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Quote of the Week 4/30/12

by Ellen on April 30th, 2012

“As for positions, everyone knows that there are five of them…I shall simply say that these positions are good to know, and still better to forget, and that it is the art of the great dancer to neglect them gracefully.” ~Jean-Georges Noverre, Letters on Dancing and Ballets

I love this quote on the five basic positions of ballet. I first encountered this quote in Becky Nettl-Fiol and Luc Vanier’s book Dance and the Alexander Technique: Exploring the Missing Link. Noverre’s claim that these positions are better forgotten than known ties in closely with Alexander’s work in a very practical sense. During an Alexander lesson, much time is spent with the student sitting in a chair, poised over his sits-bones with the backs of the hands resting on the thighs. It can be tempting, having experienced how wonderfully the body moves in this state, to feel compelled to maintain it constantly. One can start to feel guilty about “not using my Alexander” and attempt to correct it by sitting in exactly that orientation at all times. The hands must be palms up, the weight must be over the sits-bones, the head must be straight front. But in reality, these feelings of guilt and duty are self-defeating; the end result is a whole self that is much more fixed and tense than before, but in a different way. This phenomenon is known in some teacher circles as “The Alexandroid.”

The skill and art of the Alexander Technique comes in first learning good use, then forgetting it, and then being able, as Noverre so deftly puts it, to neglect it gracefully. Sure, you can rest your back against the chair! Go on and turn your head to look at the person who’s speaking to you! Cross your legs under the dinner table. Heck, you can even curl up on the couch with a good book (and your feet twisted up under you) if you feel like it. It’s all about how and when you choose to neglect the positions that your lessons have taught you. Because at its heart the Technique is about movement, not position. It’s about a dynamic relationship between the various parts of your organism, one that moves and shifts as you do. Just as a ballet dancer eventually begins to toss aside her fifths and fourths in the middle of the big duet, and a martial arts master stops worrying about his stances in the heat of battle, we can all learn to gracefully neglect our positioning with a positive attitude, and be better and happier for it.

Forward and Up! is a Pittsburgh-based private practice offering quality instruction in the Alexander Technique in a positive and supportive environment.

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