History of the International Congresses of the F. M. Alexander Technique

This article on the origin of the International Congresses was written by the International Congress founder, Michael Frederick, after the 3rd International Congress in Engelberg, Switzerland.
Reflections On Coordinating The International Congresses

By Michael Frederick

When beginning my teacher training in London with Walter and Dilys Carrington, I was young and naive. I assumed that the Alexander Technique, and the principles embodied therein, would lead to, a whole and cooperative Alexander community, exempting it from the usual downward spirals and degeneration that occur in other organizations.

I was rudely awakened upon attending my first 'London party' for teacher trainees in 1975. The Macdonald group stood in one corner of the room and the Carrington camp in the other - very few Barlow trainees even attended - the Peter Scott students seemed the most amiable, mingling about the room, but were on the 'fringe of London acceptability.' The only thing we could all seem to agree upon was a sense of being better than any Alexander teacher trained in America! (Especially by that woman in Nebraska.)

In those days, as far as direct communication among various factions was concerned, there was - at best - an acceptance of 'agreeing to disagree.' If a common ground was not found, it was easy to see the Alexander world atrophying into a quaint Edwardian approach to psycho-physical education.

During his lifetime, F. M. was constantly striving to refine and improve his method of teaching. Even the underlying principles of the Technique were continually being reinterpreted as Alexander looked for better ways to communicate his discovery.

Since his death, we no longer have Alexander at the center of this natural process. Instead, we have many individuals who are finding their own ways of teaching the Alexander Technique. It is inevitable that these people and their teachings will evolve in different directions. It is also inevitable that if nothing is done to replace Alexander as a unifying force at the center of the Alexander world, the teachers of the Technique will become increasingly distant from one another, both in style and in substance.

These are the ideas that led to the organization of the first International Congress of Alexander Teachers, held in Stony Brook, New York in August 1986. This was followed by a second Congress in Brighton, England in 1988, and the third Congress this past summer in Engelberg, Switzerland.

My experience of each event was dramatically different. At Stony Brook University, the moment Marjory & Dr. Barlow, Marjorie Barstow, Walter & Dilys Carrington, and Patrick Macdonald walked on stage together in front of 250 Alexander teachers and trainees, I was overwhelmed with emotion. A deep feeling of gratitude to these Master Teachers for agreeing to come together and travelling the great distance to Stony Brook was coexisting with my fear that old wounds might open up over the next six days. Fortunately my fears did not materialize, and the Congress was a success. A new but tentative spirit of cooperation developed which opened the way for a second Congress.

Over 500 Alexander teachers and trainees attended the second Congress at the University of Sussex in Brighton, creating an astounding event. Everything went smoothly, however, I became aware of the fact that we were depending very heavily on the first generation teachers. Their understanding and years of experience were (and are) vital, but perhaps depending on them was giving us a false sense of security. The primary focus of this event continued to be on classes led by these Master Teachers. Possibly a shift in focus could begin to occur.

Engelberg, Switzerland was a significant turning point. The whole feeling and atmosphere of this third Congress was much lighter and easier. We were very fortunate to have Marjory & Dr. Barlow, Marjorie Barstow, Walter & Dilys; Carrington and Dick & Elisabeth Walker, all teaching Master Classes. However, there were also daily Master Classes taught by sixteen 2nd & 3rd Generation teachers,* representing a wide spectrum of the Alexander community. The response to these classes by the almost 500 teachers and trainees at this Congress was extremely positive and indicated to us that this had been a move in the right direction.

The reason these three International Congresses worked as well as they did was because they were open to all Alexander teachers and trainees worldwide, whether they chose to belong to a professional organization or not. The Congresses were opportunities for Alexander teachers from all over the world to gather, celebrate and strengthen their work, no matter their affiliation. These events allowed a common ground of understanding to begin to develop. Diversity and unity worked side by side.

This open policy is continuing on to 1994 and Sydney, Australia where the 4th International Congress will be held. Professor David Garlick from the University of New South Wales is the new Coordinating Director. (Professor Garlick is currently training in Sydney to become an Alexander teacher.)

On a closing note . . . One of my favorite memories of Engelberg was during the group photo session in a park in the center of the village, surrounded by the Swiss Alps. I watched Marjory & Dr. Barlow, Marjorie Barstow, Walter & Dilys Carrington, Dick & Elisabeth Walker, along with all the 2nd & 3rd Generation teachers laughing and enjoying being together. I will never forget the impression of this moment it was a long way from that ‘London party’ in 1975.

* The sixteen 2nd and 3rd generation Alexander teachers who taught master classes at the 3rd International Congress in Engelberg, Switzerland, were: Adam Nott, Deborah Caplan, Shaike Hermelin, Rosemary Nott, Rivka Cohen, Yehuda Kuperman, Frank Ottiwell, Barbara Conable, Shmuel Nelken, Fran Robinson, Bruce Fertman, Carolyn Nicholls, Tommy Thompson, David Gorman, John Nicholls, and Jaqueline Webster.

This article was first published in The Congress Papers (of the 3rd International Congress in Engelberg, Switzerland), Direction, Australia, undated, pp. 8-9. Reproduced with permission by the author. Copyright Michael Frederick.
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