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The Four Questions


One. Why is this night different from all other nights?

No, no, not the four Passover questions, the four Alexander questions.

Here are my Alexander questions for the Alexander community.

If we all know Alexander’s work is not about getting in and out of a chair, if we all know it’s primarily about how we react to stimuli from within and without, then why do we, as a community, do so much getting people in and out of chairs? (1) Stimuli from within are thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Sometimes tough thoughts, self deprecating thoughts, or judgmental thoughts, emotions like anger and fear, sensations like pain. Stimuli from without is stuff like, an audience that you are about to perform for, or five black belt aikidoists who are poised to simultaneously attack you, or a cranky boss, or your computer crashing, or a kid that won’t stop crying, etc. Aren’t there more direct, fun, practical, and effective ways to work with how we react to stimuli from within and without besides endlessly getting someone in and out of a chair?

We all know that Alexander would not be crazy about how much we, as a community, spend our time working with students lying down on a table, but we are doing it anyway. Why is that? (2)

And we know that Alexander’s work is not about movement for movement’s sake yet, as a community, we have been quite focused on how we move. Once my mentor, Buzz Gummere, a man who trained with F.M and A.R., with Marj Barstow, and with Frank Pierce Jones, told me I had become a great movement teacher, and then he asked me a pointed question, which was his job as my mentor, “But Bruce, does that make you a great Alexander teacher?” That question haunted me for many years, which was Buzz’s intention I am sure. So why are we so preoccupied with how we move? (3)

Now, I am not saying all this is wrong. Things change, and thank God. And I have been alive long enough to know that I usually really need that which I most resist, so some really good table work and chair work is probably exactly what I need now. Really.

The fourth question. This one is the big one for me.

Sometimes I get Alexander teachers coming to me for lessons. That’s an honor. I notice that many of them move self-consciously. They sit down perfectly, in the prescribed manner, and something in me cringes. I tell them straight away that I never watch a person get in and out of a chair, so not to worry. Usually they look at me wide eyed, and then laugh out loud. I can’t always do it, but if I’m lucky I can sometimes get an Alexander teacher out of this trap. If I can get it across to them that our job is to free ourselves, and that it is our bodies job, via increasingly accurate, reliable, and refined kinesthesia, to figure out how to move itself around comfortably and enjoyably, and spontaneously, without over deliberation, then something shiftsI tell them it is not our job to choreograph our movement life down to a tee, no matter how precisely and perfectly we can do it. A three year old kid with a healthy, conventional nervous system, moves so well and so spontaneously and so unselfconsciously, and that’s why it’s such a joy to watch them.

So my last question is, how do we learn to move, and more importantly, live consciously but not self-consciously? How do we occupy ourselves without becoming preoccupied with ourselves? (4)

Thanks for taking the time to think about these questions with me.


6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kyle #

    Thanks for these questions, Bruce. I felt like there were answers to these questions the first time I read this blog. And there are answers, but it seems like it has helped me to just ask myself these questions. The real answers seem to be forming on their own. Cool.

    March 13, 2014
  2. constanceclarenewman #

    “consciously but not self-consciously” This is something I’ve been working with especially with the young actors I teach in groups. They could care less about how they sit in a chair, but are fascinated with learning how to respond less habitually, how to connect with their fellow actors while staying present to self. It has been a continual decade-long journey for me to come up with real-time practices that give them opportunities to explore these things during class time. The more I give my private students similar practices, the happier I am with how I am teaching too.

    March 5, 2014
    • my first real job as an alexander teacher was teaching for the Rutgers and Temple University Theater Departments. Having actors for students really keeps you honest. you can’t slip into this postural place because acting just doesn’t live there. for them it really is about openness and readiness, responsiveness. might be good to share some of your real-time studies. i’d be interested. thanks.

      March 5, 2014
  3. Thomas Baird #

    This is fantastic! Now I’m thinking about how I would conduct my group class for dancers if there were no chairs. Yes! The very chairs I fought so hard to procure!! Thank you!

    March 5, 2014
    • the first time i taught in japan I found myself at a buddhist temple in a tatami mat room with no chairs. good luck in your alexander improvisation.

      March 5, 2014
  4. Bruce, I am just sitting here with a massive smile from ear to ear! I SO agree with you. I use a chair and table quite often, but less and less as time goes on, and the chair only as a place to start (as we meet each other), but always within the context of real life, and sometimes, if working away, for ease of space available as an ‘everyday stimulus’. I feel the pull of the student to want the chair, if they have read/seen anything about the AT! A stimulus for me to learn from! And, of course, they love the table, but I tells ’em it aint really the core of the AT, it’s just plain old nice! Sometimes, however, it is the one place where something can finally let go, or mostly integrate, but I voice this with them every step of the way.

    So, (1) is, plain old habit – ooops! (2) is, only when it really speaks to me to do so. (10 minutes yesterday just ‘mopped up’ the big changes and discoveries of a student’s work before it – it worked.) (3) is, I’m not! I have l-o-n-g been more preoccupied with how we are in that nanosecond age between an ‘intention to’ and ‘the moment of beginning’ – whether a movement, thought, or belief. (4) is, much pondering here for the words, and I find just one just now, witnessing….

    Thank you for such wise and illuminating questions – I’ve enjoyed the last 10 minutes hugely!

    March 5, 2014

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