Paperback ISBN 0995491151 / 978-0995491151.
Paperback ISBN 0995491151 / 978-0995491151.
Part One: The Work at Hand, sets out the field of enquiry - the subject matter of the Alexander Technique: Choice, Primary Control, Sensory Appreciation, Use, Non-Interference . . . all presented in Bruce's own vocabulary. One particularly telling example of which is the idea not of 'misusing' oneself, but of 'mistreating' oneself, with all the ethical impact of that word fully intended.
Part Two: Student Centred Teaching, leads the reader anecdotally through a large number of individual lessons, either one-to-one or in group settings. Some of these lessons last a whole chapter, others just a few sentences. This format gives a lively 'person-centred' way of presenting the almost endless scope of our Work, in a way that hardly ever finds its way into print.The illustrations are unusual - avoiding the conventional 'head back and down', 'head forward and up' illustrations. The nearest thing to that is a photo of a cowboy wrestling a steer (you have to read it . . .). The other illustrations are split mostly three ways: firstly, very characteristic photos of Bruce working with students in workshop settings; secondly, half a dozen illustrations from Albinus on Anatomy, the series of beautiful, accurate, lively, whimsical-but-layered-with-meaning anatomical engravings published in 1747, which Bruce uses as a primary source for his anatomical and body mapping work, and thirdly, and perhaps most compellingly (the handful of colour-printed pages of the book are reserved for this third category), art illustrations: paintings, sculpture, a thrown pot, landscapes . . . One of the main ideas here is that we do not tend to look at a Renaissance painting, or a sculpture of a human figure in a way that emphasises postural criticism. On the subject of criticism, Bruce quotes Rumi: 'Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field; I'll meet you there'. Instead we see what the figure, through its implied movements and reactions, expresses. Bruce suggests - and this seems to me to be the absolute epicentre of his teaching - that we would do well to learn to look at people as we look at works of art: to see the beauty before the body-mechanics, and to empathise with (and thereby become able to help) a person's Use by seeing how they express themselves.
Because of the structure of the book as a series of vignettes, a lot of ground is covered quickly, and it is not possible for me to list all of it. However, I shall choose three particular themes that seem to me to be characterise Bruce's understanding of the Work, and which I personally found to be good. Firstly, he does not try to make it easy. He says (in understatement) that the Alexander Technique needs 'practice', that a good teacher has, necessarily, to be 'living the work every day', and that 'This road is longer than any one person's life'. Secondly, he is a dyed-in-the-wool-non-dualist. He does not talk about 'how we use our bodies', neither (more subtly) does he talk about the 'mind body connection' (which always seems to me like approaching psychophysical unity from an essentially dualist perspective, unnecessarily making a simple thing complicated). Instead he simply and straightforwardly treats each person as a whole. This gives his work access - when appropriate - to a student's emotional life in a straightforward and unforced way, as a natural aspect of their Use, and very much part of what we, as teachers, are there for. For example, he is likely to ask a student who says that he wants to relax, 'How do you know you are not relaxed?' to which the student replies 'I feel nervous.' This then opens the way to the psychophysical subject matter of the lesson. It's as simple (and profound) as that. Thirdly, he places great emphasis on learning to use one's senses in a skilled and healthy way, asking 'What would happen if we were able to go from having adequate tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive senses, to having extraordinary tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive senses?'. 'Feeling' is not, for him, a word to be avoided, or the exclusive polar opposite of 'thinking'. Right at the beginning of the book he tells us of a conversation with an anaesthetist: 'You say to people, you're not going to feel a thing, and I say to people, you are about to feel everything.' In one chapter Bruce suggests a series of sensory investigations, meditations, Directions - I donÕt know what to call them - leading the experimenter towards more subtle and more colourful sensory experiences. An important extension of this thinking is that humans-sensing-other-humans is a vital part of life - 'To 'be' means to be with other people.' - and an essential part of the Alexander Technique. Interestingly, for a teacher who does so much of his work in groups, individual hands on work is very central to his teaching. He clearly thinks of Alexander work essentially as partner-work, with all the subtle and paradoxical give and take of leading-in-order-to-follow, and following-in-order-to-lead that subtle partner work always embodies (one chapter tells the story of a lesson with an accomplished Tango couple), and he understands what he sometimes calls 'high touch' (exemplified by the best Alexander hands on work) as one of the highest expressions of our shared humanity: 'Touch . . . is our sense of togetherness, of closeness, of intimacy, of union and communion.'
Bruce freely uses stories, autobiography, quoted aphorisms, illustrations, poetic language and a wide range of metaphors to set the scene and to make his points, and this is surely the only Alexander book with a Japanese glossary! In writing such a book, the author is necessarily just guessing at a reader's connection with a particular image - unlike presenting ideas in a workshop situation where communication is two-way. I imagine that each reader will have their own spectrum of recognition: some points seeming no more than common sense, others interesting and informative, some concepts may be outside their experience, and others still, less attractive - metaphors that simply don't work for them. That is the risk, consciously taken, in writing a book that seeks to convey the flavour of a very personal experience. For me, it is interesting to think that each reader's spectrum will, most likely, align itself with quite different themes and images in the book.
The greatest strength perhaps of this new addition to our bibliography is that it clearly and repeatedly shows us (as we as teachers and committed trainees naturally already know) that 'Alexander's work, when it works, can work miracles; quiet, little miracles that can change a person's life forever.'
2018 © Tim Soar. Reproduced with permission.the-alexander-technique.org.uk
This edition © Mouritz 2018. All rights reserved.
