My first visit to ETAPP
"I arrived at school one Spring morning, just in time for tea, which took place in a kitchen upstairs from the main work room. I felt a bit shy as I took a seat at a long wooden table, facing a dozen strangers, but the the others were friendly and put me at ease.
They each introduced themselves in turn. The disparate group included an actress, a pianist, a singer, an art dealer, a tango instructor, an English teacher, even a woman who trained aircraft pilots... They asked me questions-- how had I come to discover the Technique? How had my lessons changed me? I ended up mimicking how I used to play the piano, my head bobbing forward and back in an attempt to be “expressive”-- and how now, after a series of lessons, I played more upright, with greater sense of groundedness. We drank mugs of hot tea and munched on bread and cheese, apple slices, and crunchy biscuits.
After an efficient, collective tidying-up, we got down to work. I watched as the trainees broke off into pairs by some unspoken process and began working. There was conversation and occasional laughter, but overall the atmosphere was calm and meditative. Odyssée, the director of the school, asked two of the three-year students to give me mini-lessons.
Colin had a solid touch, which made me think of Tai Chi push-hands. After guiding me from standing to sitting a few times, he said he’d observed that I was bending at the waist each time I got in and out of the chair. Did I notice that I was disconnecting my pelvis from the rest of my back? To illustrate, he held up his hand and flapped it back and forth from the wrist, like a floppy fishtail. That was roughly analogous to what I was doing with my pelvis. It took me a few more cycles of standing and sitting before I even noticed what I was doing. And then Colin went one step further and asked me to inhibit that pelvic tilt. His reason was: why ask the lower back to bend, when the same movement goal could be achieved byusing the much more naturally “bendy” joints of the hips, knees and ankles?
The rationale made sense to me, but it was surprisingly difficult to stop doing something so familiar to me. I laughed many times as I tried and failed to inhibit my pelvic flop, before finally getting something that satisfied us both. This work was very absorbing and time went by quickly.
Now it was time for a mini-lesson with Sebastien. I was surprised by how different his style was. His voice and touch were very gentle, coaxing. A film title popped into my mind: “The Horse Whisperer.” With his hands at my waist, he asked me to imagine the floor rising up through my legs. I felt my legs grow long, like tree trunks. Placing his hands on my ribcage, Sebastien then invited me to imagine that my thorax was floating up, lifted by helium balloons under my elbows. I felt my entire body expand and grow light. It was as if my consciousness could flow unimpeded into every part of my body. I was intrigued that two people could train for years under the same professors, amongst the same classmates, and still develop such contrasting teaching styles (or at least employ such different styles in their first lesson with me). With Colin there was a playful challenge of observing my habits and seeing to what extent I could be free of them: The problem-solving, or rational-, model, I’ve come to think of it. With Sebastien, the lesson was more like zen meditation, or a dance, in which he was the choreographer and I the dancer-- a dancer surprised to receive a sudden boost in grace, ease and fluidity: The experiential- or aesthetic- model, I like to call it: or, Alexander Technique practiced just for the beauty of the experience.
Both approaches were compelling. I sensed that there was a common element underlying these two approaches, but this common element was mysterious, hard to define. This intrigued me, too.
Later that very day, back at home, I sent an e-mail to the school, asking to be admitted to the training program. »