Theatre Professor Speaks the Global Language of Movement
Associate Professor Sarah Barker's DVD, Moving With Ease: Applying the Alexander Technique, was recently released with a Japanese translation.
Associate Professor Sarah Barker's expertise in Alexander Technique is attracting a growing international audience.
For several weeks in February 2012, Barker taught at "Body Chance," a popular school in Japan which specializes in the instruction of Alexander Technique (AT). Barker led master classes for future AT teachers at the school's locations in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. She began the year by guesting in January, 2012 at the "Freedom to Act" conference on AT in New York City, and then travelled to Paris, France at the end of February, where she participated in and ran logistics for a three-day cognitive science research forum exploring the concept of the "embodied mind."
"Alexander Technique focuses on the concept of mind in body," Barker explains. "Mr. Alexander believed, and we continue to demonstrate, that if we can get out of your own way, the body's natural reflexes and coordination can take over. And you can, through attention and awareness, guide it, without forcing it to do something odd, toward the best performance possible."
"Performance" relates to everyone, she says, not just actors or other performers. "Alexander Technique is a fundamental approach to becoming conscious in your body, to be able to choose the quality of your movement. Awareness and attention become a powerful tool for changing the experience you have of movement. So, it's applicable to sitting at a computer, to playing violin, to skiing downhill… It's got huge range because it is so fundamental."
AT is named for Frederick Alexander, an actor who, in the 1890s, discovered that vocal problems he experienced were caused by improper body usage. His research into the problem revealed that misusing the body also had other negative results, such as pain and difficulty in breathing.
"People from all walks of life choose to train in AT," she says. "Usually it's because they want to be better at something they do, or they have a physical problem." On this most recent trip, she says she taught yogis, a corporate trainer, a middle school principal, musicians, actors, and even a competitive equestrian athlete.
Sarah profiled in Japan Yoga Journal, Spring 2012
"[AT] is well known in Japan," she says. " There's AT in most of the main cities, taught through schools or private teachers. I've actually worked with the man who really brought it to Japan, Yuzuru Katagiri, who is retired but does teach."
Barker is an associate director at Body Chance, and visits to teach master classes about every sixteen months, she says. Barker's book, The Alexander Technique, is sold at the center through a Japanese publisher, Being Net Press. (Since it's first printing in 1978, the book has been translated into several languages, including Portugese, Italian and German.) Barker has been associated with the school since 2007.
A DVD, Moving With Ease: Applying The Alexander Technique, is now available in Japan through the same publisher. The DVD, produced with the support of the University of SC, features theatre alums DeRante Parker and Marybeth Gorman working on the technique with Barker. The Japanese version features a voice-over translation performed by Japanese popular singer Shigeko Suzuki. Barker currently uses the English-language DVD in her AT instruction here at the university, and sells it herself in the US.
AT is well-known among theatre circles in America, and its popularity has recently increased in other fields. "The best thing to happen for the AT was, in 2008, the British Medical Society published a report on a ten year longitudinal study that demonstrated that AT improved the problems of back pain better than massage and other mitigations. So, now there are people in the popular culture saying, 'Oh, back pain? Maybe you should try AT!'"
She adds, "But really, it's much different than that. That's one of the by-products of the study of it, but what we're looking at in embodied cognition or neuroscience is that this is a way of living consciously physically. And it changes the game -- it really changes the whole thing."
Barker is currently working on a new book with connects Alexander Technique with the fields of exercise science and cognitive science.
For information about purchasing the DVD, contact Sarah directly via email at saBarker@mailbox.sc.edu.