By Glenna Batson, PT, MA (Dance)
Dance is a performing art built upon the ebb and flow of muscular tension. Through muscular tension, dancers express their aesthetic sensibilities. The word “dance,” in fact, stems from the Old High German “danson,” meaning to stretch, and from the earlier Sanskrit root “tan,” meaning tension. The building and resolution of tensions we experience in performance touches us deeply — kinesthetically, emotionally, and spiritually. At the heart of a dancer’s training lies the cultivation of muscular effort – its degree, sensibility, precision, refinement. Although dancers train their bodies in many ways, the cornerstone is technique. Dancers would be hard pressed, however, to come up with one succinct phrase that adequately defines technique. Returning the the dictionary, the word technique simply means the “manner and ability with which we pursue a particular endeavor.” What is the “manner and ability” needed to dance?
Traditionally, various dance techniques have evolved out of the stylistic (muscular effort) preferences of their inventors — the “Vaganova” technique, after the famous ballerina Agippa Vaganova, the “Graham” technique, after modern dance pioneer Martha Graham, and so forth. Ideally, the dancer’s training goes beyond attempts to mold the dancer to a certain style or set of neuromuscular patterns. Instead of simply looking “right” or doing the movement “correctly,” the dancer learns to move from an embodied source — fully receptive and responsive to the moment of movement. Such training frees the dancer from rigid holding patterns or other constraints that bind thought, feeling, and action. The emergence of somatic approaches and “release” techniques, and their incorporation into dance training supports the trend toward finding more free, autonomous ways of moving.
Many artists – actors, musicians, as well as dancers – have found the Alexander Technique to be a powerful way to enhance performance. Aficionados say that the Alexander Technique is “the technique under all techniques,” because it is a process of embodied thinking, sensing, and acting. Through studying the Alexander Technique, dancers can move with greater ease, poise, and accomplishment, regardless of the movement style.
The Technique involves three pivotal arms of training coordination developed by F.M. Alexander: the “Means-Whereby,” “Inhibition,” and”Direction.” The Means-Whereby helps dancers pay attention to their whole Self as they are moving. By paying attention to how you are moving — as you move — process takes precedence over product. The process of learning or performing movement becomes more important than the goal. Movement becomes freer when dancers focus on sensing the changing relationships of the moving body, not just on positions or steps.
Inhibition is F.M. Alexander’s term for a process that facilitates effortless, natural movement. By using inhibition, dancers learn to recognize habitual, unembodied movements and to choose not to do them. Habitual tensions leave anyone with a paucity of body relationships and movement options — the scourge of the dancer. Using the Alexander process of Inhibition, a dancer can pay exquisite attention to the moving Self without interfering with the inherent laws of coordination. Inhibition further affords the dancer a means of refreshing their kinesthetic sense which may have been diminished from the fatigue of hours of rehearsal.
Direction is that final phase of Alexander Technique training that enables the dancer to be fully, outwardly expressive. Dancers know direction intimately by their body architecture, their deep kinesthetic appreciation of internal directions of movement, and their orientation and connection to space as a potent medium in which to dance.
If the Means-Whereby awakens a kinesthetic impulse, and Inhibition further primes it for action — Direction gives it somewhere to go. Direction completes the full complement of the dancer’s training, enabling dancers to carry out their intended movements clearly.
There are many courses in the Alexander Technique currently being offered in theatre and dance departments, both nationally and internationally. The following are Dance Programs (U.S. only, listed alphabetically) in which the principles of the Alexander Technique are highly featured in the pedagogical method, or the Technique is an integral part of the degree requirements:
Boston Conservatory Music and Dance
8 The Fenway
Boston, MA 022215
(617)536-6340, Ext 9137
Teachers: Julie Ince Thompson and Jennifer Scanlon
College -Conservatory of Music
Dance Division (B.F.A., ballet emphasis)
University of Cincinnati
PO Box 21003
Cincinnati, Ohio 45221-0003
Teacher: Shellie Cash-Muller(modern dance technique)
Department of Theatre and Dance
University of Colorado, Box 261
Boulder, CO 80309
(MFA program with Alexander Technique emphasis)
Director: Nada Diachenko
Department of Dance and Theatre
Ithaca, NY 14850
Teacher: Eugenia Wacker-Hoeflin
Department of Dance
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
907 1/2 West Nevada
Urbana, IL 61801
Teacher: Rebecca Nettl-Fiol
University of Wisconsin
Eau Clarie, WI 54701
Teacher: Toni Poll Sorenson
References Written About Dance By and For Teachers of the Alexander Technique:
Andrews M (1985): The Alexander Technique: Revitalizing the dancer’s self-image. The Alexandrian. 4(2).
Batson G (1990):Dancing fully, safely, and expressively — the role of the body therapies in dance training. Journal Phys Ed Recreation and Dance (JOPERD) 61(9):28-31.
Batson G (1993):The role of somatic education in dance medicine and rehabilitation. North Carolina Medical Journal 54(2):74-78.
Batson G (1993):Stretching technique:A somatic learning model. Part I: Training sensory responsively. Impulse 1:126-140.
Batson G (1994):Stretching technique: A somatic learning model. Part II:Training purposively. Impulse 2:39-58.
Blumenthal A (1996):Before you leap. In, Curiosity Recaptured:Exploring Ways We Think and Move, Ed Sontag J. San Francisco:Mornum Time Press.
Direction, A journal of the Alexander Technique, Moving Issue (all on dance), 1(10).
Caplan D (1985):The Alexander Technique, the use of conscious control in the prevention and treatment of dance injuries. Contact Quarterly 10(3):31-32.
Charlip R (1986):Now thyself — here’s looking at you. Contact Quarterly 11(1):23-34.
Crow A (1985): Interview with Eva Karczag — two Alexander teachers talk.
Contact Quarterly 10(3):33-38.
Fortin S (1993):When dance science and somatics enter the dance technique class. Kinesiology and Medicine for Dance 15(2):88-107.
Oliver SK (1993):Lower back injuries in dancers and the Alexander Technique. Kinesiology and Medicine for Dance 15(2):65-87.
Richmond P (1994):The Alexander Technique and dance training. Impulse 2:24-38.