Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chairwork

After a posting by Franis Engel on the google AlexTech list about "Decision-making Tires Out Your Brain?" (click Heading to go to google group with full email history) - I commented that they did not make any allowance for joy, enthusiasm in their study. Which led me to reflect on the pedagogy of teaching AT which asks the students to pick the activity, rather than invite them to get in and out of the chair for the duration of the lesson (unless some tablework is thrown in of course). So I wrote this comment:

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Again I think this issue illustrates Marj's genius as a teacher - she saw that tapping into the joy of her students ("You always move better with a smile") was less "exhausting" and instead had them gleefully making new choices because of the clear and present benefits that would come to their chosen passion. Fatigue does come - of course - but there is MUCH MORE stamina available for the work.

It's another convincing argument - for me - for AT teachers to give up this relentless obsession of getting in and out of a chair, which to me gets more and more ridiculous as I get more experience in the pedagogy of harnessing a student's interest to the process of making new choices. I don't mean to insult people, but I really do think it's such a waste doing 60~100% of only chair work all the time. These days, my average would be around 2~3%.

I predict the day will come when this is the norm in our profession, and I intend to be one of the key instigators of this transformation of our profession. It's time to give up the tired old pedagogical methods of Alexander's heyday, and come into the 21st century.

Finally, scientific research is giving us some solid reasons to make this change!

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...which provoked a response in defense of "chairwork" so I felt I needed to clarify what I meant by responding with this:

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I do regret that you may feel "belittled" by my comments. It is clear from your email that your work with people in the chair has integrity, purpose and effectiveness - I don't dispute the efficacy of using chairwork to teach Alexander's principles. Of course it works - Alexander spread his entire work doing just that. I would be a fool to try to argue against it as a valid methodology of teaching this work. My point is not so much against chairwork, as it is for other possibilities.

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Once upon a time there were four woman - granny, mother and a friend watching daughter cutting off the sides of a beef to put it in the oven. "Why are you doing that?" the friend asked the daughter, who replied "Oh, that's what my Mum always did." So the friend turned to the mother and asked her "Why did you cut off the sides of the beef?" And Mum replied: "Because that's what my mother always did." So finally the friend turns to the grandmother and asks her "Why did you cut off the sides of the beef?" To which the grandmother replies: "Oh I had to. The oven we had was too small to fit it."

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If you had the Olympic team of judo - would you train them all in chairwork? And if so - why? Do you believe you can't do everything you wrote below by simply exploring the specific co-ordinations these men and woman are occupied with every day in their judo practice? I know a group of actors who were "taught" the Alexander Technique and every session they were all told to lie in semi-supine and... well, I wasn't there so I don't know what was done. But it basically gives me the creeps when I hear stories like that.

Frankly I believe that a lot of teachers continue with chairwork not because of any powerful pedagogical arguments in its favour, but simply because they don't know what else to do. Faced with a professional opera singer, my guess is that many teachers would shy away from a rigourous analysis of the specific activities and needs of that person while singing, for the simple reason is that they were not trained with the ability to do so. It's the percentage thing that troubles me, not the actual fact of chairwork.

It's fine to do chairwork, and yes - it can be powerful and effective. If it works for you, go ahead. But I doubt I could have built a thriving business in Japan on the back of chairwork. And anecdotally, it seems there are a lot of other folks in the Alexander community finding it hard these days to make a living and I have to ask - why is that? Could it be that our pedagogical approach leaves some people a little mystified and lacking confidence to practise on their own? Or do they just get bored after awhile?

I don't know is the truth. If you want to understand my position better, I wrote about it in the Lugano Congress Papers "Teaching Technology" and the previous Oxford Congress Papers in "A Tale of Two Pedagogies". It is something I have been considering since I first trained as an Alexander teacher in the 1970's, and challenged the then prevailing notion that this work can not be taught in groups. Oh really? Who said that? Your grandmother?

I hope you can understand my point - I have every respect for you as a colleague, my only wish is to develop our ideas of teaching method. In my opinion, they are due for a overhaul.

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And that is that for another week!

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting reading .Could you let me know any events in Sydney, & any info on the training course starting 2012? Theresa

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Theresa - I have no way of contacting you, your email is not revealed to me. If you want more info, go here http://www.bodychance.com.au

    ReplyDelete

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