Thursday, April 12, 2012

Where's the Floor?

What's with the picture, you might ask. Well, the round thing next to the door is something we're required by law to have in apartments here in New York City. It's a carbon monoxide alarm. But what it is really isn't that important. What is important is that the round hole in the top is just about 67.5" off the floor. Right at my eye level.

This is something of a surprise. Not that that particular object is there, but that that height is at my eye level. I'd never measured it before, nor had I any idea what the number was supposed to be like. But I did know that if I stood the way I normally stand, it would look like it's a good two or three inches above my eye level.

As a child, I was predicted to be 6'2". I was tall for my age. My brief stint with a piano teacher left few lasting impressions, but one of them was her looking at me in surprise after a lesson one day and saying "You're tall. You don't walk tall. You should walk tall."

I didn't know how to do that. I only ever hit 6', but it used to be people outside of my family didn't believe me when I told them I was that tall. My mother's side of the family averages to be about 5'6" on a good day, so to talk to any of them requires some bending. My father's side of the family tells legends of how relatives who'd never known each other recognized each other by the way they slouched. Standing up straight was an idea I'd heard about and knew I should aspire to, similar to being popular. I saw other people do it, and had a vague idea of how to try, but never had the sense I was doing it properly.

Enter Alexander Technique. defines Alexander Technique as "an educational discipline practiced to prevent the physical decline caused by habituated mannerisms. Learning it can lead the way to improved sensory discrimination, a greater awareness of both body and mind and their interconnection, along with ease of movement." This encompasses a huge variety of things. But for me, more than anything else, this meant actually learning how to stand up straight.

After dating the daughter of two Alexander Technique experts while I was in college, lugging an internal frame backpack around the world for a year and a half, moving to NYC, and then procrastinating even more for no good reason, I finally used my connections in the Seattle-based Performance School for a referral, then signing up for lessons with Belinda Mello at AT Motion.

I'm now working on my second set of classes. They're fun! There's a lot of stuff that seems very basic when you read it, but that when you actively think about it, changes how you move and use your body. My favorite is probably what I used to title this post: "Where's the floor?" The point being that the floor is holding you up. It's rigid enough to support your whole body. So you don't actually have to create any "false floor" in your body to hold anything else up. You're meant to move anyway, so just trust the floor.

I've got a lot to learn still, but I'm feeling a lot of dramatic improvement already in how I stand, sit, and walk. I've made a few adjustments to my home. The three chairs I use the most have rather thick cushions on them now so that my knees are no longer higher than my pelvis when I sit down (fun with long legs). I've mentally marked a couple of key points in the place that are actually at eye level when I stand up straight as a reminder. When I'm not near them, I keep having to remind myself that I'm not looking up at them, I'm looking level at them (as long as I'm really standing up).

The most gratifying part is having tricks that let me have good posture without being stiff. All the other things people kept saying to me while I was growing up often sounded nice, but didn't make much sense. "Push your shoulders back," "pretend you're hanging from a string in the ceiling," or more frequently and most frustratingly, "Stop slouching!" Now I know how to do all those things without doing any of them.

The big change is now how I'm perceived by the rest of the world. I did a monologue at my usual Shakespeare workshop and had one person say it was the most "leading man"-like thing she'd ever seen me do. Strangers trying to get my attention on the street have started yelling out "Hey, you, big guy!" I even had a one speaker at a panel yesterday tell me afterwards that he kept looking at me and directing his talk to me for some reason he couldn't put his finger on. I suspect it was because I was sitting taller than anyone else in the room (including several people who, if measured standing straight up, are a bit taller than I am).

I've got three more classes in this set, not just in standing up tall, but specifically in moving with less tension, and then applying those concepts to my acting. Looking forward to learning more!

If you want to give this a shot yourself, I do recommend it. From working with them firsthand, I can especially recommend coaches Catherine Kettrick and David Mills in Seattle, as well as my coach here in New York City, Belinda Mello. If you aren't in the area, or their schedules don't line up with yours, they can always give you a referral.

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