Back in the Studio: Applying Alexander Technique in my return to dance

For many years, I found myself unable to find the motivation to exercise, whether it was yoga, strength training or cardio. I had also been thinking about revisiting modern jazz dance classes, in the SImonson Technique, which I had studied in high school and college. Within the past 5 or 6 years, I had even gone online and located beginning classes. For some reason, I couldn't overcome inertia so never got to a class.

william burdick

I took private dance lessons every week from 1983 to 1997, and again from 2003 to 2005 with William Burdick, studying Medieval, Restoration and Elizabethan dances from the courts. These dances were commonly seen in period plays and films. I had met William when I spent 3 semesters as a BFA acting major at Adelphi. He was Chair of the Movement Department. When I enrolled at Empire State College to finish my Bachelor's degree through their Independent Degree program, my private lessons with William were part of my for credit studies. I continued studying weekly with him after graduation. Dance always made me happy.

Brooke in corset at class with William

When William died in 2005, I stopped dancing. I didn't know that I missed it, until by some perfect confluence of conditions, this past August 2017, I found a basic beginner Simonson class and went straightaway.

During the first 10 minutes of class, as we were going through the first two exercises of the warm up, I had the experience of every cell of my body grinning ear-to-ear, and a sense of extreme joy rose up in me.

Brooke dance class.JPG

My whole  being remembered dance, and since the class was slow, I was able to pick up the choreography, and find my center in dance again.

I attended that beginner class weekly, and shortly found an advanced beginner class to try. This one moved more quickly, and the teacher's choreography was more complex and not broken down as slowly for learning, which I found pleasantly challenging.

With no resistance, I started showing up to class twice a week, and then decided to give another advanced beginning class a try, then a slow intermediate. Sometimes I take four classes a week, and no matter how tired I feel on my way there, I always go to class, and I never regret being in the studio. The resistance to showing up seems to have evaporated.

Simonson teachers are welcoming, kind and supportive. I have been in six different teacher's classes so far, and each one has been a challenging delight.

I have been sore after class most nights, but recovery time is quick, and I can tell I am improving in strength, coordination, mobility and line.

My biggest challenge is to reinterpret the language of dance so that I don't rush ahead and try to get results with brute force and wasted effort. I am coming to understand how to take the lines of the choreography and adjust them to fit my proportions and technical abilities.

Learning the lines and movement vocabulary of all these different teachers has been challenging, and has called heavily on my Alexander skills of inhibition and thinking in activity. My aesthetic has changed, and after so many years devoted to Alexander Technique and the improved integrity of my support system, I am approaching dance in a new way. I don't want to push my body to the limit or distort my spine to fulfill shapes. Instead, I want to find the pleasure of movement, and the ease of balance that comes from not pushing or forcing things. I am dancing for my own pleasure, there is no one else to please but myself. Yet I still find myself wanting positive feedback from the teacher and having to stop myself from forcing lines and competing against myself.

More than anything, it comes back to my mental attitude and managing the strong stimulus of how I approached dance in my youth. This time around, I have more intelligence and life experience to make up for what I lack in physical capacity at my age to dance the way I did in my teens and twenties. I can't always follow the nuances of the routine, or catch all the steps, but I don't care and the teachers are completely easy going about it, as well. I am so much more present now than I was back then, and I am enjoying every moment of class.