The F. Matthias Alexander Story – It Ain’t Necessarily So

Robert Rickover, the son of the creator of America’s nuclear navy,
operates AlexanderTechnique.com. He’s also an Alexander teacher, like Jeremy Chance, who often thinks outside of the box (such as teaching by Skype, Up With Gravity, etc) and is willing to say unpopular things out loud, Most Alexander teachers are too insecure to do this even if they believe strongly because what most Alexander teachers, like all professionals, most want is the respect of their peers and you don’t express heretical thoughts if you want your peers to think well of you.

Depending on your perspective, the Alexander Technique teaching profession tends to be pure in its devotion to the Technique or is blinkered or some combination of both.

As with any group with high standards and foundational texts, Alexander teachers have a history of fractious and bitter dissent but this is all expected to be kept in-house. When the Technique was dominated by men, there was more of this. Now the Technique is dominated by women and open conflict is reduced and replaced by cliques and the other characteristics of female-dominated professions (nurturing, conformism, etc, think about English departments in universities for a comparison).

Part of Alexander Technique’s professional code (with organizations such as AMSAT) is that you don’t criticize other teachers or schools publicly. Such organizations would never have me as a member and would punish any member Alexander Technique teacher who affiliated with me. This is not because they are bad. Rather, they are simply doing what any other professional group would do in that situation. The primary mission of any professional group must be to maintain the good name of its profession and anyone who threatens that must be shunned.

Robert Rickover writes:

And kind of like most of the historical information about Alexander then available. Knowing the word “hagiography” actually made me more alert to challenges to the Alexander narratives.

And indeed two very serious challenges to those hagiographies have emerged since then. I’ll very briefly summarize them below, but for the record I want to state that I do consider F. Matthias Alexander to have been a genius – but like most geniuses, flawed. And a very different kind of genius that we have been led to believe.

The first challenge came from Jeroen Staring, a Dutch academic and student of the Technique, who shows pretty convincingly, I believe, that all of Alexander’s teaching procedures came from others.

You can learn more about Staring’s discoveries in these two blog posts by Luke Ford, an Alexander Technique teacher in Los Angeles:

Jeroen Staring – Historian Of The Alexander Technique

When Your Leader Is A Plagiarist

The second challenge is more recent, and ultimately far more profound, since it’s no so much about Alexander Technique procedures, but about where some of it’s basic principles actually came from.

Jeando Masoero a French Alexander Technique teacher and self-described “archaeologist” of the Technique, has discovered a heretofore unknown link between Alexander and Francois Delsarte, a Frenchman whose Method Alexander taught in Australia before moving to England.

We’ve known for some time that Alexander originally promoted himself as a teacher of the Delsarte Method, but its always been hard to imagine how Alexander could have learned much about it because there were no writings by Delsarte or his students that he could have read. But Jeando discovered that Delsarte’s younger brother Camille, also a teacher of the Delsarte Method, moved to – of all places! – Tasmania in 1851 and lived in Hobart, the capital for about 20 years. He had a huge influence on musicians and actors locally and on the mainland of Australia.

Alexander was no doubt influenced by Delsarte’s work. His initial decision to use mirrors to learn the truth about what he was doing to cause his vocal difficulties, for example, comes right out of Delsarte’s emphasis on using mirrors for self-discovery and self-improvement. A great deal more about the Alexander – Delsarte connection at Jeando’s website or here: Francois Delsaarte’s influence of F. Mattias Alexander and the Alexander Technique

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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