Studies in Public Posture: Bernie Sanders — 11 Comments

  1. This is a fascinating topic. My off-the-cuff reactions to public figures are strongly influenced by the quality of their voices and the posture and movement habits. After I started studying the Alexander Technique, I began to be able to analyze the elements that were affecting me, and to separate the message from the medium.

    Robert, you describe Bernie Sanders’ patterns clearly, and I see them all in the videos. Despite all the interferences that are taking their toll on his voice, I still have the impression of a voice connected to the breath and resonating in his torso and head. Of course, I cannot be sure just from video. But he conveys an impression of sincerity that I believe comes from this physical integrity of the voice. Even the hoarseness doesn’t detract from this.

    By contrast, Hillary Clinton’s voice sounds disconnected fom her breath, with excess work in her throat, producing a flat, forced tone quality. She is frequently criticized for having an unpleasant voice, and this often is framed in a political context– e.g., strong women are threatening to some people). But a strong voice need not be harsh-sounding. I’d love to see your observations on her use

    I hasten to add that I don’t think these observations and impressions accurately reflect the truth of these two politicians. The very fact that we Alexander Technique teachers know they can change quickly in an Alexander lesson proves that. However, I think they do have a powerful effect on much of the electorate, who don’t have the observational tools to separate out the impressions arising from use patterns.

  2. Interesting, and an important topic especially in relationship to our national leaders. Before I go on, I want to make clear that I am still undecided as a voter and support different aspects of both Democratic candidates. I will be honest, one of the things that made me concerned about Bernie when he first came on the scene was his Use–besides concern for his health, the pattern you described struck me as having a lot of pull down and it made me wonder about his ability to be poised and responsive in difficult situations, as well as striking me as unnecessarily aggressive. Honestly, I think this Use often serves him, as one of the things which has helped him surge is the experience of righteous outrage and commitment to his ideals he gives–it is obvious he authentically cares. So, this pattern might be a bit self-reinforcing–it motivates people to join him and as an older gentleman, it helps him appear vital(he might be dismissed as frail if he were more poised, which is a cultural problem our society has with ageism). It might not serve him if he becomes the front-runner though. As time as gone on, I have noticed something interesting–this pattern only really happens when he repeats one of his major talking points(which with any politician happens frequently)associated with blame. When he formulates a new response or changes his mind on something(which he has notably done a few times), a new use pattern shows up which is comparatively spritely. This part of him I really like. So if he could learn as the campaign goes on to pull down less when putting out his main message and go to this more free use often, it could make him less threatening to people who want to dismiss him by calling up a pink scare around his socialist label. It might also help some of his supporters be less strident in a way that is setting up an oppositional dynamic between them and other groups. I would not be surprised if his supporters ape his pull down when they are being aggressive towards others(it goes without saying this is only a segment of his supporters, not reflective of the whole base). I think one of President Obama’s strengths has been to send people ‘up’ with his comparatively free use–it is part of his inspirational aspect. Hope this hasn’t overstepped–this stuff can feel like a field of landmines to talk bout, but I think it is important to have a dialogue. Thanks to Robert for facilitating it.

  3. I think a huge point for all of us as AT teachers to recognize is that Hillary Clinton has clearly worked extensively on her posture, poise and presence, and struggles constantly with the tone and volume of her typically Central Pennsylvania voice. Bernie Sanders, not at all. That is a major privilege and advantage men have posturally. As a woman vying for success in public, Clinton has to be exposed to a scrutiny of her physical and vocal presence in ways that a man never will. I think this is an extremely important reality to understand with our female students.

    • You may be right about that Monika, but the focus of this series is really to take an Alexander Technique approach to in-the-moment posture and movement observation – not to try to explain why they are occurring. That, I think, is would be a great subject for an entirely different blog.


  4. I am a teacher of singing and a lifetime Alexandrian since 1982. I started studying with Nina Haar (National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal) and a graduate from London. Her father Axel Haar and her brother (who is the creator of the Devon School) were also Alexander Tecnique teachers.

    As a singer in my mid- 4O’s, at the top of my game, I had a terrible bout of pneumonia and developed a haematoma in one vocal fold from coughing so violently. It unfortunately had to be removed surgically. The surgery was very skilled but I was unable to get anyone to help me to restore the voice after the trauma of surgery. NO ONE!!!! I stopped singing for about 5 years and then while on a 2 year stint in Regina Saskatchewan, I re-educated my singing and speaking self, ie my body and my body in context of movement and the minutae involved in reeducating the breath and vocal mechanism myself.

    Everyday…..atttending attending, observing, recording, directing directing directing. Stopping at the the slightest doing!!! A hundred times in an hour if need be. I finally did it and the voice came back with more presence, beauty and ease than I had ever known.

    The upshot of this is I have been restoring voices for about 10 years now, including that of an Alexander Technique teacher in Halifax.N.S. Tasha Miller. She and I exchanged services and collaborated in many ways. What a joy.

    Through all of this I have ‘reworked’ the language to providemore accurate and aware thinking and images around singing. One of my epithets is that “the human voice is a resonant instrument (like a cello) , not a projecting one (like a trumpet). Keeping the sound within the body is essential to preserve vocal health and integrity. This is of course, jsut the beginning of a journey to restore and beautify a voice but such an important one.

    Bernie’s mistake is “going out” to the mic…not allowing the mic to do its job of letting it come to hime to pick up his properly direct (read supported) and resonant voice.

    Thank you Richard so much for your blog. What a marvelous discovery in an afternoon of sufing

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