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Walter & Dilys Carrington Demonstrate the Alexander Technique: Review by Tully Hall.

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Alexander Technique
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This two-DVD set shows Walter and Dilys Carrington as they demonstrate their procedures for teaching the Alexander Technique, working with teachers and trainees at the Constructive Teaching Centre, many of whom are well-known teachers today. Filmed in 1985-86, the footage was never intended for general release. While the audiovisual quality is not of the highest standard, the importance of this historical record of the Carrington's work is beyond question. The material is pure gold.

The DVDs are divided into sections describing and demonstrating chair work, table work, saddle work, hands-on work, whispered 'ah,' hands on the back of the chair, monkey with hands on a table, lifting a chair, and other procedures. Several segments feature detailed considerations of the spine, length and width, head balance and width of stance.

Most of the material features Walter, but one section features Dilys guiding two trainees in the early stages of learning to take pupils in and out of the chair - a wonderful demonstration of the methods she developed for the first year of teacher training. She uses hands and words to help them stay clear and present with their directions, always 'checking round' for their length, width, and freedom of limbs. I was vividly reminded of visiting the school many years ago, shadowing Dilys as she deftly ushered her charges through table procedures and reveling in the quiet energy and focus.

Walter and Dilys developed many 'games' for teaching procedures and hands-on skills. Walter describes learning to guide a pupil in chairwork as 'a learning game, with meticulous rules, to be exactly observed, which gives useful experiences of total elasticity, which one wants in all teaching.' The trainee puts hands on a 'human chair,' attending only to her own use, free of responsibility for her partner. Walter provides the power required to take a subject in and out of the chair at this stage so that at this stage the trainee need only attend to her own use.

'When I ask you to stand, don't. First, consider the direction of the movement in space, not straight forward, not straight up. Next: How to get moving. Most tighten and push. We want to release and begin to fall, in order to move. Then to fall forward and up. Stop, think of the direction in space, fall up.'

As he talks, Walter's hands continuously bring about fuller and livelier movement of the breath and length through the torso. The power of Walter's hands is evident in the response of students and teachers, as they spring upward and expand in volume, ribcages moving ever more elastically. As he works, he explains what he is doing, the principles involved, what teachers are likely to encounter, and what they need to bring about in themselves and in their pupils. Walter's articulate, kind, measured, manner of speaking is highly conducive to better understanding, as it seems to create the same expanded quality of time and space that his hands convey. Here are a few more notes and splendid quotes from the 4+ hours of material.

'We need as much thoracic capacity as possible, thus the need to go up and free the ribs. Constant upward energy promotes widening, then contracting, then widening of the rib cage. Length keeps the wheel of the breath turning. If we pull down or pull up, the ribs fix and we narrow. The teacher must watch to see what effect lengthening has on the ribcage, then encourage more excursion of the ribs, while making sure the student doesn't shorten.'

'If I'm in balance, I can put my hands anywhere and feel if the pupil is fixed or free, going up or pulling down. It's like putting your hand on an escalator rail and noticing what pace it's going relative to you.'

Table work: 'Not for a rest, but for sorting one's self out. One is active in one's mind.'

'The quickest, easiest way to restore length and width.' Enough books are required under the head to 'create an elastic connection of the head to the pelvis,' which he ascertains by lifting the head, then choosing the height of books that will encourage that same elastic connection. 'Gravity does the main work of straightening out and untwisting the body, getting it into better shape.'

Whispered 'ah': 'Breathing out with the least interference with the throat and vocal mechanism, via a controlled exhale.' Walter places great emphasis on not taking the breath (with the usual habitual interference that ensues) but on directing to encourage one's full volume, which takes the breath for you. He precisely describes and demonstrates the sound desired, the exact movement of the jaw and placement of the tongue, the scooping trajectory of the floating ribs that naturally occurs with good coordination, and he shows where he puts his hands on 'normal' pupils while they practice the whispered 'ah.'

I have only brushed the surface of the depth contained in these two DVDs, which merit multiple viewings. This is a rich record of the wisdom and skill of two of our finest teachers.


2017 © Tully Hall ( Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2017. All rights reserved.