Today’s lesson was about creating my poise before moving
And then leaving it be – not interfering with it.
Not taking away from it
Not to do.
As an Alexander Technique specialist, that translates to having one’s posture and then not locking up in order to hold it but to continue to project my Alexander Directions*, so there is a natural upward flow along the spine without stiffness.
It’s also true about connection; not to “do” it, not to seek it out,
But to be balanced in myself and then I can sense where my partner is,
Being in balance, my partner can lead me and I can respond.
Alexander Technique teaches non-doing: the right thing does itself when we stop interfering with the natural movement and alignment of the body. In dance, extraneous movements throw my lines off. My focus today is to create my poise and then maintain it. Easier said than done, but that is my task: Not to react by throwing my head even a little bit…not to collapse…not to take away from myself what is rightfully mine. My spine going up, my head releasing at the upper point of my spine, my shoulders draped on top of my torso, and always, my very free neck. And dance!
“Not to do” is one of the core principles of the Alexander Technique. Inhibiting fear and excitement overreactions and allowing the body to expand into multi-dimensions in movement through space. Control, freedom and harmony.
*Directions are a specialized way of thinking into the body in movement, taught in the Alexander Technique.
Developing shape has been one of my focal points since early this year. Here is one of a number of bits and pieces, in no particular order… about Alexander Technique and Dance and Finding a New Shape, I dictated this to my own voice mail in the moment so as not to forget…
I need rebalancing.
I’m working on a new shape in dancing in the studio and I need to find balance when my orientation is not vertical.
Directing my body in action using Alexander Technique (AT): Back lengthens and widens, sternum widens, going forward and up, up, up… my back is long, my spine is longer…integrating three dimensions not in vertical space…
Going forward and up with the flex point, not backwards.
My neck is long and free of my head’s weight as I come into balance. My shoulders drape – rest – on top of the torso.
Box step happens by itself when I maintain this new poise, up, up, up…
In the preparation of movement
I notice I’ve been thinking about my feet
as I think of my feet my body collapses downward
Thinking up out my head now
I must still think of movement of the feet but differently…
Thinking of the transfer of the center of gravity between feet
And up out my head.
And it’s working, my balance is coming in….
Finding my spine
Up, up, up…
and trying the same theory in Waltz…
And it works…
Today it’s better when I don’t think of feet; they’re closing as a result of movement and poise… And thinking up out the head…applying AT….
Projecting Alexander orders to my body for balance when it has a different configuration. I’m still vertical but the pieces are rearranged and it’s a little disorienting.
Note to self: releasing my ankle helps me be on the front of my dancing foot and leg as I move backwards. Allowing the free ankle and point of toe to release changes my balance and movement for the better.
I’m finding preparation for movement in freeing the ankle….the ankle is the neck of the leg and the neck is free….very Alexander, applied to the leg…
Today’s idea came from a lesson that I taught to a Latin dancer.
I’m going to drop in the same thought I gave to her: to let my neck be soft and long. l want to drop it in as often as possible during the day, and in the “slow” steps, the grounding steps, in every dance.
It will be slow practice but that is the way to create change.
All day long, that’s my thought for the day. Soft neck, long neck.
I’ll report back here later….
I danced…and then I remembered to release my neck…
Interestingly, once I started to remember to drop in the order to my neck to release, I started remembering to do it very frequently. It was the first time or two that took conscious thought.
The thought I gave was: soft neck, long neck… and then a pause…and a breathe…exhaling and letting that softness roll through my spine all the way to the tailbone. I thought down my spine and also up out of my head.
I looked in the mirror and my neck was very, very long.
One of my dance friends says because I’m tall it’s even more important to show the “flower” of the spine and neck. The trick is finding a balance between release and having enough tone in my neck to be long while dancing.
I have been playing with the idea of a pendulum point as I’m moving. Tomorrow I’m going to play with the long neck all the way down to the tailbone and moving my entire spine, neck and all, like a gyroscope in space.
I also held my own hips so they move as one with my body instead of moving separately and swiveling laterally up and down, side to side, or rotationally around. It helped me stay deep into my legs, in Tango, and conversely I could feel them moving more freely as the hip and leg connection was free.
At the end of practice, I helped a lady whose neck is generally forward of her body while she dances. It was jaw-dropping to hear her tell me that “it’s from her early teen years, hiding her developing figure.” That was at least 50 years ago and the pattern has been in her neck all this time. Freeing her neck feels so good to me; it is a moral imperative, to free the young women inside of her who’s been crouched down and curled over all these years, in order to be safe on the bus ride to school.
