LIBRARY - Reference(s)

Skill and Poise

Articles on skill, poise and the F. M. Alexander Techique
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AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
234 x 156 mm.
ISBN 0951930451 / 978-0951930458
Mouritz Bibliography
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This has later editions
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Short Description: 
Seven articles including one on the 'Dart procedures'.
Mouritz description: 
This book contains all the articles by Dart which directly relate to the Alexander Technique plus two articles on the subject of skill and poise. The former are 'An Anatomist’s Tribute to F. Matthias Alexander' (1970), 'Voluntary Musculature of the Human Body: The Double-Spiral Arrangement' (1950), 'The Postural Aspect of Malocclusion' (1946) and 'The Attainment of Poise' (1947). The latter are 'The Significance of Skill' (1934) and 'Weightlessness' (1961). The themes throughout are the importance of poise for learning and the embryological and neurological origin of the erect posture. Also included are 'The Dart Procedures' by A. Murray (first developed in 1943). The book contains 37 figures (with line-drawings) to illustrate the Dart Procedures and to provide some anatomical background information for some of Dart’s explanations. Glossary.


Like F. M. Alexander, Professor Dart was an Australian by birth, but lived a greater part of his life abroad. He too was a pioneer and ahead of his colleagues in his thinking. During his anthropological studies on the evolution of early man he had deduced from the characteristics of an immature fossil skull that it was a hommid. Many colleagues disbelieved him and it was only when further fossils of mature individuals were found that he was vindicated. As Professor Phillip Tobias wrote, “he forced the world of palaeo-anthropology to appreciate that there had been, at one time, small brained but upright walking members of the family of man.” So he had much insight into the requirements of erectness and in these pages he shares with us the amazing process both ancestrally and embryologically through with human beings have achieved this. We are yet again indebted to Jean Fischer for another finely produced book, this time introducing to a wider public the outstanding work of Professor Dart.

Just as FM’s work stands definitively on his four books, so Dart’s work, from the point of view of the Alexander Technique, is expounded in the four main articles in this edition. Readers will no doubt notice Dart’s command of long sentences, reminiscent of FM’s, for both could hold in mind not only the essence of what they wanted to express, but also all the aspects related and interconnected with it. There is much ‘meat’ in these articles; they need to be read and reread and inwardly digested, and there is a rich harvest for those with interest and persistence. Readers will find the glossary extremely useful for unfamiliar scientific terms. Here are just a few items to whet the appetite of a prospective reader: our unilateral habits, i.e. our right or left handedness destroy equilibrium (an interesting point being that FM’s left-handed imperfections seen reflected in his mirror resembled those he observed in his righthanded colleagues); being able to sit well appears to be a prerequisite for acquiring vertical erectness on the fee (so take heed those parents who would wish to encourage their infants to stand before they have mastered crawling and coming back and up to sitting); joints that pop and crack do so because the synovial fluid can form gas bubbles and the subsequent changes in surface tension enable joints long limited in their range of movement to become, sometimes quite rapidly, mobile again; in proper development, breathing follows a definite rhythm, unhampered by the position of the body.

Dart writes of two aspects of attention – depth and width – and fully exhibits these in his grasp, on the one hand, of embryological detail and, on the other, his overview of man’s possible evolutionary progress towards “perfect socialization (i.e. organized skill)”. He even lists the five skills he considers fundamental to citizenship. He inspires us to explore “the infinities of the ineffably small and the incalculably large”. Delia Hardy’s drawings help us to grasp some of the embryological essentials and give an interesting three-dimensional quality to the somites. The line drawings in the last paper of the human form in movement are necessarily stereotyped and two-dimensional -foetal crouch could perhaps be more rounded and ball-like. A video showing these movements in execution would be a useful adjunct.

Dart had his first Alexander lessons in 1943 and only one from FM himself. It rang bells for him and he immediately recognised its worth. He already had been writing of body-mind unity back in 1934 when he stated, “If the body lacks skill, the mind is to that extent warped.” He also found himself “being constantly led further and further back to unexpected essentials and principles, previously entirely neglected and overlooked.”

I was fortunate enough to be present when he gave his “Anatomist’s Tribute to the Alexander Technique” in 1970. Towards the end is the section, “How any intelligent individual can study his or her own self’.

Dart described here movements on the floor which he had been “following in a leisurely, explorative fashion for more than a quarter of a century”. I too can now say the same, being first introduced to them by Walter Carrington and Alexander Murray in the 1960s. Alex used to work directly with Dart on these ‘procedures’ when he was in the States, and on his return he would demonstrate them to those of us interested. As Alex points out in his article at the end of this book, with the guidance of a skilled teacher “they are an invaluable addition to the repertoire of natural movements, the facilitation of which is part of the Alexander teacher’s responsibility”. I also have gained greater insight into Alexander’s directions, for instance knees forward and away when lying prone. It is imperative that they are not prostituted into ‘exercises’ with an end-gaining attitude but explored, armed with the tools of inhibition and direction, they are a rich and rewarding resource, which continually inspires me mentally and physically. We see around us (and even sometimes in the mirror!) people who are in Dart’s words a picture of “bespectacled decrepitude”, but he also gave us this inspiring description of what we could be – “human beings who are able to discharge all their vital activities without their suffering any impediment of any kind whatsoever, in a state of poise: with their heads pivoted on their spinal columns; and their bodies pivoted upon their feet; while their convergent eyes are so pivoted upon their objective that the entire apparatus of movement is the reflexly operating instrument of their concentrated purpose.”

© Jean Clark. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.