In a recent interview for the Daily Telegraph, John Cleese reveals his "secret ritual" for preparing to perform: the same "constructive rest" Alexander Technique procedure I teach all my students.
“I lie on the floor with a book under my head, my knees up and my feet flat on the floor, very, very quiet for about half an hour.” ... “If I do that then I always go on stage feeling good. It is one of the reasons I am not terribly keen on having people visiting me before the show, I like that period of absolute quiet to get completely relaxed. Then when I go on stage I am going to be much funnier if I’m relaxed than if I’m still a bit wound up.”
Another fine actor uses the Alexander Technique to discover how his character should move.
Jonathan Tucker, on preparing for his role of Boon in the final season of Justified:
To take on the role of Boon, Tucker used the Alexander Technique, which puts a premium on the physical aspects of a character. “It puts you into a physical place from which the rest of your choices are informed,” he says. “Everybody walks differently and talks differently. It’s important to incorporate that. Teaching actors how to find their neutral spine allows them to make choices from there.” http://www.ew.com/article/2015/12/10/jonathan-tucker-kingdom-hannibal-roles
Today my thoughts go to Warren Ebel, Steven Schumacher, Brian Maugh, Kevin Kehoe, and Kevin Oldham, all dearly loved by me and all dead from AIDS. They all died before the medical breakthrough in 1996 that now allows people to live a normal life with HIV and not fear the horrible deaths caused by AIDS. And now you can even prevent yourself from getting infected by a simple pill taken every day. I urge all who are HIV negative to ask your doctor about PrEP. It can keep you safe in ways condoms cannot. http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html
RIP Warren, Steven, Brian, Kevin and Kevin. I still miss you and always will.
The results of a new study on chronic neck pain (more than 3 months) has just been published. The short version: both Alexander Technique and acupuncture decreased pain by about 30% even after 1 year, which is significantly better than standard medical care which included prescription pain medication, doctors visits and physical therapy. The subjects who took lessons in Alexander Technique took on average only 14 lessons, less than the recommended 20.
The full study is published at the Annals of Internal Medicine from the American College of Physicians but is protected by a paywall: http://ift.tt/1WvLtXf
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My recent trip to the reunion of the Frankfurt Ballet reminded me just how much I love working with dancers, musicians and other performing artists. I have therefore decided to offer students and young professionals a chance to study with me at a very low price of just €25 for a full, 30 minute lesson.
At the bottom you will see some tips from “the experts”. Approach these with caution! Sitting on a large ball as recommended is no guarantee that you will not slump and slouch into the same habitual position as in a chair. And the benefit of any exercise is completely dependent on how you do it, but there are no instructions provided regarding the how, nor are there any warnings regarding the possible hazards of doing them in a harmful way.
Instructions for how to do exercises are frequently incomplete in that they just assume if you are told what to do, you will know how to do it in a healthy, coordinated way. That is really just magical thinking and not at all true. For example, very few people will be able to perform a hip flexor stretch as shown in the article in a way that maintains the easy balance of the torso. While stretching the flexors of the right hip they will unconsciously pull down the left side of the torso, resulting in a tightening of the hip flexors of the left leg. This is like taking one step forward and one step back, resulting in getting nowhere fast!
It is of course possible to do all the exercises shown in a manner that is not counterproductive. But if you can do that, you probably do not sit in such a counterproductive manner that you need to do the exercises in the first place. Want proof? Book a lesson with me and I’ll show you. It’s easier in the long run to prevent the bad sitting than it is to repair the damage it does.
The Swimming Blog at the Guardian has posted a video of how to swim using the Shaw Method, a very well thought out application of the Alexander Technique developed by Steven Shaw. Watching him swim with such ease makes you want to jump right in and glide.
Back pain can affect anyone of any age, even young dancers!
A young dancer who attended an introductory workshop of mine is writing his thesis on the subject of low back problems amongst dancers. As part of his research he sent me the following 5 questions:
Can you describe what the Alexander technique is in approximately 100 words?