We truly are mind-body, body-mind, unities. We are whole beings with hearts and souls connected in our body intrinsically. I told her, “tell your neck, no more buses. It’s okay to let your neck be free.”
Here’s to freedom.
Learn more about the Alexander Technique and dance, here.
A wise coach said, “If you want to improve your dancing, change your movement.”
Those words went straight in and resonated with me. I decided to make that attempt and have been spending endless hours trying to do exactly that.
I’m going to post a whole load of blogs sharing my insights about my process. Here’s a context for understanding as my perspective is still not very widely known in the dance world.
I have any number of “blind spots,” by which I mean places that move without my conscious intent, or that don’t move, and should. I love and appreciate my teachers; they are my mirrors and point them out to me. I welcome this input! It’s the habits I don’t notice that are holding me back.
Changing habits can be like trying to rub my head and pat my stomach; you have to think very hard in the moment, to do it! I would also like to be braver in movement. I need to connect my thinking and my movement in both cases.
I am grateful that I have a pre-technique, the Alexander Technique, which gives me a way of understanding and applying the lessons I receive from my dance teachers.
Alexander Technique is a profound skill for freeing the body and changing movement patterns. It has a specific focus on the head and spine.
I’ve been chronicling my dance journey and resonance with Alexander Technique for some time and thought of sharing it here in my blog. I hesitated for the entire past year now! There was this niggling thought that it may sound confusing or odd.
Time is passing, though, and I do believe I’ve discovered something worth sharing.
These posts are out of order from the date they were written. Perhaps one day I’ll organize them into a more formal presentation. For the moment, it feels much more important to chronicle and share.
I hope this helps you in your own dance life. Alexander Technique is a power-boosting adjunct to all the study you do. It is an amazing tool for freedom and control.
Here’s to the journey.
Learn more about the Alexander Technique and dance, here.
I am having trouble getting myself to dance with my whole Self these days. A friend chided me and also poked a little fun at me, saying he can’t believe an Alexander teacher would have her head down, “is that the Alexander Technique?”
Of course it’s not, and sometimes it is, which is a discussion I can have on another day.
In any case, I’m not only an Alexander teacher; I’m a person, grieving the loss of my beloved dog after spending well over 15 years together.
I am finding that overwhelming grief changes my posture and even when my thoughts are not with the grief, my body still is.
If you’ve never had a dog for his or her whole life then this might not make sense to you. Dogs give pure love and companionship; mine was part of my family and for a long time, on a daily basis it was just the two of us. He has been happier to see me than my own father and mother. He’d pop his little head up, run around the room and spin in circles at my feet.
Trying to dance when my chest is closed down with tears and sadness is like lifting a bridge that is underwater; weighted with tears. Salt water is heavier than fresh, to be sure. It is also easier to float in the salty sea than a freshwater pool. The Dead Sea is a prime example. The water is so dense with salt it’s difficult to sink.
With all that salt in me, why is it so hard to float upward with my upper body and head?
How can I project my sad body into the levity of a Dancer?
I found it painful to open my arms to the volume needed for my frame. I wanted to pull my arms into a hug, whether someone else was hugging me or not.
Sobs and tears are downward and inward. At some point they can also be opening outward, with a letting go of the totality of one’s Self. That is not controlled enough for dance, though. Dance needs both freedom and control.
Coming into dance hold while projecting my energy into shaping upward and outward took emotional discipline more than physical.
It hurt more to project than to be sad and collapse a little, softly, into my own chest.
It is easier to remember the feel of my little Rafi curled in my arms, his chin under my own, feeling the softness of his fur, his little feet bending and wrapping around my hand. They were little, with soft hair growing on the bottom like rabbit feet, soft white fur brushing my skin.
That feel is real. It is a sense memory that comforts my heart. I can put on music and dance with my Rafi-memory, feeling how content he was in my arms.
Dancing with Rafi; I can carry him with me. I may not project Dancer in fullness but it is real.
Dancing Rounds the other day, I was cautioned not to drop my arms and to keep my frame up. I was dancing with Rafi, though, with sadness permeating my energy that I am also supposed to project into Frame.
I raised my arms and thought of holding Light in them to send to him. I would not drop the Light for my little Rafi whom I loved so much.