One of the most puzzling things about us humans is how it is that we are able to conceive a plan of action that results in achieving the intended goal. Ideo-motor theory is one attempt at answering this question that underpins much of Alexander work. In his teaching, Bruce Fertman's dance training acts as a template to which he adds his practice of martial arts and experience as a movement educator with the principles of the Alexander Technique to develop a highly individual, creative and nurturing style of teaching. He studied principally with Marjorie Barstow but has worked over the years with other first-generation teachers including Erika Whittaker, Kitty Wielopolska and Elisabeth Walker. His method relies heavily on what might be called the pedagogical transaction that happens spontaneously between teacher and student: 'Try thinking of yourself differently; try doing it this way . . . Now, how does that make you feel?' It's a very natural and human way to learn. In his book, So You Think You're Human? Felipe Fernández-Armesto writes, 'The imaginative discovery that life is animated by spirit was probably one of our ancestors' first thoughts.' Taking Bruce Fertman's image of an outer corporal body moved by an inner spiritual body of lightness and space puts one in touch with an ancient truth. Teaching through visualisation and imitation has a long tradition. Bruce refers to the ancient Greek classical representation of the human body - particularly sculpture - and high Italian Renaissance art that through Françoise Delsarte and the genius of Pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce became the basis for a science of emotional expression and communication through body-language and gesture in American popular culture from the 1890s. The legacies left by American modern dance pioneers such as Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, and Mabel E. Todd (author of The Thinking Body) and her 'Ideokinesis' successors maybe account for the body/movement-oriented slant to Alexander work that often contrasts with a more intellectualised English style.
No doubt Bruce's book will divide opinion - even ruffle a few feathers - in the Alexander world. But before I say anything else that may be construed as criticism, let me say that the book is beautifully written expressing sensitivity and passion for its subject. Alexander-related topics are presented in creative ways from which almost any teacher can learn something new by seeing familiar themes from a different perspective. The idea that we 'mistreat' rather than misuse ourselves is an example.
The amount of visualisation and imagery may worry some teachers. But despite Alexander's reservations, there's no doubt they can be powerful and effective teaching tools. For Alexander and others the issue is that imagination is greatly influenced by our habits and preconceptions and that, unless the specifics of a situation can be translated into a general transferrable principle, then they are of limited value when one is faced with the new or unfamiliar. Asking a student to visualise and walk as though his bottom fills out baggy trousers must become a general proprioceptive rule to 'avoid throwing hips forward'. Otherwise, one is trapped in the dubious imaginary world of golden cords and 'sky hooks'. Experiential learning is, of course, vital to both acquiring implicit practical know-how and conceptual knowledge (knowing about). But every experience is not educational and not all of an experience is of the stuff that creates sensation - the sense of the passing of time, for instance. An experience is necessarily only partial and selective depending on the limitations of our sensory organs and the selectivity of our habits, what we can assume and are familiar with or interested in. Images act as powerful signs and symbols that may arouse negative connotations as well as useful associations and one wonders what Bruce's mainly Japanese and Korean students make of the images of western art that are so evocative of European culture.
Apropos of experience, I'm reminded of the workshop groupie, who is hooked on getting the Alexander buzz. Occasionally teachers allude to the 'oceanic feeling' of ultimate oneness that can be gained through a variety of meditative practices. Bruce mentions it on page 59. Be that as it may be (I've experienced it twice, once immediately following a lesson with Walter Carrington and once when I had pneumonia), there is a danger of its repeated quest becoming a distraction from the day-to-day disciplined work required for growth and development. Living is not a never-ending series of ultimate experiences (thankfully) but a matter of finding satisfaction and fulfilment in doing ordinary, mundane activities well.
Bruce has wonderfully creative ways in his use of anatomy to help correct a student's body image. Rather than using dry medical anatomy illustrations, he prefers to show his students the beautiful eighteenth century engravings of Albinus that portray the human body as 'moving landscape'. Bruce takes his readers through an interpretation that is not only a lesson in art appreciation but gives life and meaning to one's sense of self in relation to immediate surroundings.
Bruce gives us many moving accounts of students and the transformations that can occur in his classes. With groups he uses simulations or re-enactments of real life situations to explore how students react. Observing - Bruce uses the expression, beholding - the person is key. With teacher trainees, Bruce admits that teaching them to use their hands effectively is more challenging. Much of his teaching relies on his own personal qualities to quickly engender a feeling of trust. We are told that one reason Alexander held back from starting a training school was that he was unsure if there was a unique body of knowledge to be learned. Was his teaching success merely founded on his own qualities of character, personal magnetism or charisma? Without acquiring the fundamental skills to inhibit and direct one's own manner of use you are likely to find yourself up the proverbial creek without a paddle when it comes to teaching others. Teachers who read Bruce's book may be reminded to 'stick to principle' and heed the story of Alexander's advice to Irene Tasker when she began teaching: Now, be sure not to do anything you have seen me do!
That is where learning to work from fundamental principles, rather than the so-called 'application approach', I think has the edge. Learning to inhibit and direct may at first seem beside the point or irrelevant to an immediate problem; it may feel as though it will take too long to fix. But ultimately, by this approach, you can reach Alexander's promised 'plane of conscious control' that becomes your reliable and constant guide through life.
As I remarked when asked to write a review of Bruce's book, maybe a diehard sceptic like me is not the right person. Alexander makes the point that when someone is fixed in his opinions and thinks he knows it all he 'is mad where that thing is concerned'. Luckily for me I find the book an excellent read and it has given me inspiration and food for thought. It is handsomely produced in hardback or paperback by Mouritz, a recommendation in itself. Don't let the strangely creepy cover illustration of holding hands put you off. As the title says, Bruce 'delves' courageously and creatively into challenging aspects of the Technique, and you also will find its reading engaging and thought-provoking.
2018 © Malcolm Williamson. Reproduced with permission.