The Alexander Technique is a systematic approach to organizing and improving one’s proprioception in order to gain more conscious control of habitual thoughts and behaviors that interfere with health, balance, well-being and performance. It is based on the discoveries of F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) regarding the use of the head and neck in relation to the trunk and its effect on overall coordination and functioning. It is usually learned with the hands-on guidance of a teacher, although its basic principles can be effectively communicated in a group setting.
What is your opinion, thinking from the Alexander Technique, on the cause of low back problems with dancers?
I would say that almost all low back problems are the result of faulty habits in one’s postural behavior, and that there is no fundamental difference between dancers and non-dancers in that regard. Common to most low back pain sufferers is the habit of habitually hyper extending the knees, thus causing more strain on the low back. If a dancer uses too much effort to obtain “stretched knees”, combined with too much effort to “pull up”, then the result will be a shortened, narrowed back with increased pressure on the lumbar spine, a hollow back and ribs that are pushed forward. The dancer then tries to correct all this by increasing tension throughout the abdominals and intercostals, thus adding yet more pressure and stiffness to the trunk. This tendency to do more (tighten this, hold that, strengthen this) rather than do less (stop distorting yourself) is a very strong contributing factor to low back problems.
Another common source of low back pain is using the lumbar spine as a bending joint rather than using the hip joints, which are considerably lower. This habit results in the feeling that the legs begin at the top of the pelvis, rather than below the pelvis, and so causes excess strain on the low back in all movements involving the legs. Many dancers first get this mistaken idea from a dance teacher who tells them to “feel as if your legs begin in the middle of your back”, or similar. These types of instructions in which the teacher asks the student to “try to feel something like” are almost always anatomically incorrect and can therefore lead to rather severe distortions of healthy coordination.
What can the Alexander technique generally do for dancers with low back problems?
The Alexander Technique works first to release unnecessary tension in order to free the postural reflexes to a more neutral state. From this neutral state the student then learns a new and easier way to initiate movement using conscious direction rather than habit or imitation. It is in the initial undoing process that most people stop experiencing pain.
How would you treat a dancer that has low back problems?
I don’t treat dancers differently just because they are dancers. Nor do I treat those with back problems very differently from someone with, say, neck pain or RSI. I first work with a student to notice how they tense the neck unconsciously when initiating movement, even though that tension is not necessary and often hinders the desired movement. Changing this use of the neck in relation to the head and back is recognized in the Alexander Technique as a fundamental misuse. As the head-neck-back relationship improves, all types of problems are resolved automatically, including low back problems in most cases. If a student is in severe pain, I will focus lessons more on how to perform daily movements in an easier way.
What advice would you give a dancer to prevent low back problems?
Learn to stop tensing your neck so that you can stop shortening and narrowing your back so that you can stop hyper extending your knees so that you can stop pressing down. That is easier said than done, but it really is that simple.
To all musicians, take heed: if you look more involved and passionate while playing, you will be judged to sound better also!
Classical music competitions pit performers against each other. Obviously, the most important criterion for judges is sound. But that assumption needs a new…hearing. Because a player’s passion may be the best predictor of victory.
In a new study, nearly 200 novices had to choose the winners of 10 classical music competitions. Some heard a music clip of the top three performances. Others saw a video with sound. Still others watched a silent video. And the participants were more likely to choose the winner if they watched the silent video, in all 10 of the competitions.
Then professional musicians gave it a try. These judges also only reliably selected the winners from the silent video. Musicians selected the winner more frequently even when all they saw was an outline of the motion of the performers.
The researchers say the findings show that novices and experts make quick judgments about musical performances based on visual cues conveying involvement and passion. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Chia-Jung Tsay, Sight over sound in the judgment of music]
So what does this have to do with the Alexander Technique? If you are tensed and pulled down while playing an instrument, you look tensed and pulled down, which is a far cry from looking involved and passionate. As anyone who has attended a group class in Alexander Technique will have noticed, people look better and more expressive, more involved and more passionate, when they free their necks and lengthen upwards.