The Vault

Contact Improvisation/Movement

Lucia Walker

 

At the Congress, I led two movement/contact sessions with about sixteen people in each group. These classes were active and practical and directed the games and explorations quite formally. I intended to offer participants the opportunity to experience and develop awareness and choice of response in particular ways. Direct experience, rather than analysis or discussion, was the focus on both occasions. In this paper, I will outline the thoughts and principles that underpin and inform my practical work as well as giving a brief description of the content of the workshops.

Continuing to teach and practise the Alexander Technique, I am constantly impressed with the fundamental simplicity of Alexander's principles and the possibility they offer us to directly change the way we use ourselves. This in turn gives us the opportunity to respond differently and affect the quality of our experience.

As teachers finding ways to convey and share these possibilities, we can recognise that we bring our individual viewpoints, values, and interests into the way we teach. The recognition of this gives us a better chance of those flavours being a constructive rather than an interfering influence on our communication.

I expected and welcomed the way that training as an Alexander teacher fundamentally affected my priorities and my ability in teaching dance, performance skills and Contact Improvisation. I was less aware of how my experience as a dancer could also be an addition to the quality and confidence of my Alexander work. The opportunities I have had to teach movement/contact improvisation classes to Alexander teachers and on teacher training programmes, have given me the opportunity to explore and articulate the skills and concepts that connect.

Some of the issues I explore (in an atmosphere of playfulness and curiosity) in movement workshops are:

Contact: Direct meeting, without resistance/armour at the point of touch, or by visual recognition, or by willingly occupying the same moment in time. 'Contact' is about bringing your whole self to a moment/action/movement in a way that does not interfere with the other person being able to do the same. I see this ability as being about thinking, being awake, and recognising, rather than thinking about, trying or judging.

Attention: Practising a unified and expanded field of attention, where we don't separate ourselves into parts or ourselves from the environment. This involves 'tuning in' to sensation and developing kinaesthetic, tactile, and visual (especially peripheral vision) senses in particular. Playing with our response can help us recognise that habitual contraction or 'switching off' in reaction to unfamiliar stimuli, or those remembered in association with another time, is not necessary. We can literally practise engaging willingly with the unknown.

Support: Recognising the real sources of support in our surroundings and in other people, in order to undo the effort we make trying to hold ourselves up or together. This can lead to an understanding of the real capacity and limits to strength and lightness, uncovering unforeseen ability to support/carry and to be influenced and lifted.

Presence: Playing in a group or moving with another person gives a very direct measure of the times we strain ahead (or 'end-gain') or hold back, straining for something that has already happened. Being aware of our own sensations and perceptions is the condition in which we most effectively meet, see and hear other people and from which we can move and decide most easily. Giving and receiving stimuli and opportunities do not happen as discreet actions and I like to introduce games and exercises that illustrate how, whichever the main emphasis, both always happen at the same time. We can also learn that being present means being flexible and mobile, that we can find pleasure in the unknown and new possibilities in the familiar.

Quality of Touch: In Contact Improvisation we play with contact and touch through all the surfaces of the hands and body; with other people, with the air, with the floor. This reveals that different qualities of touch and pressures of contact are more related to tone, energy and intention than excess effort. We can contract or separate with a light touch as much as with a heavy touch, or, we can remain open and non-invasive with strong pressure. In learning to teach the Alexander Technique, where 'non-doing' is so vital, it seems to be very helpful to experience the giving and receiving of these possibilities.

Movement: Finding out more about our individual capacity for movement and observing that in others, in a situation where there is nothing to 'achieve'. This seems invaluable for Alexander teaching. I am less interested in developing particular skills or abilities (although that is often a consequence), than in finding out what we do unconsciously to resist moving. Then we see how much effort we put into interfering with our intention. Exploring movement as a dancer and observing everyday movement/activity as an Alexander teacher has led me to notice variations in our habitual and conditioned reactions to actions which have defined purpose (picking something up, sitting in a chair, writing, taking bags our of a car, walking to get somewhere) compared with movement with a more kinaesthetic or aesthetic focus (stretching, standing still, curving, folding, doing handstands, rolling). Seeing how different intentions affect the quality of our movement can help us bring pleasure and curiosity into functional tasks as well as intention and clarity into dance or 'abstract' movement forms.

Improvisation: This develops our ability to be spontaneous and creative. Deeper understanding of our capacities and limits and the tools with which to learn to respond openly to new situations can increase our confidence in moving, in teaching and in influencing. If we let go of what restrains us from being present we can be willing to respond to each situation as it arises. In dance, we refer to this as 'instant composition; in other words, it is not just about 'going with the flow' or being inert, but rather about being flexible and decisive. It is about having a sense of direction without straining for pre-determined outcomes. This practice in dance has helped me to be less fearful about teaching, and to feel confident that in an Alexander lesson I and the student will negotiate learning in a way that is interesting and engaging to both of us. Choosing what to do in a workshop often becomes an improvisation within a particular range of possibilities; I do have a stock of activities or exercises that I never tire of repeating but I always choose to use, develop or sequence them according to the space and time available and to the needs of the group.

The Workshop

The sessions in Sydney followed a relatively typical structure:

  • Games, exercises and interactions designed to 'wake' us up; to change state. Through the body, on our skin surface, through the space and in our responses.
  • Then further development of attention and awareness—what's the difference between moving and watching or sensing others' movement? Can we allow ourselves to be affected without having to respond? Can we pay attention to what we are doing as we relate, affect another?
  • Working as partners we experimented with a choice of responses to pressure; avoidance, resistance, absorption, and how to organise ourselves to make those choices. Variations on 'pushing' provide good opportunities to see what we do habitually and what a sense of strength or suppleness we can access if we respond differently. We don't need to know what to do so much as how to 'join in with' or agree to the qualities we want.
  • After dancing/playing with a partner, we returned to moving alone, to remember or re-create some of the possible variations in tone and quality in a solo form.

As I teach, I emphasise the idea of discovery and willingness to bring your whole self to every moment and every movement. This is what you are doing now; heart, head, thought, sensation, muscles, structure, and it only takes effort to resist. Becoming conscious of layers and levels of awareness allows us to experience a sense of simplicity rather than trying to control complexity; and inhibiting a reaction, or non-doing, can feel like an action and doing less can allow much more to happen.

I think it is important to realise that we can learn directly from experience and sensation as well as by relating our discoveries to the models we already understand. Movement, play and interaction seem to stimulate our vitality and interest in a way that seems very valuable in our work as teachers of the Alexander Technique.

BIOGRAPHY

Lucia has been teaching the Alexander Technique to individuals, groups and on training courses since 1987 when she completed a three year training with Dick and Elisabeth Walker in Oxford, England.

She came to the work from an involvement in dance and theatre and has been working as a movement teacher and performer for 12 years. She works with a range of ages and abilities including children, young adults with learning disabilities, students and professional actors and dancers.

She has had lifelong delight in movement and language, and an endless curiosity about how people think, Finds its focus in the Alexander Technique—exploring, applying and teaching the simple principles by which we can change unconscious and habitual patterns of interference so as to improve the quality of our ability to move, speak, thing and feel comfortably and spontaneously.

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