This Graceful, Practical Generosity Toward The Possible
In Honor of All Those Doing Their Best to
Train Future Generations of Alexander Teachers
Aszure Barton and Mikhail Baryshnikov – The Contemporary meets the Classical
Diversity Within Unity
“…The orthodox presume to know, whereas the marginal person is trying to find out.
…To accommodate the margin within the form, to allow the wilderness to thrive in domesticity, to accommodate diversity within unity – this graceful, practical generosity toward the possible and the unexpected… offers reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between rigidity and revolt.”
Wendell Berry from The Unsettling of America
The last paragraph is so beautiful and, I sense, so relevant to our Alexander community at large if we are ever to survive and thrive in society. I have to quote it again.
“…To accommodate the margin within the form, to allow the wilderness to thrive in domesticity, to accommodate diversity within unity – this graceful, practical generosity toward the possible and the unexpected… offers reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between… rigidity and revolt.”
Our Moment of Opportunity
This may be our “critical moment”. That term sometimes makes my students nervous. I choose more often to use the term, which I learned from Meade Andrews, “the moment of opportunity”.
There is no reason to be nervous. There is every reason to be positive and excited about this moment of opportunity now offered to us. Do we have the courage to embrace change, to let go into the unfamiliar, to open up and welcome the unknown, to try something new?
If we are to survive and thrive into the future I believe we need four radically different training structures. Right now we have one training structure that began in 1932 in England. It is still a good and worthy training structure for some trainers, in some countries. For people who wish to become Alexander teachers, this training structure is, for some, possible and wonderful. For others it is simply impossible. What happens to these people who want to become Alexander teachers but can’t due to the limited number of training structures that we as a community offer? Chances are they give up their dream and pursue another one, or perhaps they find a related discipline, like the Feldenkrais Method, which has flexible training models, and more likely one they can do. We then, as a community, lose a person who might have become a great Alexander teacher. I don’t want to even imagine how many great Alexander teachers we have lost over the last 50 years.
Another Time Tested Training Structure
There is another time tested structure of training that also has withstood the test of time, 36 years, that some people know of, but few know in detail, some not at all, and sadly some who harbor untrue ideas about this training structure that has, for a long time, been bringing about many accomplished Alexander teachers. Martha Hansen Fertman and I began experimenting with this model in 1982 in Philadelphia. At the same time, for some 13 years, we ran a parallel weekday structured program and so were able to conduct a longitudinal study, (the only one I know of), as to the pros and cons of these two training structures.
This model, which I refer to as a Retreat model of training, has evolved over the years. It’s gotten better. Here is its current form and the one we use to train teachers at the Alexander Alliance Germany.
In October, March, and July we conduct 9-day retreats.
(165 hours per year).
In between we conduct 3-day weekend retreats.
(90 hours per year).
In April we conduct a 4-day retreat.
(28 hours per year).
Twice a month there is a study group where trainees meet and work with graduates.This right now is a pilot study and so is optional, but most are participating, and so may soon be required. Those not near a group have formed a Skype group. This is important work, not only for the trainees but for our graduates as well because for our graduates it is post graduate training.
(40 hours per year).
Every trainee has a Personal Project that must be presented prior to graduation. (To be honest, I am not sure how much time trainees put into their projects. It varies. This is my guess as to the average number of hours.)
(20 hours per year).
Trainees are required to attend at least one intro workshop a year, and when ready to assist at one workshop a year. For us we consider being able to give an introductory workshop an Alexandrian Procedure!
(12 hours per year.)
Trainees attend a 5th year intern retreat. Here graduates assist a training retreat as supporting teachers.
(55 hours in the 5th year.)
Trainees attend at least one Alexander Alliance International Retreat in another country other than their own. This is optional but almost everyone does this at least once, and some do this every year. We are an intergeneration, multi-cultural, international community/school, so visiting other Alliance schools is part of who we are.
Of course, everyday trainees are expected to work on their own self-study etudes, given to them by the faculty to explore. We find that trainees have to learn how to study on their own, and so we help them learn how to do this.
This comes to 355 hours of training per year. Adding the 55 hour intern retreat in the 5th year of their training, plus one 55 hour Alexander Alliance International Retreat outside their home country brings the total number of training hours to 1530 hours over a 4+ year period of training.
The Retreat model of training is a great model of training for numerous reasons.
*It gives people for whom a Weekday training model is simply impossible, people who very much love the work and wish to become teachers, a way to become an Alexander teacher.
But there is much, much more as to why people love this model of training.
*We rent a gorgeous retreat center with great food and accommodations and beautiful teaching spaces.
*Everyone gets to leave home and stop working and enter a, I dare say, sacred time when, morning till night their mind, heart, body and soul are devoted to studying Alexander’s work among friends in a nurturing environment.
*A climate of festivity and contemplation fills the air. There is time to be together in fellowship and time for solitude as well, which is so essential for internalizing the work.
*Graduates are welcome to join us free of charge. They become, essentially, lifetime members of our community/school. Some graduates have been returning to the school for over 20 years. This builds community, helps the trainees tremendously, and of course helps our graduates to become the best teachers they can be.
When Martha and I began this training structure we had no idea if it would work. But our intuition told us it would, and we were right. Because we were long-term apprentices of Marjorie Barstow we did not feel obliged to adhere to any particular model of training and felt free, as the educators we were, and are, to experiment. Martha had her Doctorate of Education and I had my Masters of Education and both of us had begun teaching movement when we were eleven years old.
