WHAT IS THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE?
The Alexander Technique is a method to develop an increased awareness of mental/physical patterns that interfere with our natural poise so that those patterns, instead of being fixed, have the possibilty to change.
My story in the Alexander Technique starts in Urbana, Illinois as an undergraduate BFA in Dance in Becky Nettl-Fiol's Alexander Technique for Dancers class and Luc Vanier's ballet class taught with Alexander principles. My first lessons as part of Becky's class were with Luc, and I still remember the change in my back that I felt when he told me to look up and then added "as if there were a cookie in front of you." What I felt was probably the lengthening and coordination of my back and torso as it followed my intention and the direction of my head. Then I was introduced to the coordination that occurs from head to feet in the spiral leading with the eyes. I loved that it changed so many things all at once, things I could never change or control by trying: it "pulled up my hip" so I wasn't sitting in it; it "lengthend my lower back" so that I wasn't over-arching my lumbar; and it connected epaulement and hip rotation together as a functional whole that connected my upper and lower torso. I loved it! I was suddenly being called a "good jumper" in petit allegro, which never felt natural before. As a result of allowing the the swing of my arms as part of the spiral (and consequently rotation of my shoulders/ribs) to take me up out of the floor and from side-to-side naturally, it was easy. I also appreciated that Alexander Technique teachers encourage students to notice one's attention and how it affects coordination and balance. I can still remember Becky talking in class about the thought of head up and direction and then, without even having a hand on me, saying, as she saw me change slightly, "See, that's lighter." I had a similar experience of change in a summer when I had a 20-minute walk to the music practice rooms each day. I had just been introduced to the Alexander Technique the year before and noticed that if I looked around as I walked, it changed the way my legs felt (and most likely lengthened my back all the way down to my tail). When I came back to classes at Illinois after that, Luc noticed, "Claire, you've thought about this over the summer!" It only took thought and noticing for real change!
In being exposed to Luc's ideas on how épaulement of the head and outward rotation of the legs in ballet are so intimately connected with how we develop to move at an early age, I started seeing connections to the spiral musculature in my classical harp technique. This also was, and still is, fascinating to me - that techniques that have been developed over centuries have wisdom in them connected to our basic ways of moving. And that people have slowly found these patterns experientially over time. In that way, the rotation of the hips in ballet isn't a distortion and épaulement isn't an ornament. Instead, they are really fascinating tools that feel good to use, and they connect everything together in a way that a person can allow to happen instead of try to control.
Almost all of my experiences in the Alexander Technique were with students of Joan and Alex Murray. Lauren Hill, a teacher now in Minneapolis, introduced me to Joan one afternoon in 2003 in order for Joan to observe her as a teacher. We talked about playing the harp and moving my feet at the pedals. Joan moved me around and got my direction going, and then said, "See, you can lift a leg easily; you just have to think head up as you do it." Because my direction was already going well from Joan's work, I clearly felt my head going up and my leg lift easily in a way that I think I hadn't done for most of my life. My lower back didn't pull in, and it felt so easy that it was fun to lift them. I then went to a class taught by a dancer auditioning for the MFA program at Illinois, so faculty were observing. I kept feeling the strong direction from Joan as I looked up or lifted a leg. Afterwards Luc, who was observing the class as part of the faculty, drove by as I walked out of the building and said, "Claire, you looked great in class today." I knew it was the direction from Joan that he saw. The Alexander Technique is real and specific in that way - not just something to make you feel relaxed or calm, but something that is dynamic and gives an experience poise and balance that allows for so many possibilities in life and performance.
In 2013 I began the teacher training course with Joan and Alex Murray in Urbana and completed it in 2015. I now teach private lessons through Valparaiso University's Music Department and have started a blog about the Murrays course: onthecourse.wordpress.com. I also love movement in general and come from a background of modern dance, improvisation, and choreography. My interests in it span from free improvisation to tanztheater to Baroque dance, and I hope to post more here in the future about my projects in movement.