I talked to Robert for over an hour this afternoon.
Robert Rickover graduated from the School of Alexander Studies in London, England in 1981 where he also served on the faculty. He studied for over fifteen years with master Alexander teacher Marjorie Barstow and frequently assisted her in teaching her Alexander Technique workshops in Lincoln, Nebraska. Robert began a private teaching practice in Toronto, Canada in 1981 and maintains a dual practice since moving to Lincoln, Nebraska in 1990. He holds degrees in physics and economics from Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Robert is a teaching member of the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT), the American Society for the Alexander Technique (AmSAT) and Alexander Technique International (ATI).
Robert is the Director of Alexander Technique Workshops – Bring a Workshop to Your Area and Movement Coaching by Phone. He is the creator of The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique and Body Learning, an Alexander Technique podcast. He is on the faculty of Alexander Technique Workshops of Omaha and the annual Nebraska Wesleyan University Solo Singer Workshop.
Luke: “When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?”
Robert: “A disc jockey on a country music station in the South.”
Luke: “How did you come to be an economist?”
Robert: “It was a tortuous path. I originally studied physics and engineering. I was good enough at it to keep going but not good enough at it to want to keep going. I eventually dropped out of that and shifted over to economics [doing the classwork for his PhD but never writing a thesis]. I did that for 12 years.”
“A colleague at work [for the government of Ontario] was taking Alexander lessons [in 1975]. That intrigued me. I could see changes in her. I checked it out [in late November] and got hooked quickly.”
Luke: “Were you ever physically gifted at anything?”
Robert: “No. Nor particularly interested.”
Luke: “What was your reputation in high school?”
Robert: “I was a nerd before nerds were cool.”
Rickover trained for three years at an Alexander teaching school run by Paul and Betty Collins. It was an off-shoot of Walter Carrington’s course, which had a long waiting list. “I had lessons with everyone I could find in London.”
Robert became intrigued by Marj Barstow’s ability to work with groups. Alexander Technique has typically been taught one on one.
Robert: “A teacher only has two hands. How are you going to work with a large group of people? The whole issue of working with groups in London at that time was very contentious. There were nasty meetings of STAT (the Society of Teachers of The Alexander Technique) about that.”
“There was one meeting I can remember and I was just astonished at the level of nastiness. I don’t think there’s anything quite like that today.”
Luke: “If Marge has a successor, who is it?”
Robert: “There is no successor to Marge. There are some pretenders.”
Luke: “Is Alexander Technique hands-on work erotic?”
Robert: “Not as far as I am concerned.”
“The reason that Alexander teachers don’t have enough clients is that they haven’t thought through the question of how is someone going to find out about the Technique in a way that makes sense to them and how are they going to find a teacher in their area. With exceptions, Alexander teachers are extremely bad at both of those.”
“The fundamental issue is that Alexander teachers have not figured out how to get the word out about the Technique and about themselves in an effective way.”
“Most teachers have not thought through how someone can be interested in this work and what it can be useful for.”
“If you are immersed in a three year training course surrounded by people who take it for granted as being good, you have to step out of that box and pretend you’ve never heard of it and bear in mind that there are a zillion competing methods promising something similar to the untrained ear to the benefits of Alexander Technique.”
Luke: “Could you elaborate on your statement that you learned more about freeing your neck from cranial sacral than from Alexander Technique?”
Robert: “The method that has intrigued me the most outside of Alexander Technique is cranial-sacral work. It can get at subtle tensions that are way below any possibility of direct consciousness and redirection. Complicated tensions. Fascial twists and turns. In theory, you could direct yourself out of them but it could 200 lifetimes to do it.
“To me, it is complementary to Alexander work. It gets at the complex patterns of tension that Alexander can not get to easily.”
Luke: “Were you able to reexperience your birth?”
Robert: “No. A couple of times maybe slight intimations of that. Cranial-sacral is not rebirthing work. I did get a sense that holding patterns in my body probably did have some relationship to birth. I was born in the era of forceps delivery. I can imagine what happened with one shoulder being caught but I have no basis of proving that.”
“I think the Alexander Technique can be taught in a far more simple form that it is typically taught. My preference is to work with large groups. You can get 30 or 40 people doing some advanced thinking on their own after a few days.”
“I think there are people who can learn everything they need in two or three group classes.”
“Cranial-sacral is not demanding. You can just lie on the table and go to sleep. I like that about it. The Alexander Technique can be taught in ways that engage people’s thinking but doesn’t seem like a big deal.”
“You can teach it all in a group class. You can even do it without any hands-on if you’re really good. I don’t think I could do that. But I don’t use my hands a lot in teaching groups. I think hands have become fetishized by Alexander teachers.”
“Paul Collins told me that legacy teacher Frank Pierce Jones did not have good hands, but Frank was able to engage a student’s thinking in ways that most other teachers couldn’t.”
Luke: “Should [Dutch historian of Alexander Technique] Jeroen Staring‘s work matter to Alexander teachers?”
Robert: “I think so.”
“I don’t agree with him that the Technique is fatally polluted by these discoveries.”
“When you have close contact with a small group of teachers, it’s inevitable that their stuff is going to get transmitted to you… There are certain attitudes in the Alexander teaching profession that are influenced by F.M. himself. Just as you see in the teachers trained with Marj Barstow. She had some attitudes that were not healthy. And you can see that among her teachers.”
“F.M. Alexander had some weird ideas. We need to make sure we don’t take on any of that stuff ourselves.”
Luke: “Reading Jeroen Staring, I don’t get the sense that F.M. discovered anything. Rather, that he ripped it off from other people.”
Robert: “You can find all the Alexander procedures [done by others earlier]. His understanding of the connection between thought and movement, he discovered that.”
“I don’t think the teaching procedures have much importance.”
Luke: “What did your father think of Alexander Technique?”
Robert: “He had no understanding of what it was. He did buy Alexander’s four books and read them. I can only imagine what he thought when he saw John Dewey’s introductions. When I was a kid, John Dewey was a household topic of conversation among my parents. My sense of what they were saying was that he had single-handedly wrecked American education.
“Dewey is this guy who’s followed me around all these years. I went to university and took an introduction to Philosophy course and we got to pragmatism and there was John Dewey, the leading exponent. I thought, the same guy who wrecked the school system? A few years later, geez, John Dewey has written some good stuff on Alexander’s work.
“He’s hardly a household name these days. Most people confuse him with one of the other Deweys.”
“I think it puzzled my father.”
Luke: “What did you love and hate about being the son of a great man?”
Robert: “You got certain privileges, but you also got people coming up to you and expecting that you would have certain interests. I try to downplay it as much as possible.”
Luke: “What’s been your relationship to Judaism?”
Robert: “I was not brought up Jewish. Actually, I was Presbyterean but not in any real sense. I dropped out of that as quickly as I could. I had no interest in religion. I was intrigued by Buddhism in my 30s and 40s, but only intellectually.
“It seemed like all of my girlfriends were Jewish. When I moved to Lincoln, I moved a block away from a temple. I made some connections there. Over the years, got more interested. I converted [to Judaism] about five years ago.”