The Vault

Alexander Congresses

And The International Alexander Community

Michael Frederick,
Director of the first three Congresses.

 

I'd like to thank Dr David Garlick and members of the Congress Policy Steering Committee for inviting me to give this address. I trained with Walter and Dilys Carrington in London, England, qualifying as an Alexander Technique teacher in Easter 1978. After moving back to the USA, I worked with Marjorie Barstow from Lincoln, Nebraska, for over 12 years, taking many master classes, and eventually assisting her teaching at Alexander Technique events in America, Australia, England, France, and Switzerland. I've also been fortunate enough to study with Marjory Barlow, most recently in organizing master classes in New York City this past April, which was highly rewarding. I have just completed a two-year term as Chairman of the North American Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique and am very glad to be through with politics.

The Origin of Alexander Congresses

David Garlick asked me to talk about how I came to start the Congresses and my experiences associated with them. It all began back in 1974 or '75 when I was a new teacher trainee at the Carrington school. I and my wife, Lena, who was also training, were invited to a teacher-training party organized by the Alexander Technique trainees from Peter Scott's school. When we showed up at the party, I was surprised to see my friends from the Carrington school all talking in one corner, the Macdonald trainees in the opposite corner, the Barlow trainees in still another part of the room, and the Peter Scott trainees nervously hoping their party wouldn't be a flop.

The lack of connection and communication was very apparent.

Now, to fast forward 10 years to 1984. As I mentioned, I was living back in the United States (California to be exact) and I was fortunate enough to be given approximately $20,000 seed money to investigate how to make a film on the Alexander Technique for public television. I hired a friend of mine named Joel Geyer, a producer and director from public television, to fly around the world visiting various Alexander Technique training schools, talking with senior teachers, investigating whether there was enough material to warrant a film for the PBS science series Nova. Joel came back and informed me that at that time there wasn't enough "hard science" to make a film. However, he had observed the many different factions in the Alexander world, basically "agreeing to disagree," and he said to me, "Michael, what you need to do is organize an international congress."

The First Congress

Out of that moment the 1st International Congress at Stonybrook, New York, took place in the summer of 1986. It was attended by Dr Wilfred and Marjory Barlow, Marjorie Barstow, Walter and Dilys Carrington, and Patrick Macdonald, along with more than 250 Alexander teachers and trainees from around the world. In organizing this first Congress everyone thought I was crazy, and that it wouldn't happen. There was virtually no conflict from any of the professional societies, because the idea was so new that they didn't have a frame of reference to assess what was happening. The only sticky wicket was keeping a balance between the guest master teachers.

The Second Congress

The 2nd International Congress was held two years later in 1988 at the University of Sussex, in Brighton, England, with more than 500 teachers and trainees attending. The main difference was that I had virtually no problem with any of the guest master teachers. However, as they say in California— "...the control freaks came out of the woodwork"—as far as some of the professional societies were concerned. I even had one past chairman of an international society say to me point blank, "I'm angry with you... I should have thought of this Congress idea first!" I was startled and absolutely amazed by this person's behaviour.

The Third Congress

The 3rd International Congress was held three years later in 1991 in Engelberg, Switzerland, with more than 500 teachers and trainees attending. Once again the senior guest teachers were a dream to work with. However, the quality of communication from various conservative factions within the Alexander societies was, to me, less like a dream and more like a nightmare. The primary source of disagreement was whether or not unaffiliated teachers should be allowed to attend the Congress. One director of a European teacher training school went so far as to say, "I refuse to attend the Engelberg Conference if that 'blankety blank' teacher is also there ... !" When I heard this, I couldn't help but wonder what teachers or group of teachers he would want to exclude next. Once we start excluding, who knows where it will end? To me, this was the wrong way to go.

Two Camps

In a general sense, people were dividing into the classic two camps. On one hand you had the 'true believers' who fundamentally felt that they were protecting the principles of the Alexander Technique under the battle cry of upholding the standards and protecting FM's discoveries. On the other hand you had the 'evolutionists' and 'free' thinkers who, at the other extreme, wanted to throw out all the rules.

Both viewpoints were extreme, and it was very obvious to me that we, as a community, needed to move into a new direction. The truth is that in order to have balanced professional societies, we need both viewpoints. We need to move beyond dualistic "I'm right and you're wrong" ways of thinking. We need to move beyond factions of true believers and factions of evolutionists, both of whom believe they're right.

We are in fact all part of the whole Alexander Technique community. No matter which branch of the Alexander tree we are from, when we allow our actions to split up this greater community of teachers, we progressively limit our own diversity, a diversity that is needed to enrich the entire body of Alexander Technique teachers. We are in fact all custodians of Alexander's discoveries and principles and we are all needed, if we are to have enriched, stable and productive professional societies.

Diversity can Lead to a Healthy Alexander Community

As Alexander Technique teachers and trainees, we live in an inter-dependent world. As with this planet Earth, that we all live on, we the greater Alexander community need 'Species Richness' to allow for 'Genetic Diversity' and 'Community Diversity' We need to understand and allow for the biodiversity of our own Alexander world. If we do not, we will shrink in our thinking, in our perspective, and gradually involute into some quaint, Edwardian approach to mind-body awareness, eventually becoming extinct. We are supposed to be intelligent beings, capable of constructive action and not simply unbridled criticism, protectionism, and reaction. Shall we not therefore, make intelligent choices as a matter of urgent necessity so as to move beyond fearful "us versus them" ways of thinking and acting?

In six more years we will be entering the 21st century. Will we be moving into this new era as a unified, healthy, and enriched Alexander Technique community? Or will we be carrying a lot of fearful habits that limit us and stunt our growth and potential? The choice is ours ... the choice is yours ... the choice is mine. The bottom line is 'my own choice." The 21st century ... the year 2000 is now within our own thinking and action. I beg of you, let us not have personal fear and prejudice limit our growth. Fear prevents us from acknowledging mistakes and asking for help, making continuous improvement impossible. We need to rise above personal prejudice and fear, otherwise we will be left behind.

To quote Michael Ventura, a writer from the L.A. Times whom I respect:

For history is not a spectator sport. It is what you think and I do. There is no comfort but to remember that everything we do now is an exploration—potentially exciting as it is frightening. (It is frightening, after all, because it is exciting. Dull things aren't scary.) Far from being powerless, we who must move through our days making the millions of small decisions that create our world—it is we who exert enormous power. How we shop, how we eat, how we entertain ourselves; our attitudes toward strangers ... [other Alexander teachers], people of other races, religions, our neighbour's children; whether we decide to vote and on what we base that vote, where we decide to live and what we tolerate or do not tolerate in our surroundings—these are the building blocks of our [greater Alexander Society] and of what will come.

The new millennium has begun. The most significant thing that I have learned in organizing the first three International Congresses is the importance of an open policy, that these International Congresses be open to all Alexander Technique teachers worldwide, whether they belong to a professional organization or not, or whether they choose to belong to a professional organization or not. A forum for open dialogue is of the utmost importance.

As the 13th Century Persian poet, Rumi, said so succinctly, "Out beyond the ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing there is a field—I'll meet you there."

Thank you very much.

BIOGRAPHY

Michael Frederick trained as an Alexander teacher in England with Walter Carrington and in America with Marjorie Barstow. Michael studied in the USA and Israel as a Feldenkrais practitioner and has extensive training in the Yoga tradition of T.K.V. Desikachar from Madras, India. He is the founding Director of the first three International Congresses on the Alexander Technique held in the USA, England and Switzerland. Michael is past Chairman of the North American Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (NASTAT).

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