idea about that, please let me know.  I think that Joan is always looking for what fundamentals we need for movement because of Dart’s quote, “You can only forward as far as you can look back” and because of the importance of the trigeminal nerve (connects tactile sensation on our face to motor functions of sucking/biting/chewing)  when we are firstborn to help us breastfeed.  Here’s a video of me doing it and a picture of a baby finding their thumb in the womb:


Roll back leading with the hips/tail until your back touches the chair (bring hands with you); Then think hips back as you roll forward:
Often in this people will want to push back with their shoulders, and Joan will put the crook of her hand between thumb and index finger right around their underarms so that they go back with their hips first instead of shoulders (if this is confusing, let me know and I’ll take a picture/video of it).  Also, almost everyone is really good at letting their hips go back before rolling forward if they take the time to give it thought.  It seems like an act of antagonistic action.  Here’s a video of me going backwards and forwards in fetal:

Looking up to spiral to both sides:
In this, we first have people look up, which Joan relates to getting past the mother’s pelvis when you come out of the womb (the first large spiral of your life!  Every baby turns as they come out of the canal head first).  Again Joan connects it to Dart’s quote about looking back.  Then as the student turn their head to one side, we ask them to slide the hand of that side along their thigh (for tactile feedback) to their tail leading with the elbow.  The back of the hand ends up touching the sacrum/tail/chair in this way that beautifully spirals the arm in pronation as you look back.  It helps people go into the full spiral, and I also find that it helps me to let me front arm rest on the thigh on the side to which I’m turning (sounds complicated but watch video!).  Then we let people unwind.  These might seem like unnecessary steps, but it’s basically just a process to get people lengthening and widening easily through a spiral.  It works best when you use the intention/direction of your eyes to look up and then to the side and back to get you to sitting.  Here’s the video:

Looking up to spiral and then looking up and around again to find the double spiral (double helix of our DNA too – Alleluia!):
The first part of this is exactly the same as the spiral I talked about above, but after the person is fully in the spiral, you have them look up and around to the other side like there is a flock of birds overhead while their shoulders stay in the previous spiral.  This is the amazing flexibility that you have at your top two vertebrae (sometimes the teacher will give a little feedback against the shoulders to let the person know if they are keeping them still in the opposite spiral or unwinding them with the head).  Then Joan has us “think up” to look down at the front shoulder, and she says that this is so that the person does not bring the head off the spine in an awkward way (it happens all the time if not given thought in this!).  Then the person unwinds.  Here’s a video:

When a person is fully wound with the head opposing their shoulders, they are in the position that a dancer is in when they use “spotting” while turning and are about to let their body unwind as the head stays looking at their chosen destination.  Or what happens when we look forward but our arms/legs swing underneath us.

Last, but not least, we look up in secondary:
This shows just plain secondary but it is what Joan finds to be the easiest way to get someone out of the chair.  There are two videos below: one shows me looking up and staying in the chair and the other shows Sally getting me out of the chair.  As you can see, in both my head resets in primary.
When Sally gets me out of the chair, she thinks of moving herself forward to bring my head over my feet (which is one of the keys to getting someone out of the chair).  She also puts her hand right at the back of the skull behind the ears where the head meets the sternocleidomastoid muscle.  This is a place where people have to learn to “not do” and just have a hand that is rested on the back of the head.  Sometimes Joan will have the person extend their hand like a star in secondary and release it on the head, which can get rid of any gripping.  It is also a place (like any other where we put a hand on) where the direction of the teacher is very obvious to the student, and they will feel it immediately if you are collapsed onto them or rigidly pulling up from them instead of having your own balance/poise.
Here are the two videos:


Memorial Day Poem from Al Huang

The Murrays have been friends for years with Al Huang, a renowned Tai Chi teacher who lives in Urbana.  There are always stories about Alex playing to his movement at Esalen or performances they did together in a show they titled the Tao of Bach.  We don’t get to meet Al at the course, but we hear about him visiting them for lessons on weekends.  In light of Memorial Day, he brought them the following poem that Alex sent out to all of us tonight.  I don’t have anything special to say about it except that it is very Alex, in his ponderous way, to send out something like this.  Maybe it will give you a glimpse into his leanings and likings:

My Dead

Joan, the Observer

As anyone who’s worked with Joan notices, she teaches through giving students the experience length and width day in and day out.  What I love about her approach is that it is all through observation of what works or doesn’t with each particular student instead of through abstract theories.

