Was Marjorie Barstow The Greatest Alexander Teacher?

I never met Marjorie Barstow. I heard from an Alexander Technique teacher I respect that she was the greatest Alexander teacher ever, better than the man himself F.M. Alexander.

That may well be, but I wonder if many of those who claim her heritage should be teaching Alexander Technique? You can tell just by looking at many of them — how locked down they tend to be, how stiff and heavy — that they don’t belong in the same organization as the best Alexander teachers (in the United States they tend to belong to AMSAT aka American Society for the Alexander Technique).

Marjorie Barstow never operated a training school for teachers. She just had group classes and after her best students displayed a certain aptitude with the Technique, she gave them (26 named in one letter) her blessing to instruct others.

Should these Marge-trained teachers be accepted into the mainstream Alexander teacher societies where everyone else has graduated from a three-year structured course? That was a big controversy in the Alexander world about 30 years ago and the decision was made to exclude them until they completed a traditional training program.

Somehow there are now dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Alexander Technique teachers who tutor in the “Marge Barstow style” without having graduated from a 1620-hour course.

Many teachers were trained in the Marge Barstow style but never met the woman.

Some of these Marge Barstow style teachers are great and some are not.

Alexander teachers who did not get the traditional three-year 1620-hour training tend to belong to ATI (Alexander Technique International). Some of them are great and some are not.

In my experience with some of them, they’ve shown a competency in the Alexander basics below that of a typical second-year student at an AMSAT-approved course. They can’t release their arms and legs. They’re stiff and heavy. Getting out of a chair is a whole lot of work for them. They tend to tip way forward and then push up with their legs. A real Alexandroid floats up — almost vertically — from a chair.

On the other hand, some of Marge’s acolytes are superb (such as Cathy Madden and Sarah Barker) and I’m sure that some ATI teachers are better than some AMSAT teachers. However, I generally see a vast gulf between those who’ve trained in the 1620-hour program of three hours a day, 36 weeks a year for three years, and those who’ve done these weekend intensives and private lessons leading up to ATI certification.

I understand that Marjorie Barstow didn’t spend much time teaching the basics of Alexander Technique (such as chair and table work) that pre-occupy the AMSAT-approved training programs. Her gift was the application of the Technique to daily tasks and at teaching that there may have been no one better.

About Luke Ford

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