A Life-Changing Adventure.
Several years ago, an extraordinary group of people gathered for a unique purpose: to create pioneer videos about the work of F. M. Alexander. Our mission was to help bring this remarkable work into the public domain, educate people about the Alexander Technique, and help people begin to use the Technique to enhance their personal work and well-being. Almost all of us—including the videographers, designers, musicians and crew—were students of the Alexander Technique.
In our first video, FIRST LESSON, renowned actor William Hurt and I explain who F.M. Alexander was, describe the Alexander Technique, and explore how and why the basic principles of "good use" affect so many aspects of life: standing, sitting, moving, speaking, and breathing. FIRST LESSON illustrates how students and teachers of the Alexander Technique work together, and—as an added bonus—offers a safe self-lesson that people can use at home.
William graciously offered to introduce our second video, SOLUTIONS FOR BACK TROUBLE, the officially authorized only record of lessons by Deborah Caplan, one of the truly great master teachers of the Alexander Technique, with whom I was fortunate enough to study. A physical therapist who spent over 30 years working with people from all walks of life who suffered from back pain, Debby shares her enormous wisdom and instruction on using the Alexander Technique specifically for people troubled by periodic and chronic back pain.
Our third video, FOR DANCERS: THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE, is geared toward a different special-interest group, which you may have guessed by the title—dancers! Artists from our first shoot gathered to create a 2-disc set that features students from the Dance Division of The Juilliard School, as well as professionals Brock Labrenz, Heidi Stoeckley, Gelan Lampert, Jr., and Anne-René Petrarca. Through demonstrations and discussions, FOR DANCERS offers various ways to utilize the Alexander Technique to improve technical facility and perform with greater freedom and daring. During my own career as a dancer, I've experienced first-hand the benefits of the Technique in enhancing my own skills. As a teacher, I've been astonished to witness the incredible strides young dancers have made though incorporating the Alexander Technique in their own work. I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to present this remarkable work to all dancers.
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Welcome to the adventure!
My First Lesson
In 1971, after leaving the Paul Taylor Dance Company, I was invited by John Houseman to teach dance to actors in the recently formed Drama Division of the Juilliard School.
Almost immediately I noticed that these young trainee actors had better alignment and better posture than half the professional dancers I knew and moved more easily than most of the non-dancers I knew.
When I asked how they'd managed this, one of my students, Christine Baranski, looked at me quizzically for a minute and said, "Alexander, of course."
That was the first time I'd heard about the Alexander Technique. The great Alexander teacher, Judith Liebowitz was a colleague on the Drama Division faculty, so at the end of that first year I asked her if she would give me a lesson.
I'd been haunted by a serious knee injury since the age of 15 and was always looking for a way to keep dancing. Maybe, I thought, this lesson with Judy would help. Maybe, I thought, this lesson with Judy would help.
In those years, Judy and I both lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. On a spring day in 1972, as I walked down the block toward her home for my first lesson, I had no idea that my life was about to change forever.
Judy began her lesson by guiding me up onto a padded table, similar to the kind used by massage therapists. I lay on my back while she placed books of various shapes and sizes beneath my head I until it rested without strain in my neck, head, or back.
For the next hour or so she gently placed her hands on my forehead and neck, knees, shoulders, and other joints, and various points along my spine. She never prodded, pushed, or pulled, as is often the case of various forms of bodywork. She didn't instruct me to do anything, in fact. My only "job" was to think about what was going on in my mind and body during the lesson.
I won't go into detail, because the steps involved are explained fully in the videos, but here's a hint: F.M Alexander introduced four key concepts of "good use" of the body—very specific instructions on how to use thought to create change in our physical habits of living—which he referred to as "direction." As Judy repeated those instructions to me, I could feel the energy of direction pouring effortlessly through her hands into my body: the gift of a master teacher to a grateful student.
When she helped me off the table at the end of the lesson, Judy asked me how I felt. Without hesitation I answered, "I'm not in pain for the first time in ages! When I retire from performing, I'm going to train as an Alexander teacher."
She'd not only given me the gift of direction, she'd offered me something equally meaningful: a direction, a pathway to give back much of what I'd learned through remarkable teachers, partners, and choreographers.
Over the next decade since that first lesson, I continued to study with Judy, teach at the Juilliard School and dance. Bruce Becker, my friend and dance partner for many years, and I formed 5 by 2 dance company and 5 by 2 Plus, among the first dance repertory companies in the United States. We toured the country including six glorious years in Alaska.
When I finally retired from performing in 1983, I immediately began training as a teacher at the American Center for the Alexander Technique in New York City, under the guidance of Deborah Caplan, Barbara Kent, and Judith Liebowitz.
After completing my training in 1986, I rejoined the faculty of the Juilliard School as a faculty member of the Dance Division, and occasionally teaching instrumental students in the Music Division. Sharing the Alexander Technique with the next generation of performing artists has been a great privilege and a deep source of joy. I've experienced firsthand and witnessed the ways in which it has helped my students improves technique, enhance their artistry, and prolonged their careers.
In addition to my work at Juilliard, I've established a private practice as an Alexander Technique teacher in New York City working with people from all walks of life, including real estate investors, writers, filmmakers, actors, dancers, musicians, computer techs, college students, grandmothers, and teenagers. It has been an honor to help them flourish by passing along the lessons I've learned, and the gifts so graciously offered me.
I've been exceedingly fortunate. The adventure that began with my first lesson with Judy continues to unfold, and it is my heartfelt wish that it continues through you!
