As we move, swaying into the new year with increased restrictions in place, I am reminded again of how challenging it is to organise the chaos of interactions that occur in one single gathering of people, let alone the beautiful chaos going on at any moment in time within one given human being.
Coordinating with restrictions, and the unstoppable flow of movement is what I learnt from Alexander Technique (AT), why I love music, and what I teach. When I reflect back to an introductory AT workshop for young musicians I taught early last year for Sydney Youth Orchestras (wild to think of how many were in the room then), I recall that I invited them to dwell on the way they are talking to themselves about movement, so that they can move with care and in coordination with their own structure.
A revelation for them: it was going to be impossible (or very painful) for them to ever be in a “right state”, or “right posture” or “perfect position” – because they were never ever going to stop moving, and if they did, I would be very worried indeed! So, what would a room full of kids have to say about how they are coordinating themselves in the chaos of their constantly moving lives, shuttling around between school, rehearsals, home, etc.?
I started each class with a few icebreaker games (although in one class, we got carried away with the first game as the energy level went through the roof when I offered them to show everyone a favourite dance move, in order to break it down into the different arm movements. We spent 10 minutes on one boy who had mastered so many tiktoks that it provided an infinite source of arm movement explanations and games!). Via these games, recurrent themes became apparent as class after class the students spoke up and were met with a roomful of nods as they exclaimed their various frustrations:
· Feeling anxious about finding it difficult to sit still in a chair
· Being worried about dropping their instrument
· Being tired after holding the instrument for a long time
· Having a sore back, neck, and/or wrist
· Feeling anxious about not keeping up with the group, or being in pain whilst playing
I reassured everyone that they were not at all abnormal or ‘wrong’ if they were going through these frustrations with seemingly simple tasks. We simply needed to learn about ways to move that were most efficient, kind and compatible with each of ourselves – knowing that the movement plan would be different for each person, because everyone had a different size, shape, ability, and instrument. One of the reasons I love teaching younger students is that they really do understand that moving is normal, and stiffening is not necessary at all to do things the way you want to be doing them – furthermore, the changes can be very rapid!
Having a tool such as Alexander Technique, which helps you to identify when you might be putting some excess tension into the thing that you’re doing, or how to coordinate a complex movement when you don’t know where to start, can be a really helpful aid on the lifelong journey of skill-building, no matter what your discipline. The classroom of listeners became very wiggly and excited when we played a game of “stop when I say go” and “go when I say stop”. They found ways to change the direction of their movement without always putting their ‘hard brakes’ on – instead of ‘deadening’ or associating stopping with drooping or stiffening, stopping became a beautiful slow-motion movement, giving us time to appreciate many different human sculptures, breathing together through a moment in time. Each student became a curious entanglement of limbs in flow, mid step – toes touching the floor, arms swinging.
After doing their first experiments with using Alexander Technique, some students noted an immediate change, especially with having a new thought-plan which helped them think about what they were doing as they were doing it. Some students laughed (a lot) just as I had when I found out about the length of the whole arm once you factor in the frequently overlooked first joint (sternoclavicular). Often, talking about the way in which we can order and sequence our movement was helpful, so that they were coordinating ‘global movements’ first (head-torso-limbs) before moving into more fine-tuned muscle movements of the hands and fingers. I was glad to observe that by the end of class, they had some tools to talk about the way they were playing their instrument as excitedly and in as much detail as they would talk about a tiktok move (a lot of detail)!
Summaries from SYO members at workshop end; delightfully showing that, though there were commonalities in the things they learned, each response was perfectly unique and reflected the unique coordinated chaos of each little person.
It is possible to move and coordinate beautifully within restrictions. We played another game, called ‘invisible disco’, where they start out a silent dance party on the spot (neatly socially distanced from each other) and I turn down an invisible volume button, inching it lower and lower so that their dance movements become so subtle we barely know that they’re dancing – but they know they still are. Even when the game comes to an end, there is a sparkle in their eyes and I know that they are still dancing even though the music has turned ‘off’. The dance of ordinary movements, of smiles and shuffling feat, swaying to the inhale and exhale of breathing, always there inside us. It’s amazing to think that music-making is a testament to the possible results of this coordinated orchestration of not just one human being with an instrument, but all of us moving as a cohesive whole to create something beautiful together, something altogether bigger than what was possible on our own.
I hope you personally find that all your parts, whether they are in working order or rest mode, find some flow and movement within the new year, with the social distancing restrictions being updated regularly. And if you find yourself in a downward spiral or pretzel for too long, know that there are systems and specific networks and tools that are available to support you!
I wish everyone my best wishes as we do our best to coordinate and orchestrate the chaos inside and outside of ourselves, striving to move and create a world more safe, caring, and kind in 2021 and beyond.
January class offerings – Weekly classes in 2021 (online and live). Message me for any inquiries! This article was written with the support of the City of Sydney Cultural Resilience Grant – support for artist and arts workers 2020-2021. Digital rainbow squiggles added by the wonderful Liz Cheung.