Seeing the Quality of Coordination
Recently, I encountered once again what seems to me to be a mistaken belief that it is not possible to see the quality of coordination in how someone speaks and moves and thinks as they teach the Alexander Technique. It reminded me that not all of the many ways and styles of learning to teach this work include the development of observation skills. Which is ok – as I hope it is ok that that is a skill that I have honed and continue to develop for myself and to teach others.
I thought of the performances in sports and the arts that I have seen in which the quality of the head/spine relationship was very clearly visible; performances in which the coordination is very clearly serving the movement of the joints; performances in which whole self coordination serves brilliant expression. I thought of many examples, and link here to one of many I could offer and chose this 1998 ice skating performance by Michelle Kwan. Even in this not very good quality link, the quality of her coordination, including her head/spine relationship is very clear and very describable.
I thought of how I teach even beginning groups to start seeing movement changes and hearing sound changes from their first lessons. From the beginning class asking them what they see in others.
Sometimes I have beginners reach for something, watching their hands as they reach. Then ask them to “scrunch up a bit”, interfering with their head/spine relationships and do the same movement, then describe to me what they see has changed in reaching of the hand. And they can see it and usually can describe it. While my primary purpose when I do this is to demonstrate the importance of the head/spine relationship in vertebrate coordination, it does also start to teach them how to observe movement.
As I learned to teach, I was asked to develop was the ability to describe accurately what I saw in the quality of my student’s movement. This process gathered the specific information to accurately use all my teaching tools, including the use of my hands, specifically in relationship to the student I was with. And, when I did begin to use my hands as part of the teaching process, my instruction was to “look at your hands as you move them to your student.” Part of the explanation for that was that if I saw my hands tightening on the way to my student, I could renew my coordination as I continued to move my hands to my student. I noticed that if I was watching my hands, I also saw my student – what a good idea!
As I always do when I am teaching someone to teach, I recently coached someone with the same instruction – watch your hands – and even though I have experienced and seen how useful this is many times, was still delighted (as was she) in its effect in the quality of how she was coordinating to teach.
(Of course, all of the senses – the omnisensory universe of my whole self– are involved in teaching – visual observation is my focus here.)
Although it isn’t the primary way that I teach, I do have students who take Skype lessons with me, or who have send me recordings of something they have done. Some teachers have sent me recordings of their lessons to get feedback on their teaching. All but one of these students are people that I have taught in person and have some information about the Alexander Technique. In those lessons, the observation skills that I have developed are vital. When I can describe to someone what I see, they can use the Alexander Technique to experiment and then I can describe the results of their experiment to them. Which usually creates another experiment ….and so on. There is usually a bit of fun in organizing the computer so that I can see what I need to see – and sometimes need to view from multiple angles. But it works.
(Incidentally, the one person who I hadn’t taught before was a beginner who was hurting from how she played the cello. Even though we weren’t in the same time/space, the process I guided her in – via Skype - was enough to stop the pain. There was no Alexander Technique teacher in her area so this was her only means of getting the information.)
I wouldn’t expect someone whose Alexander Technique practice doesn’t include observation in the way that I have described to want to teach via Skype or Video. And, while, I prefer to have real time/real space interactions, I am grateful to have this tool in my toolkit. And I continue to develop it. That’s why I watch people who do things well who don’t necessarily know the Alexander Technique - like Michelle Kwan – I want to keep growing my understanding of what works in human coordination