My arms stayed up, I was sending him Light and Love.
Tomorrow my arms will hold him in another way, laying him to rest. It is fitting and proper to do so. I will carry him lovingly and say words over him, letting him go.
“My left knee hurts and my right foot hurts. It’s hard to walk.”
“I don’t like those chairs without backs,” she adds, “I feel unsettled sitting down on them. Why don’t you use these chairs?” She points to some black plastic chairs with broad seats.
We discuss chairs with and without arms and backs as I bring one of the black chairs forward and guide her to take a seat.
She is 85 years old, still living independently, still has a sharp mind and the thought has crossed my mind more than once that she is nobody’s fool.
She’s been for three or four lessons and it has been slow going. She feels the difference as her body comes upright but she doesn’t like to move around very much. She has never exercised. Her neck is contracted and tight and 85 years of tension are gathered in an intractable position. Without movement she locks up again quickly if she does release tension at all.
I disguise movement as breathing and secret small tricks to improve her posture without exercising. For someone who never moves, sitting in a chair consciously counts as exercise of a sort. Her muscles are not used to releasing into length and she doesn’t have the tone to sustain it.
Today we do not practice walking or finding easier ways to rise from a chair. She has pain and is sitting.
I focus on a thought: Free neck. Long neck. I show her how long her neck is…all the way from between her shoulder blades to high up, near her ears at the “nodding joint,” keeping it simple.
Her tight neck is softening….”do you notice how your neck is softening?”
Neck free. Neck long. I am thinking of Dr. Wilfred Barlow, noted rheumatologist from Mr. F.M. Alexander’s era. He trained with Mr. Alexander and used Alexander Technique in a large clinic in a hospital in London.
Her shoulders are releasing in my hands, melting open and she comes a bit more upright.
I explain the connection between shoulders and her head position. She sighs. A deep breath is now possible. She isn’t interested in exercise but she is interested in keeping her brain sharp. I mention that oxygen from a full breath is brain food.
We are not exercising. She is sitting in a chair, expanding into a taller Self. Her neck is softening, her shoulders releasing wide and her head is not falling forward.
One time, one time only we set up and she smoothly comes forward and up out of the chair.
Gently, we walk a few feet over to the table and I help her off with her shoes before she lies down.
I return to a thought about the neck while my hands offer a gentle suggestion of non-doing. Her neck answers, softening unbelievably. Her ribs expand as she breathes freely.
She meditates so I speak of being present in the body and of non-doing. I show her how muscle tension is a kind of “doing” even though she’s not clutching her hands closed consciously or with intent. She pauses and thinks of allowing her joints to soften and her right hand, cramped at the thumb, starts to allow a little movement. Her thumb is locked with spasm into the palm of her hand but I show her the joints and slowly, as her elbow releases, her thumb gains a little mobility.
Her ankle pronates but she can allow it to come to a neutral position without pain.
“I can feel that,” she says. Her eyes widen a bit.
We discuss alignment and that the foot, knee, and hip work together.
I come to the other foot, the one that hurts, and it, too, can be in a neutral position without pain.
I ask her to notice if it’s okay, so that she can allow her ankle to be at ease.
We continue at the table, my hands offer a gentle non-doing suggestion to release tension and also to bring attention to her arms, her legs. Awareness is the first step. Stopping to notice…and allowing…both are very important in Alexander work.
When she rises at the end of the session, she looks taller and more open; her eyes are bright and now she begins speaking with me. Something has shifted.
She is 85 years old and today she came back to something within her from long ago.
I watched the teacher demonstrate as he spoke, saying “you have
to get your head weight on your foot.” He moved forward onto his left foot,
perfectly poised. You could drop an imaginary plumb line through him, head
through his body to his foot.
He made it look so easy to be effortlessly balanced, pausing in motion but also demonstrating moving through that space of poise into another space, the next one, and the next one. Flying…
Why don’t we all do it then?
What happened to that? Why can’t we just say “put your head on your foot, each step,” and then do it?
We try – we think we’re on our foot – but our balance is not there, it is not truly on our foot. The internal sensing system we use is not accurate enough. Our bodies are not in alignment in general, we have mis-alignments just walking around and bring those into the dance studio with us. We dance with the same bodies that walk around all day outside the studio.
But for today, let’s just talk about that internal sensing system that tells us where we are in space.
Another word for it is proprioception. It’s the awareness of your body in space, forward, up, back, down, sideways, etc.
