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Falling up

"You're walking, and you don't always realize it, but you're always falling.
With each step, you fall forwards slightly and then catch yourself from falling.
Over and over again, you're falling and then catching yourself from falling.
And this is how you can be walking and falling at the same time."
- Laurie Anderson, in the song "Walking and Falling"

I remember the first time Claire Destree, with whom I take Alexander lessons, used the expression “falling up.” When these words rolled through my body, all of the downward force from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet disappeared in an effortless paradoxical plumb line of weighted weightlessness. The image applied felt like an iron ball hanging at the bottom of a string was all together up-side-down, with the weight suspended from the floor and the string right below. Its was not all together weightless, like a balloon suspended upwards from a string. It was heavier, and more powerful than that, like a weight precisely falling up.
“It’s magic!” I said.
Claire laughed and said with equal enthusiasm, “No, it’s not at all!”

It’s real, it’s efficient, and one does it all by oneself first and foremost by not  doing it.

Claire would also frequently say, “the first thing you’re going to do is stop.” How often on this manic busy planet, or in this profession of dance which is primarily about movement, do you get to hear someone say such an instruction? Now if that’s not a selling point for the Alexander Technique, I wasn’t born in the eighties. But let’s not misunderstand the instruction. It’s not about postponement, procrastination, or encouraging inaction, and it’s also not necessarily about resistance. It’s only about not-doing so that I am actually more ready to do anything in any direction at any moment than I would have been with all that extra fidgety preparation, fixing myself, or anticipatory bracing for action. Some days Claire would have me sitting on the chair for minutes and minutes on end until I would actually grasp and embody the concept of just stopping and doing nothing. Then, suddenly and spontaneously, with only the slightest and clearest direction and the smallest effort, without any notice or preparation, I would be standing. “It’s magic!” I said.
Claire laughed and said with equal enthusiasm, “No, it’s not at all!”

It’s absolutely possible by remaining simple and clear about means while ready for any ends.

Soon this notion of readiness flowed into my movement and artistic practice in many ways. It influenced my way of training, of warming up, of performing, of using time, of managing a very busy schedule, and of doing everything in-between my dancing. As my general approach to being in motion and at rest became more consistent with the principles I was learning in my private Alexander lessons, the less I had to work to achieve my goals, the more efficiently my intentions seemed to translate into physical reality, the less compensation I needed for my efforts, the less recuperation afterwards, and the less preparation I needed to feel capable and on top of it all. “On-top” is not a coincidental expression here. If one is on top, one is not  pulling up, because that would mean there is still something higher up to be pulling on. When one is on top, one is at rest, supported by the bottom and the middle and the almost-top, which are all also at rest, as supported by their constant falling and rebounding, in a buoyant balance point between up and down. As falling implies nonresistance, something falling up will not stop until it is all the way up!

Sound like magic? Or a paradox? It’s not. It’s the earth giving back what you have let her take care of: your weight. It’s the ground taking care of what you have given up: all that extra effort.

It’s as if Laurie Anderson could have said, “You are always falling, and you don’t always realize it, but you are also managing to do everything else in your life while falling at the same time. And when you realize this, there is an incredible lightness to every action, through which by giving in to gravity, you begin to rise.” But she didn’t say exactly that. So I did.


In July of 2009 I was lying in an emergency hospital bed at midnight in Athens immobilized by a freshly torn calf muscle, looking up through teary eyes at a young assistant of the Athens festival who had just witnessed my misfortune onstage. As he held my hand with the gentlest touch and most convincingly kind voice, he said to me, “Have you ever studied the Alexander Technique?” And at this moment, in my weakest hour of desperation and accumulated trauma (although I would have probably also taken LSD if he had suggested it with that voice and that touch), I decided to study the Alexander Technique more seriously. After many years of superficial encounters with the Alexander Technique through various trite slogans and contemporary dance classes that were already a bastardized mix of at least three other techniques, studying the Alexander Technique in a more strict and isolated fashion was already something on my epic and overly ambitious to-do list of ideals and interests. Once I started with private lessons, the principles of ease and efficiency that flooded into the rest of my life from Alexander also helped the rest of the above list begin to take on more realistic proportions in terms of what is actually needed to get them done.

A lot of the changes I experienced through studying, reflecting on, and applying the Alexander Technique to my mind and body were primarily about time. Of course the Alexander Technique is about the body, which is for many, at first thought, more about space than time. Even if I do not entertain now the obvious scientific tangents about space-time or any possible philosophical digressions on duration and extension, I can still in a very practical way say that change is mainly experienced and registered by the passage of time, and that the nature of most changes in the physical world are very much determined by the time they take. For example: in most cases, creation takes much more time than destruction. With practice and application -- and with noticing the difference if I don’t take the time for focused practice, as in lying on books -- the Alexander Technique has become so much more about time than space for me. The directions (which we can consider the spatial element of the technique) are so evident and ever-present that they only need to be remembered, gently reminded, frequently revisited, sometimes re-questioned and reevaluated, but always refreshed, never stale, never what they were yesterday or the day before. The same general directions at a different time may feel like a different body all together. In this sense, when I say the Alexander Technique is about time, I mean it in terms of being specific and true to the realities that condition each moment, as directions are not absolutes. Directions are vectors (of thought, of intention, of movement) inserted into an always changing system that must be considered in it’s uniqueness at each instant. The second way in which the Alexander Technique is about time is in progression, order of events. If I stop first and then do something, I do it better, clearer, more efficiently. If I get something over with so that I can rest after, it fosters haste, and as we know, “haste makes waste”, with waste  comes dissatisfaction, which fosters unrest and anxiety, tension ensues and then we’re back at the beginning with problems to fix which could have been avoided all together. And so the grandest paradox of all is that stopping first saves time in the end. When I remember to simply stop, and actually do it, I realize I need much less preparation, and afterwards, much less recuperation. In doing nothing, I am able to access the precise source and just the right amount of energy needed for the task at hand, whether it be falling up to do the dishes, falling up to put on a show, or falling up to write this text.

“When you put a letter in the post box,” said Claire one day, expounding on the subject of how I might approach extending my leg by sending my foot away, “you don’t tell it how to get there, you just write the address and trust that it finds its way to its destination. You don’t worry about which route it will take.”

When I am clear about where I am and clear about where I wish to go, all I have to do is stop, think about the directions, and then stay out of the way while they do their work.

Sensations tell me where I am presently, thoughts tell me where I want to go next, and there is a lovely dance between the two, in constant negotiation and counterbalance, wherein mind and matter trust, inform, and carry each other through the flows of movement and rest.


Eleanor Bauer

Article published in  ‘NDD l’actualité de la danse’, N°50, Hiver 2011

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Photograph of F. M. Alexander © 2010, The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique, London