Society has deemed this model worthy and effective and has endorsed it by keeping it alive and healthy for 36 years. We were able to train numerous music, theatre, and dance professors who, without our Retreat training model, would never have become Alexander teachers. Many of them have gone on to be of service to the Alexander community at large, both as members of STAT, ATI, and as organizers of and teachers for our international congresses.
My experience tells me it is possible to design and implement a Retreat model training program that is extensive, intensive, joyful, and effective. This model may be better for certain training directors and/or may work better in certain countries, under certain conditions. It works perfectly in Germany because of Germany’s enlightened extensive paid vacation program.
A Flexible Formula
There is a third model of training that, as yet, has not been tried, and I sense must be if we are to allow more people to become Alexander teachers. (It is one option for Robyn Avalon’s trainees). I call it the Immersion model. The Feldenkrais community has been very successful in finding flexible yet substantial training structures that allow people with varying life/work styles to train. Their flexible training structure also can adapt to different countries, to different social, cultural and economic conditions. They are far, far more successful than we have been in sharing their work with society. Here is their flexible formula:
“All training programs must have a minimum of 800 hours/40 days per year, 160 days over at least 36 months. Programs follow different formats ranging from weekend formats; to 4 two week segments a year; to 2 one month segments a year; to 40 days in a row. These are just some examples of formats.”
Here you can see they have both a Retreat model and an Immersion model. Of course our training is essentially twice as long. Still, we would do well to experiment with models such as these and see if they can work for us.
How will we ever know if we don’t try? What is the worst that can happen? We fail and learn? Is that so terrible? And what happens if it works?
“You can’t do something you don’t know, if you keep on doing what you do know.”
Who said that? Einstein? Oh yes, I remember now, it was a guy by the name of F.M. Alexander! This was Einstein:
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Let’s take Alexander’s and Einstein’s advice. Let’s begin thinking differently and do something we’ve never done before.
My training with Marjorie Barstow was an amalgamation of all of these models of training, plus one more, and for me, the most important one of all.
Marj’s month long summer events was an Immersion event. Four weeks, 6 days a week, 6 hours a day. For me it was 5 weeks because for many years I directed Marj’s summer events and had to arrive early to open up, and stay on to close up. This before and after time was an essential part of my training and I will say more about this soon. Marj’s winter events in Lincoln were 14 days long and would be what I would call a Retreat event.
When Marjorie came East for two weeks every Fall and Spring I would study with her and assist her up and down the east coast. Something almost magical happened in this time. I was not only studying, not only practicing, not only training. It was more than this. It was a living of the work through being with, through modeling, through absorption. It was what the Buddhists refer to as transmission.
This transmission happened during the times when Marj and I traveled together, in cars, in trains, in planes, when we took walks in Penns Woods in Philadelphia, or played horseshoes on her ranch, or when we went out for ice cream after a long weekend of teaching in Boston. So many meals together, so many discussions and lots of time just spent sitting quietly together. The best discussions took place after a workshop where I’d be there assisting her, after working in Washington D.C. with the National Symphony, with a junior high school choir, with a track team or sculling team, with theatre majors. Without notice individual lessons spontaneously arose when Marj was having trouble explaining something to me and felt the need to use her hands so that I could experience what she meant.
This is what I call the Apprenticeship model. Because of times like these, over many years, I simply internalized Marj. She lived within me, and she still does.
These are hours that cannot be counted. They are uncountable. Not all hours are equal. There is objective time and subjective time. Each hour of our lives has not the same duration. Some hours fly by unnoticed and unlived. Some hours last forever, and change our lives forever. Some hours are brief eternities. They cannot be measured or calculated, but they can be cherished.
Not Marjorie Barstow, but Marjory Barlow in An Examined Life writes, “… I do think the apprenticeship method of training has a lot going for it. After all, some of the greatest teachers learned that way …I have a preference for apprenticeship, and I would love to see it supported wherever possible…the problem isn’t the exact number of years and hours. It’s the quality of the trainers’ experience and devotion to the Technique, and the selection of trainees…”
I am not sure but I suspect that those of us who teach through classical procedures may find that our weekday model of training works best, and maybe not. We will never know unless we experiment.
And perhaps those of us who train through contemporary procedures may find that Retreat, Immersion and Apprenticeship models work better, and maybe not. We will never know unless we experiment.
More and more of our teacher training programs are combining and integrating classical and contemporary procedures. It’s a bit like dance. There are classical ballet dancers who dance beautifully within their chosen style. And then there are contemporary dancers who dance beautifully through their chosen forms. Different forms appeal to different people, and people of different ages, and people from different cultures. And then there are many dancers who are trained in numerous styles and who integrate them beautifully. Think of Mikhail Baryshnikov who danced with American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet, but also with Twyla Tharp, Aszure Barton, and Gregory Hines.
Mikhail Baryshnikov and Twyla Tharp – The Classical meets the Contemporary
The truth we need to embrace, as a community, is that a great dancer is a great dancer no matter their form, and a great Alexander teacher is a great Alexander teacher, no matter their form. Being an Alexander teacher is an art, and art changes and expresses itself differently over time and across cultures.
And so should we.
“… this graceful, practical generosity toward the possible and the unexpected… offers reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between… rigidity and revolt.”
This could be our moment of opportunity as a community at large, when the classical meets the contemporary. Do we have the courage to seize the moment, to embrace change, to let go into the unfamiliar, to open up and welcome the unknown, to try something new?
Watch Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines in White Nights. If they can do it, maybe we can too.