Tom Koch on One Body One Career 2018 & The Alexander Technique
‘It doesn’t matter if you are a dancer, an actor, a musician or whatever, gaining a clearer understanding of how you can better manage yourself seems to me fundamental, something we should have been taught in school but weren’t.’
Since 2006, One Body One Career intensives have brought together dancers from across the world to learn about Countertechnique. But a major component of this two-week intensive is also its Alexander Technique workshops, led by former professional dancer and certified teacher Tom Koch. In our final reflection piece on One Body One Career 2018, we asked Tom to tell us more about the Alexander Technique, how it helps prolong dance careers and what he has loved most about this year’s event.
Take us through the Alexander Technique, what is it and how did you discover it?
The Alexander Technique is a sophisticated way to change the way you manage muscle tension to improve your posture and performance. By learning it you gain a rational understanding of how to use your body to move in ways that promote efficiency and ease rather than pain and strain. It actually was developed right here in Melbourne in the late 1890’s by a Tasmanian elocutionist, F.M. Alexander. He moved to London to 1904 and never returned, although his technique certainly has.
I found the Technique while living in New York. I had stopped dancing due to extreme back pain, and soon after I stopped singing and acting as well. A friend started taking lessons in the Technique, and when I saw how much it improved her appearance, I jumped at it. I had been told it was “good for back pain”, but it was vanity that got me through the door.
How did your Alexander Technique workshops come to become apart of One Body One Career?
I had been teaching the dancers in the Frankfurt ballet when I was given four names of young dancers in Amsterdam who might be interested in my work. One of those was Anouk van Dijk, who even offered me her living room for teaching space. Anouk studied with me for a very long time, and eventually, almost all the dancers she worked with in Holland studied with me as well. Anouk even asked for my feedback as she began to codify her own Countertechnique. So the faculty of the very first One Body One Career consisted of Anouk, myself, plus two or three other students of mine teaching ballet and improvisation. So Alexander Technique has been part of OBOC both directly and indirectly since the beginning.
In what ways can Alexander Technique most benefit professional dancers and people more widely?
We are all bio-psycho-social creatures, so we all have our own musculoskeletal structure, our own habits of thought and movement, and our societal beliefs about the body, the mind, movement, pain, dance, etc. The Alexander Technique offers us a relatively simple way to cope with the incredible complexities of being a human in the modern world. It doesn’t matter if you are a dancer, an actor, a musician or whatever, gaining a clearer understanding of how you can better manage yourself seems to me fundamental, something we should have been taught in school but weren’t.
What have you enjoyed most about this year’s One Body One Career?
Without a doubt, it is the incredibly inspiring community of young dancers I have the privilege to teach. Their openness and eagerness to explore possibilities, to dare to be wrong, their growing joy in dancing, a joy which some had lost almost completely before coming here, these are the reasons I keep coming back to teach at OBOC.
Where else has Alexander Technique taken you and what do you enjoy most about your practice?
Most of the time I’m quite happy to teach private lessons at my Amsterdam studio. There I work mainly with people who have some kind of prolonged problem, such as MS, persistent or recurring pain, RSI, or those who are recovering from injuries or surgeries and need help to regain trust in their own bodies. But I also love going abroad to teach groups of dancers and other artists at La Biennale in Venice, Studio 303 in Montreal, l’Artere in Quebec. But my favourite gig is still OBOC, wherever we hold it next.
The best part of my practice is seeing a student free themselves from self-judgment and fear and move with confidence, grace and agility when they thought they couldn’t.
Want to know more about Alexander Technique? You can find out more about the Alexander Technique and Tom Koch’s work here.