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.”

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