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 your arms.
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 movement.
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 in movement.
Harmony of the Parts, indeed.