Faculty, Juilliard School
Jane Kosminsky has had an extensive career as a dancer. She was a member of the May O'Donnell and Tamiris-Nagrin companies, a soloist with the Norman Walker Dance Company (1960-1965) and the Paul Taylor Dance Company (1965-1971). In 1971, she became Co-Artistic Director (with Bruce Becker) and Principal Dancer of 5 by 2 Dance Company and 5 by 2 Plus, a modern dance repertory company (1971-1982), one of the first three modern dance repertory companies in the United States. Jane was one of the first people to restage Paul Taylor's work and restaged his Aureole for productions of Nureyev and Friends. She also appeared as Mr. Nureyev's partner in Paris (1974), London (1976), and Madrid (1978). Between 1983 and 1986, she trained as an Alexander
Technique teacher the American Center for the Alexander Technique, under the guidance of Deborah Caplan, Barbara Kent, and Judith Liebowitz. In 1986, she became the Director of Dance at the 92nd Street Y and created the programs Fridays at Noon, a free event that celebrates the work of emerging and established choreographers, and Space Grants, which provides subsidized rehearsal space, both of which still exist today. In 2014, Jane founded Great Circle Productions, Inc., a nonprofit organization for support and development of projects in the arts.
Jane has served on the faculties of the American Center for the Alexander Technique (1986-1994) and The Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre (1988-2012). She was a member of The Juilliard School Drama Faculty (1971-1986) and has been a member of the Dance Faculty since 1986. Through her organization, The Balance Of Well-Being, Jane has developed and produced three pioneer DVDs about the Alexander
Technique, which are sold online and through select distributors. She is a graduate and dance award winner of the School of Performing Arts in New York City. Jane received her B.A. in Language and Literature from City College of New York and is a graduate of The American Center for the Alexander Technique.
Most recently, Jane was awarded the Jullliard President's Medal which is "bestowed upon individuals who have made an indelible impact on the arts and have served as significant role models both at Juilliard and in the broader performing arts community."
Deborah Caplan's background in the Alexander
Technique was highly unusual. As a child, Debby studied with F. M. Alexander himself. As an adult, she trained with her mother, Alma Frank, one of the few members of F. M. Alexander's first training class at Ashely Place, England in 1930.
Finally, after a joyous career as professional dancer, Debby attained a Master's Degree in physical therapy and began specializing in treating patients with back problems. She successfully applied the Alexander
Technique to back care for well over 30 years.
Debby was a founding member of the American Center for the Alexander Technique (ACAT), the first training school in the country, and a member of the American Society for the Alexander Technique (AmSAT). She was on the senior faculty of ACAT's teacher training program for many years, wrote numerous articles about the Technique, and lectured extensively throughout the country. In 1987, she completed a seminal book book, Back Trouble: A New Approach to Prevention and Recovery, based on the Alexander
Debby died in 2000. The Balance of Well-Being video, The Alexander Technique: Solutions for Back Trouble, is based on her vital and powerful book and remains the only authorized record of Debby's teaching. We are deeply fortunate to have the work of this remarkable teacher still with us.
William Hurt is an actor of enormous talent, range, and imagination. He has "braved the boards" in classical and contemporary works in New York City and regional theaters, earning an Obie Award for his debut appearance in My Life, and multiple Theatre World Awards for his performances in Fifth of July, Ulysses in Traction, and Lulu. Movie roles in films like The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist, and Kiss of the Spider Woman have stretched from handsome heroes and complex character roles, and won him Academy and BAFTA Awards, and a host of nominations. He's appeared in television series, read books on radio, and narrated documentaries. It would take a whole website to list all his accomplishments!
Professional bios rarely give us a sense of the warmth or kindness of the artists. Let's change that.
When I was planning The Alexander Technique: First Lesson, I went to dinner with my dance partner, Bruce Becker, at our favorite Japanese restaurant. While waiting for our food, we began to make a list of actors who might like to work with me on this project. We knew it needed someone in the public eye to bring attention to this pioneering work.
Suddenly, I saw a blond god waving wildly at me. It was William—one of my earliest students when I taught dance in the Drama Division at the Juilliard School. He dashed over to our table, introduced us to his son, Alexander, and we happily began to catch up. We hadn't seen each other in a very long time.
When William heard what I was doing, his instant response was, "Count me in!" He immediately gave me the name and phone number of his agent in California, and his agent in NYC so that we could stay in touch and find time in the middle of his busy schedule to plan a shoot. We were on our way!
We had time for only one rehearsal, during which I gave William an Alexander lesson. His Alexander teacher at Juilliard had been master teacher, Judith Leibowitz.
We had a wonderful time making the video. The shoot took roughly 8 hours. It was probably the longest Alexander
Technique lesson any human being had ever had!
Why did he do this? In his own words, " The Alexander
Technique has helped me to undo knots, unblock energy, and deal with almost paralyzing stage fright."
He wanted to help others on their own journey of exploration and adventure! Thank you, William.
Anne-René is a modern dancer, choreographer, Alexander
Technique teacher, yoga instructor, and the founder and artist-director of the dance company, Sculpted Motion. Anne-René received her undergraduate degree in dance from Point Park University, her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and her Alexander certification from The American Center for the Alexander Technique in New York City. She assisted Jane at The Juilliard School for ten years and has joined her at National Conventions and in the making of Jane's DVD, For Dancers: The Alexander Technique. She re-located to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2009 after 20 years in New York City. Anne-René is currently on faculty teaching modern/contemporary dance, Alexander
Technique, and yoga at the Alonzo King LINES Ballet Training Program, LINES BFA at Dominican University, and the LINES Ballet Summer Program. She is a guest teacher at Mills College, San Francisco State University and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, and has held guest artist positions at schools and other venues on the East Coast. Anne-René maintains a private Alexander practice and travels as a guest artist teaching and setting new works.
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