LIBRARY - Reference(s)

The Evolution of Movement: Review by Kevin Ahern.

AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
Article, essay
Article, citation and copright
Article Text: 
Robin John Simmons' new book, The Evolution of Movement, is the most recent of the small number of books which connect the work of Raymond A. Dart with that of F. M. Alexander. Mr Simmons was introduced to the Dart Procedures by Walter Carrington during the time he trained as an Alexander Technique teacher with Walter in the early 1970s. Walter, in his turn, had been shown the Procedures by Joan and Alex Murray who had developed them in the late 1960s in connection with their then understanding of the Alexander Technique after Alex had been introduced to Dart's writings by Walter.
The book is organized and presented in five parts. Part I (Chapters 1-3, pp. 1-45) is a very swift survey, which includes a discussion of the relatively recently identified sixth sense proprioception/ kinesthesia and how we can enhance ours through exploring the Dart Procedures. It also has short introductions to the works of Dart and Alexander and the historical connections between them. Simmons clarifies that the old theory of ontogeny (growth and development of the individual) recapitulates phylogeny (growth and development of the whole species through evolution) is no longer considered correct. But he clearly finds the old theory stimulating enough to thought and imagination that he spends a whole chapter (2) describing and discussing the phylogenetic part and all of chapter 3 on the ontogenetic. Here also begin the huge number of drawings and photographs further illustrating points in the text. I especially appreciate the photos of babies in activity as they explore and expand their movement capacities. The drawings are clear and well captioned.

Part II (chapters 4, pp. 46-136) is by far the largest part; and contains the nuts and bolts of this practical book. This is where readers should spend the bulk of their available time and attention, at first in reading but soon after and increasingly on the explorations which are suggested. Here Simmons presents in great detail the Dart Procedures themselves as they have been developed over the years through the work of the Murrays, Simmons, and colleagues with whom both principals have worked over the years. Again the text is illustrated with copious drawings and photographs, both adult and infant. I wish there were a greater number of photos of infants because I think their faces and attitudes would convey the interest, importance, and emotional involvement so vital to this work, which adults cannot replicate but would do well to try.

The next three parts are mainly theoretical, not to say academic. Related to this, I recommend, especially if you are new or relatively new to the Dart Procedures, that you allocate your limited time thusly; spend at least twice as much time on practical work with the Procedures as you do on reading Dart's writings or about Dart, i.e., if you read for half an hour, work with the Procedures for at least an hour. This will, in time, give you your own resource of experience with which to understand and assess the various writings.

Part III (chapter 5, pp. 137-153) is an in-depth presentation of and discussion about one of Dart's papers directly related to the Alexander Technique, 'The Double-Spiral Arrangement of the Voluntary Musculature in the Human Body' (1946). This, like all of Dart's writings, is well worth the time and study it takes to assimilate the material. Keep in mind Dart's advice to Alex Murray when Alex first took up reading Dart: 'Just let it all wash over you . . . .' This indicates, I think, that if you read and reread over time with undemanding patience (especially if, like this reviewer, you have limited anatomical knowledge and limited capacity for increasing it), then what you need to know will gradually seep in. This investment in time with reading and with the Procedures is a long term project with many long term benefits. Robin Simmons has been pursuing it for forty-five years. His treatment of DSA in this section is thorough and does succeed in sparing anatomy-phobic readers some effort and despair while still extensively quoting from Dart. The extensive drawings and Simmons' own exposition of Dart's paper gives the reader plenty to mull over.

Part IV (chapters 6-9, pp. 155-169) is of a similar nature and merits a similar approach. Here Simmons picks out several topics in Dart's papers for further attention; these include the medial longitudinal bundle, the trigeminal nerve, ambidextrousness, and segmentalism and the cranial nerves.

Likewise with Part V, (Chapter 10, pp. 171-197) which includes brief summaries of all four of Dart's Alexander related papers, followed by fuller summaries, and coupled with tables of suggested sequences of the Procedures which Simmons relates to the individual papers. Simmons' brief and longer summaries are a good introduction to Dart's papers for those who cannot process anatomical information. Hopefully these summaries will encourage some readers to read the full, original papers.