Imagine for a moment that you point your car going forward but the alignment is off. You have to fight with the wheel for control and to go where you want to go.
That same thing happens to us, internally.
Somewhere along the line our internal sensing system lost calibration. We’re just so used to using it that we follow that blindly, and of course anything you do long and often enough will feel normal to you. We adjust to being off target! Then our poor bodies, our muscles and bones, have to torque and twist and tense to hold us in the direction we keep fighting for, pointing the steering wheel in one way when the feet (wheels) may be pointing another. Injuries happen. Muscles get tired.
How difficult is it then to move differently if everything you know is telling you you’re going North every time you move, but the mirror tells you otherwise. We are wired up to move by the way it feels, but if that feeling is not accurate, what’s left but force and using the mirror and pushing your body in a particular direction? Is there another way?
There is! ….there is a way of pausing to recognize true awareness of your body in space, and to allow an unwinding in the right direction. Head poised, spine lengthening through a release into the right direction, the body freed to recalibrate and let the bones hang into alignment rather than pulling on them.
It is about connecting thinking and movement.
We do it anyway, but sometimes the correct action is lost in translation from mind to muscle.
Alexander Technique restores that inner feeling to true it up again.
It is a way to true it up and to undo long-term habits of the way your body is arranged. Are you compressed? Does your neck contract into your head, or does it poke forward? In today’s parlance, “forward head posture?”
Alexander Technique works through release, not pressure…it relieves pressure on your spine and thereby through your entire system. It is good for your health, overall.
Through this work you learn to control not only your head and neck but also to quiet your whole system, A to Z.
It is much easier to let go once you discover places you’re holding on and don’t
even realize it.
It’s like going on vacation and suddenly the tension melts out of you.
Tension? What tension? It’s just how I am….
Back in the studio, I watched the teacher move onto his foot again, head over
foot, and heard my inner voice whisper, this is what I’m teaching my students –
all of them. No matter if they are dancers or if they come because of back
pain, they learn to feel their head weight on their foot, at will. There is an
ah-ha moment when that happens. It is a recognition of something we used to
have naturally as children, but lost along the way.
That moment is a release of pressure along the spine and that creates a natural
condition that fosters lengthening.
A lengthening spine in movement is a beautiful thing.
I do it with every single student. It is fundamental to balance and poise. It
is key to moving with a long beautiful spine and open, wide back that supports
There is often a gap between our own perception that tells us we are balanced
on our foot, and the truth of where we are in 3-D space.
We also have muscles that are used to moving according to a faulty “map” or
inner body sense.
We need to true up our inner compass and retrain the body movement. That means
retraining our muscles in movement.
As dancers we often push our bodies to achieve a shape or reach a position.
That may get you from foot to foot, but only at the price of tension in
movement. It makes movement look stiff and stilted. It can be jerky, full of
stops and starts.
If you want to win competitions, you need to fly.
Heck, if you just want to feel good, you need to be able to release into
It’s scary sometimes but fun! I am doing that now, learning to allow myself to “fall”
in the Waltz rather than control my lowering. I’m learning to let go and trust
all the training of my inner sensing system.
Alexander Technique is a total body tune-up for dancers.
Stephen Hannah calls it, “Internal harmony of the parts.”
Have that harmony, and Dance.
Tune up your body and fly.
Alexander Technique an amazing tool to speed learning. I’m constantly
working to undo unhelpful habits and in their place, train in new patterns of
movement until they become my new, better habits. We are all doing this all the
time, the question is, are you actually reaching the body parts you’re
intending to use? If feeling is faulty, how can you correct it?
At different levels I’m working on different things, but what I do find
is that I can locate the parts that my teacher wants me to move. I know when I’m
balanced, head over foot. FINDING THE SPOT is a big step in the battle. My
personal balance is pretty good. Learning to sense and use the partner
balance connected with my own movement is fun and fascinating. Improving
my body awareness through Alexander method is a huge plus in my learning. It is
saving me time.
F.M. Alexander discovered this in himself – a lack of truth in his inner
feeling of how he was using his head and neck that led to many problems with
breathing and his voice. It was only when he was able to control his own head
and neck that his problems resolved.
