LIBRARY - Reference(s)

An Evolution of the Alexander Technique: Review by Halvard Heggdal.

AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
Article, essay
Article, citation and copright
Article Text: 
Walter and Dilys Carrington probably need no introduction to the readers of STATNews, but for the record: Walter Carrington was Alexander's assistant and continued the running of the training course after Alexander's death. His wife Dilys was for many years in charge of the training of first year students and contributed to a systematic approach for developing hands-on skills.

This book is a compilation of about 50 articles, letters, lectures, interviews, notes and drafts, some published for the first time. The texts are divided into eight sections, the first six are by Walter Carrington, part seven contains the twelve pieces by Dilys Carrington and the last is an appendix.

Walter Carrington never sat down to write a whole book, but his contribution to the Alexander Technique literature is considerable. The recurring themes running through this compilation spanning more than four decades is his interest in science, his admiration and respect for Alexander, and the development of the teacher training course. This book contains much history. We get to know where the 1600 hours of training came from, when the table was introduced as a teaching prop, gossip from the first training course, and of course many anecdotes about FM Alexander. Due to the nature of this book the historical information is not always up to date. Carrington says for instance that Alexander's childhood teacher was 'an old Scottish schoolmaster'. Robert Robertson must have been in his early thirties when Alexander left Wynyard.

The word 'evolution' in the title is pertinent. The texts are organised more or less chronologically and one gets an impression of the continual development in Carrington's thinking on all aspects of the Alexander Technique. Maybe chronology could even have been the main organising principle instead of dividing the text into so many different parts?Ê Carrington continued to work on how to explain the technique all his life, as seen in previously unpublished 'Notes and Drafts'. The transcript of the lecture titled 'Attitude' from 2003 is an example of his deep understanding and brilliancy in explaining. Simple, yet profound.

The section titled 'STAT' is about the process of 'voluntary self-regulation'. Additional editorial information would have been useful to put Carrington's statements into context. The process of VSR and the formation of CNHC will not necessarily be common knowledge to the average reader in the not too distant future. Carrington is against regulation because it places the technique in the realm of therapy; and also because the technique is about individual self-regulation, so much so that it seems that he, somewhat naively, believes this makes redundant a Code of Professional Conduct. A 'professional competences' document he fears will lead to 'painting by numbers' and he regards it as misleading because it defines 'training outcomes' for a technique based on prevention.

The contributions by Dilys Carrington start off with a very good piece on how she explains the head-neck-back relationship. The rest are mainly unpublished notes written for the students at the training course. This includes detailed instructions for carrying out monkey, the hands-on-the-back-of-the-chair procedure and other 'hands-on etudes'. These are well worth studying and trying out. The last item in this section is titled 'What I Would Look for in a Teacher'. It is best described as being an outlining of 'professional competences'. This section complements and adds to the material by Walter, but I have the feeling that maybe Dilys deserved a separate publication.

To anyone already familiar with the work of Walter and Dilys Carrington the appendix will possibly be the most interesting part of the book. It contains three items. The first is 'Alexander Teacher Training Course Notes 1955-59' by Kirk Rengstorff. Much of the time he seems to be quoting more or less directly from Walter Carrington, gradually becoming more subjective and reminiscent of Binkley's 'The Expanding Self'. We get a glimpse of Carrington's views at the time, and lots of good advice on hands on teaching.

The second item is Walter Carrington's diary from 'The First International Congress on Release of Tension and Re-education of Functional Movement' in Copenhagen 1959. The congress was organised by Gerda Alexander, founder of 'Eutony'. Walter Carrington replaced Charles Neil who died the previous year. Other teachers present were Marjorie Barstow and Frank Pierce Jones. Carrington describes the group demonstration of Charles Neil's work as 'painful'. Barstow, possibly because of her background as a dance instructor, is more positive, saying the teacher 'was doing a fine job with such a large group, and she couldn't see how it could be done much better'. Observing a class by Gerda Alexander, Carrington says they were 'lying on the floor as usual, pulling their heads back and arching their backs'. But there are also indications that Carrington got some positive inspiration from the Congress. True to his character, Carrington invites central people to dinner at the end of the congress to come to some kind of agreement, among them Gerda Alexander and Moshe Feldenkrais. As I understand it there never was another congress.

The last item of the appendix is 'The Result of the Move to Landsdowne Road' by an unknown author. It gives an additional reason for the changes in training course structure at the time to be the inclusion of former students of Charles Neil. There is strong emphasis on building hands on skills by mirroring vertebrate evolutionary development, e.g. 'using the hands as feet'. This is probably inspired by the work of Raymond Dart, but possibly also by the Copenhagen congress where Carrington observed a doctor demonstrating rehabilitation of amputees based on animal movement.

The benefit of the longitudinal perspective makes apparent that the book contains contradictions. The reader finds advice - by two of the foremost teacher trainers of our profession - on teaching, on hands-on skills, and even an outlining of what are the desired competences a teacher should possess, yet we are presented with the claim that: 'A teacher's training course cannot teach people how to teach' (p. 231). Of course, the statement is an aphorism, conveying the basic truth that teaching is an art and as such only to be learnt by practicing it. But the statement also exposes an attitude to the training of teachers which is not conducive to the healthy evolution of the Alexander Technique profession.

Also noticeable is what's missing from the book. Walter Carrington urges everyone to read Alexander's books, at the same time expressing a keen interested in the science of human evolution. It is then a bit strange that he never comments on Alexander's 'Lamarckian' tendencies. Something is also missing when he is propagating Alexander's books in a modern society characterised by humanistic values with hardly any comment on the signs of racism. And it is odd for someone who is preoccupied with the science of teaching, and who says the stimulus-response model is outdated, not to comment on the old fashioned 'behavioural'-based examples of pedagogy in Alexander's books.Ê As Alexander, Carrington was a man of his time.ÊWe have to study the books,Ê but we will have to read them differently from Walter Carrington.

More to come
Most of the material in this book has been published before, but having it accessible in a single volume is a bonus. This collection contains considerable amounts of advice on teaching and on the development of hands-on skills , and it is of interest to anyone interested in the technique and its history in general, or in the work of Dilys and Walter Carrington in particular. If that isn't enough you can buy An Evolution of the Alexander Technique to support The Walter Carrington Educational Trust which will receive the net proceeds. Many of Walter Carrington's lectures are still to be transcribed. Having had the pleasure of studying this book in detail I look forward to the possibility of more to come.

2018 © Halvard Heggdal. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2018. All rights reserved.