I wish to discuss a few matters on which l respectfully, but definitely, differ from Mr Simmons. Although he often recommends that people 'experiment' with the Procedures as they find best, when he starts presenting the Dart Procedures in Chapter 4, Simmons strongly urges a painstakingly slow and careful nine-stage process of experimenting with the Procedures in which continuous 'vigilance' and 'sensory awareness' are stressed. Trying to be aware is not the same as becoming aware.

The Procedures themselves are safe and at first require only very basic movement abilities, two qualities that in themselves promote (allow) a quieting and increasing awareness. They helped me in the beginning with what was then the vexing mystery of inhibition. After a time just being in any of the basic positions (positions of mechanical advantage) would start to bring my habits to awareness (so that stopping them became a possibility - paraphrasing F. M. Alexander, 'the wrong things stop themselves').

Inhibition became more tangible and approachable, if still a mystery. The same qualities, safeness and low demand on skill, helped me when it came to the movements involved in transitioning between the positions. It seemed to give me a clearer sense of the unity of working of primary control, that change could start at the head/neck or tail or anywhere in between. The change would then affect the entire mechanism over time. It also exaggerated/clarified the counterbalancing possibilities between the head-neck/shoulder girdle and the pelvis at the other end of Primary. It was when playing with rolling over and over and over from supine to prone, etc., that I had my first faint experience of 'The right thing does itself' per F. M. Alexander. So I would recommend that readers of The Evolution of Movement experiment freely and widely with speed of movement and quality of attention while exploring the Dart Procedures. Most importantly, find ways of doing them that will maintain your interest and enjoyment over time.

My second area of disagreement with Mr Simmons, a disagreement which he freely acknowledges exists, is over the matter of where to look when moving on all fours across the floor (i.e. creeping or crawling depending on your geographical location). In his book (pp. 110-11) Simmons presents the arguments for and against looking forward and ahead to where you are going or, alternatively, looking down at your hands on the floor. He votes for the latter because 'it will prevent you from retroflexing and fixing your head on your neck'. This confuses me because in many other parts of his book, Simmons cites and talks about the vital part our eyes and visual sense play in growth and development. In my 37 years of experience with Dart's work and the F. M. Alexander Technique, I have been asked, instructed, and/or encouraged to begin to look forward and up from a variety of positions; flat on my belly, creeping on all fours, fetal in the chair, etc. It has done me no end of good in the process of changing my use for the better. I have seen the same results in many people who have undergone the same instruction, including Alexander students with whom I have worked. The full exploration of lengthening and widening , involves co-equally the fronts (and sides) as well as the backs of our torsos (and necks and heads) and fully engages the 'Double Spiral Arrangement' delineated in Dart's relevant paper. My own experience suggests to me that many in the Alexander community remain unaware of the possible (and beneficial) extent of lengthening up the front. A related comment by F. M. Alexander appears on p. 82 of The Expanding Self by Goddard Binkley regarding the dynamic lengthening which is possible and necessary when looking up in the upright.

I respect and admire how much time, work, and thought Robin Simmons has given to Dart's works, the Procedures, and the Alexander Technique over the past four and a half decades; particularly the huge amount of work it must have taken in recent years to collect, organize, and wrestle all that he has learned into this book, which he has published himself.

I urge people to buy and read Mr Simmons' book, and most importantly, to conduct their own explorations of the possibilities outlined and suggested therein.

Readers of The Evolution of Movement would do well to read and explore any or all of the following sources concerning the conjunction of the works of Raymond Dart and of F. M. Alexander: Direction magazine Volume I Number 3 'The Life & Work of Raymond Dart' (1988); two slightly varied editions of Skill And Poise: Selections from Dart's writings, (no. 1 desktop published by Alex Murray and teacher trainees 1993/ only 100 copies printed, and no. 2 Skill And Poise published by STAT Books, hardcover, 1996); Beginning From The Beginning: The Growth of Understanding and Skill, edited by Marian Goldberg (1996); Dance and the Alexander Technique by Rebecca Nettl-Fiol and Luc Vanier (2011); and the web site compiled by A. Murray and A. F. Legrand.

Copyright © 2016 Kevin Ahern. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2016. All rights reserved.