As he began to work with people he found that control of your head weight and
spine in movement is the key to improved performance of the body as a whole, and
more – to the whole Self in terms of how you react to stimuli of all kinds. For
instance, it helps control anxiety and creates presence in performance, because
the underlying mechanism of control is connected with the nervous system. The
brain controls reaction through your nerves to communicate with your muscles
and also your nervous system that can create too much fight-or-flight
reactivity. The same process to control your head and spine quiets your nervous
system. That is how change happens; through the whole self.
It also leads to dancing with the whole Self, fully, with ease.
Because it brings people into and through a state of perfect balance and poise
Harmony of the Parts, indeed.
Art by Kirsten Harris
She lay on the table during the semi-supine portion of the lesson, and she let out a big sigh. I could see her relax, as if she was at the beach, on vacation. Her body eased, her neck released with a particular look; I could see the tone of her neck and skin changing. I mentioned this is like going on vacation, when you lay on the beach and allow the sun to soak in. The air drifts by and it smells like salt ocean air and flowers from the trees. Your muscles melt and it feels like Nirvana.
Have you ever had that experience of going on vacation and realizing that you are relaxing from tension you didn’t even realize you were carrying?
What if you’re doing that in your dancing? What if you’re carrying around tension you don’t even feel because it’s always there?
How would that affect your movement?
It is the tension we don’t recognize that is the hardest to deal with and
It happens to all of us.
Tension is like refrigerator noise; a certain level becomes invisible because it’s always there.
It interferes with movement, but what can you do about tension you don’t even feel?
You may not feel it but people around you, judges and coaches, see it.
Watching a tense dancer doesn’t feel as good as watching someone with flow. Unconsciously we pick up on other people’s tension even if we’re not defining it to ourselves in that way.
We must bring movement to conscious awareness in order to change the pattern. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Any simple movement will serve to uncover tension patterns.
Today working with a student offers a simple example: standing up out of a chair. We all do it many times a day and it’s often unconscious, like answering the phone; we do it without thinking.
Today we focused on the details of the process; the how-to of movement that’s the key to moving better.
As my student prepared to stand up, what I observed is a stiffening of her neck and spine. Her whole back tensed up in an effort to stand.
Logically it doesn’t make sense; all that’s needed to stand up is put your feet on the ground and let your legs straighten. It’s not only unnecessary it’s unhelpful, asking your back to do your legs’ job.
What if this pattern continues on the dance floor? What if unrecognized tension in your neck and back is taking over some of what your legs should be doing?
If your neuromuscular system habitually adds tension when you begin to move, then guess what? Your back will tighten up before you get out of that chair.
This is just one maladaptive pattern of many that can affect your back – and your dancing.
After all, if you can’t be conscious of your head and spine in such a simple thing as standing up, then how can you have an open, beautiful line in dynamic movement in dance?
It’s not much different than coming up to toes in a box step.
If you cannot control your body tension when you do something as simple as stand up out of a chair then I give you that it is unlikely you can control your neck tension levels in coming up on toes in a box step.
If you stiffen your neck it is more difficult to move and be balanced on your feet.
How much stiffening in your neck and spine is unconscious? If it is unconscious, how can you get rid of it?
How little tension can you have and still have beautiful form and move cleanly?
These are the questions I ask myself in dance. I explore my own movement and am working with a teacher to point out when I am pushing with my feet but don’t notice it, rather than allowing my body weight to travel across the floor. Once I’m aware of the problem, I use my Alexander awareness to free myself to move differently. It takes practice. We all have unconscious patterns and improving is a never-ending process. Having the tools to do so – ah – priceless.
The lesson was drawing to conclusion and she commented this is like “getting to know your anatomy on the inside.”
As we worked today, my student started recognizing a certain feeling of…nothingness…an effortless, subtle sensation, like “falling upward” as her legs folded under her and she came to a sitting position. She was vertical as her legs bent and straightened yet she was not holding tension in her neck and back.
She started connecting this ease in motion with a freedom point where her legs and body connect. The habit of contracting along the spine was strong, but today she recognized what I’ll call Points of Freedom that allow her to move freely. Today was a breakthrough; something clicked and she was able to replicate this on her own.
That’s what this work is all about; a growing awareness of your anatomy on the inside and using that to retrain movement patterns. It’s about learning to control the degree of release and directing your energy in activity so movement becomes effortless.
We need freedom and control, both, and to fine-tune that balance.
More coming….stay tuned for Part 2!
P.S. I hope you’ll consider joining my blog. There’s a gift for you: Seven Tips for Lightness and Ease. Get updates, tips, and grab that gift! It comes in the Welcome letter when you join.