After being on the course for awhile, I have started to think that the approach of the course is part of what I learn from as well.  Joan is constantly finding subtle things that she finds beautiful (a spiral of the limbs, relationship/direction of people, etc), but she never makes a big deal out of anything, so that you get the experience of length without trying to hold onto it.  She is always working the long game in that way – never trying to hurry the process of people finding their habits but always giving them an experience different from their typical shortening and waiting until they notice what it is for themselves.

One thing that she occasionally says is to not “over-straighten the elbows.”  This is something that I never heard in my modern dance training and often it’s the opposite – those Cunningham-esque straight arms that are supposedly more neutral than ballet arms.  I now feel, though, that over-straightening the elbows does disconnect my arms from my back and puts them into constant pushing mode which is, of course, not always useful.

One way that Joan works with people on the use of their arms is by having them lift them up in front of them.

Then she will have the person pronate the thumbs/wrists.  She doesn’t do this because of some concrete theory about the arms that told her it was good to pronate the wrists but because she notices that when people pronated the wrists, they soften (or don’t over-straighten, which I am doing with my left arm especially in this picture) the elbows.

Then she gives them direction in the upper part of the arm that opposes pronation, spirals the shoulder/arm outwards, and widens the upper part of the arm (here’s video of Sally giving me that direction).

It always leaves people at their widest in front and is a good example, I think, of Joan finding things through observation and individual work above holding onto theories.

Erika Whittaker and 1912 Conscious Control

I’m actually not ‘on the course’ right now because I’m out of town until the last two days of the course – June 16/17 – before the break for summer.  But because I have some time, I’ll write about some topics that came up before I left.

On the course, we read F.M.’s writings or ideas related to his work, and right now Alex has been going through the 1912 book/pamphlet “Conscious Control” (see below).


Alex’s interest in it came from a video of Erika Whitaker (Alexander Technique teacher who trained with F.M. himself) being interviewed in 1992 about how she began work in the Technique and started on Alexander’s first training course (Whitaker moved to London at age 17 in 1928 to work with her aunt and Alexander).  Her start in the Technique was at 8 years old with her aunt, Ethel “Pipp” Webb (eventually Alexander’s secretary), who worked with her because of her diagnosis of scoliosis.

The video itself is great to watch because it is so obvious that the three years that Alexander assigned to the course were so arbitrary and that it’s not the concrete facts that you learn that are important but the experience of length and width, inhibition and direction.  Alex also mentioned that Alexander was reluctant to start the course and didn’t see its prime activity as teaching them to “learn to teach.”

Whittaker also talks about her aunt’s phrase “Keep your length, dear,” which does seem like a simple way to describe what essentially the Technique is about.  Alex also sent her 2004 obituary out and a transcript of a STAT (Society for Teachers of the Alexander Technique in the UK) talk that she gave and mentions in the video.  Links to both here: Obit E.W. (obit, obviously); Key (her STAT talk)

OK, back to the 1912 book.  So in the video, Erika Whittaker talks about her Aunt’s experience in the Alexander Technique and how, after meeting him around 1911, she traveled to a Montessori meeting in Rome in 1913 and gave Irene Tasker and Margaret Naumburg this 1912 book/pamphlet, Conscious Control.  A lot of dates.  This book comes between the 1910 and 1918 version of Man Supreme Inheritance.  Those women became hugely important to the Technique and were the people who introduced Alexander to Dewey.  Irene Tasker also introduced Raymond Dart, a figure so important to the Murrays, to the Alexander Technique.

With the position of women back in the early twentieth century as primarily mothers/housewives, you can see how bold these women were and struck by Alexander’s ideas enough to pursue his work over the typical female role of mother/wife.  This made Alex want to read the book to see what information inspired them to work with Alexander.

As Alex looked into Erika Whittaker and read her obituary again, he looked up its author, John Hunter.  He has a teacher training course in Covent Garden, and Alex enjoyed the writing in his blog, which talks about the different views of the training course – Lulie Westfeldt’s and Erika Whittaker’s.

Here is something Alex wrote me in an email about Erika Whittaker/John Hunter: “He is someone who obviously understood Erika’s good fortune in meeting FM not so much as a teacher but as a friend. Of course, I think you understand that being a teacher is using friendship to indicate a useful way, which as a ‘student’ you follow or not, depending on how far you can see it can lead you. Teaching teaching is a contradiction in terms. There is only learning, which is the responsibility of each one of us.”