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Dance Generation | André Bernard

ANDRÉ BERNARD

André Bernard developed his interest in Ideokinesis in pursuit of a career in acting. Born June 10, 1924 in Columbia, South Carolina, André demonstrated aptitude for the sciences as a child. Toward the end of his teenage years it was clear that he was also gifted with a magnificent speaking voice. While pursuing college majors in chemistry and mathematics, Bernard cultivated his vocal ability working as a radio announcer. He enrolled in courses in the arts toward the end of his college years and developed an interest in the theater. Upon his graduation in 1944, Bernard took up the study of acting and continued his work in radio. By 1948, he was working as an actor for the widely acclaimed Barter Theater.

Bernard saw Erick Hawkins performing with the Martha Graham Dance Company while on tour with the Barter Theater in 1949. He was inspired and recognized immediately that training in modern dance would be a wonderful enhancement to his growth as an actor. Backstage one night Bernard visited with Hawkins who encouraged him to come to New York to study dance. Bernard moved to the city the following year, located Hawkins and began to take classes at his studio. In a 1989 interview, Bernard explained how those classes led to lessons in body alignment with Barbara Clark:

After some lessons with Erick I began to see that there was something in the movement that his people did that I thought was wonderful but I didn’t know how to get it into my own movement. And so I asked him if there was anything that I could do to learn that. So then he mentioned Barbara Clark. He said, ‘go to her and she will show you what you need to know.’

Bernard continued with his first impressions of Clark’s teaching:

I had my first lesson and I still remember that very well... my first impression was that it was such a strange way to think. I had been in the university level of studying what is obvious.... She gave me a table lesson and a little bit of either sitting or standing or something. Whatever it was I thought it very strange and I don’t think I would have gone back had it not been for Erick ... that is why I hung on. And then of course as I began to take more lessons, I began to get a perception and a reaction from the images and then of course I really began to like it more and more.

At the time that Bernard became a student of Clark in the 1950’s, Mabel Todd’s prominence in New York was waning. Concerned that the work would be lost when Todd closed her New York studio, Clark formed an organization devoted to the continuance of the teaching that she called “Technique for Movement.” Initially, Clark, Bernard, Joanne Emmons and a few other students gathered for weekly meetings. Then they rented a studio where Emmons taught dance classes and Clark conducted the table teaching. Bernard was among the students Clark enlisted to learn her version of Todd’s table work.

Bernard remembered Clark’s procedure for teaching as quite precise and methodical. First, Bernard received a table lesson from Clark and then he practiced the techniques on another prospective teacher who assumed the role of the student. As Bernard progressed in his mastery of the table teaching, Clark referred several of her students to him for additional practice. Bernard began to enjoy working with this small clientele of students that included Erick Hawkins and many of his dancers.

Bernard’s work in body alignment harmonized beautifully with his study of acting at Drama Tree, the school of Anthony Mannino. Mannino trained actors in the Meisner Technique which was based on the original theories of the great Russian director, Konstantin Stanislavsky. Troubled by chronic back pain, Mannino took table lessons with Bernard and sent him acting students in need of remedial work in movement.

Barbara Clark’s Technique for Movement organization continued through the 1950’s. When the group gave up their studio in 1958, Bernard began teaching at Drama Tree where Mannino wanted the material to be taught in a class format. Although group teaching was quite a departure from Clark’s tradition of individualized instruction, she helped Bernard to prepare for the classes. She also developed images and exercises for the acting students to practice outside class in the second in her series of body alignment manuals, How to Live in Your Axis -- Your Vertical Line. Clark attended many of Bernard’s classes at Drama Tree and offered suggestions. Bernard considered Clark to be his “silent partner” and paid her half his fee for as long as he taught at the studio.

Bernard’s teaching of body alignment for actors was only one facet of his professional activities during this period. He continued his pursuit of professional acting and landed small roles in productions by the Kraft Television Theater and the Hallmark Hall of Fame. He performed as a narrator for choreographer Charles Weidman and later for dance humorist, Mimi Garrard. In 1965, Bernard began working for WNYC-FM. As the host of the program “Around New York,” he introduced classical music selections and greeted prominent writers, actors, dancers and musicians for almost twenty-five years.

1965 also brought Bernard the opportunity to teach alignment classes for the Dance Department at the Tisch School for the Arts. In 1970 his appointment broadened to include the Dance Division of the School of Education, Health, Nursing and Arts Professions (SEHNAP) at New York University. At NYU, Bernard enlarged the scope of his classes. Lectures on the scientific aspects of the field were based in the works of Mabel Todd and Lulu Sweigard. He simplified Clark’s table techniques into “tactile aids” for students to use in teaching each other. To avoid misunderstanding related to the use of touch in his classes, Bernard explained that,

Tactile aid is a light touch ... on the part of the body which is to be imaged. The touch can be stationary or moving. Its purpose is to clarify where the image is taking place and the direction in which the image is moving, bringing focus and kinesthetic awareness to the process.

Bernard’s career at NYU provided a platform for influencing dance students from all over the world. Their enthusiasm for his “physio-philosophical” approach spawned additional teaching opportunities on the west coast and later in Europe. The information Bernard presented in his workshops and classes was fairly consistent. Yet, as his own experience of the material deepened, he continually found new ways of conveying the information. The many students who repeated his classes renewed their knowledge of the common thread and made new discoveries through Bernard’s artful manner of combining and juxtaposing the images. Borrowing from the actor’s discipline, Bernard encouraged both beginning and advanced students to approach the imagery with the mindset of a “first run-through.” He reminded students that any occasion for re-thinking an image could be an opportunity for new kinesthetic insights as long as you, “don’t do the image -- let the image do you.”

In 1997, Contact Quarterly featured several articles about Bernard’s work in the reprint, “Ideokinesis and Creative Body Alignment.” With the assistance of two of his long-time European students, Bernard documented his summer workshops in Switzerland in a book called Ideokinese: Ein creativer Weg zu Bewegung und Korperhaltun which was published in 2003. An English version of the book was completed in 2006.

André Bernard died at his home on May 21, 2003. His life in the arts was honored in memorials conducted in New York City, Berkeley, California and Bern, Switzerland.

Pamela Matt

Bibliography for André Bernard

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