The Vault

Movement and Voice Improvisation

By Mary Cerny


How do you write about a voice and movement improvisation class? By its very nature it is as experiential as a lesson in the Alexander Technique and as personal. The class I gave at the 1988 Brighton Congress was certainly an explosion of energy. When I think back on it today, I remember my surprise and delight at the willingness and ability of the participants to work beyond their habit patterns. At the end of the session, some of the people wanted me to speak about the philosophy behind the work. I couldn't at the time—I was too stunned by the result of offering to Alexander teachers the possibility of coming into themselves in this way—so I would like to take this opportunity to write about it.

I came to the Alexander Technique as a professional modern dancer with an increasingly tense back that was gradually becoming prone to injury. I joined a teacher training course initially as 'advance dance training,' believing that all movement learning, just as in infancy, progresses from the gross to the subtle—and the Alexander Technique provided a unique means to continue the process, infinitely releasing habits into greater freedom of movement.

Ten years on I have worked in many different ways with the Technique and movement with dancers, dance companies and ordinary people. The question that still most intrigues me is the simplest and most basic—how to help restore wholeness to people who are brought up to separate the mind from the body?

If you watch the development of a child from babe to adulthood, you see a whole being gradually splitting in two, culminating eventually in one part, the mind, dominating the other, the body. A babe reflects immediately through movement and sound its internal and external environment. As the mind develops and the process of socialisation progresses, we are weaned from this union, or perhaps divorced is a more apt description.

In our society the mind and the intellect are the aspects of ourselves that are valued, nurtured and supported at the expense of the body, and ultimately at the expense of the whole. We are taught to ignore pain, to withhold all but acceptable sounds, to override postural reflections of internal states with 'stand up straight, put your shoulders back,' to control or repress our sexual urges, sensuality, to act only within the acceptable range of movement. As we grow older this range becomes smaller; as it becomes smaller we lose our richness of movement potential; as that richness slips away often pain and degeneration set in.

The Voice and Movement classes I teach, work to redress the imbalance. They begin with focussing on the body, listening to the infinite body signals that have been so long ignored, allowing the body to move/sound itself. This of course requires considerable inhibition of the thinking habits around the body, the 'shoulds' and 'shouldn't', the judgements, even the shame and embarrassment we've developed that interfere and dominate.

After this beginning stage of free exploration of movement and voice, thinking or direction can begin to be used but with great care that the habit of dominance doesn't reassert itself. Quite a lot of tension and fixing of the body accompanies the addition of active thinking which once realised in this fluid context can then be addressed. If I am working with people who have had experience of the Alexander Technique we can then go on to playing/exploring with primary control and direction as a means to opening more freedom in improvisation. It they have not had Alexander lessons then we work more generally.

The ideal of course is where lessons in the Technique and movement/voice classes are being attended simultaneously. The former gives a framework for identifying and working beyond habits—the latter a non-threatening, non-habitual environment in which to explore.

When we give ourselves the opportunity to move and sound from the deeper wisdom of the body, when we add to that the knowledge of the Alexander Principle that allows expansion into movement, then we tap into the body's own ability to let go of tension and strain and move towards health and balance.


Mary Cerny danced professionally for many years with a modern dance company in the United States. She has performed solo work and taught movement throughout the U.S.A., England and Australia. While training for three years in London at the ATA Centre, she collaborated with musicians on performance pieces, led Movement workshops and was Guest Artist in Residence with the Midlands Dance Company. In 1985 Mary immigrated to Australia and currently teaches on an Alexander Teacher Training school and runs a private practice in Sydney. She lives in the Kangeroo Valley with her husband, Tony and children, Jemeema and Beau.

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