By Charlotte Selver
This article is an edited excerpt from the newly published audio tape of Charlotte Selver’s December 5, 1999 class at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center.
When I first came to Elsa Gindler in 1923 she had become very interested in breathing and the organism’s positive tendencies: to heal itself; to renew ; and to balance. Gindler had given up any teaching, she said: “I don’t want to teach anymore; I want to find out; I want to study. I want to discover and whoever wants to come with me, to study and discover together, is very welcome.” It was a magnificent time we all had together. The tiniest reactions and the smallest discoveries were taken very seriously. I felt fortunate to be with Gindler as she was discovering and developing her work.
When class began in the morning there was first one and a half hours work on breathing. Next, we would spend time with inner functioning as it related to how we moved. Then, we would explore how we dealt with bigger questions: how we go into difficult tasks in daily life; how we approach other people; how we get in touch with them; how we speak to them; how we help a person to rest more, or to become more vivid, or to become more balanced. Gindler had a very deep interest in how we acted in moments of stress. These possibilities were endless. We worked on each other, with each other and alone. We could work the entire day on one activity, be it in class or on our own. It was a deeply human study that embraced everything a human being could do.
When I was a child my whole life was music. I was eleven years old when my parents gave me a grand piano. I was all the time sitting at it and playing. Every Wednesday, my piano teacher came to the house. My father would come home early from business and join us in the music room. Part of my lesson was hearing the teacher play the beginning of different pieces for me to tell him the name of the piece and the composer. Toward the end of the lesson, father would ask the teacher to play for us. It was always a festival for me to have these music lessons, see my father listen to me and hear the teacher play.
This was the only enjoyable event in the house of my parents. My mother was a dragon; activities were either forbidden or allowed. To be able to do something out of one’s hearts desire didn’t exist. Mother said “yes” or “no” and we acted accordingly. I spent much of my growing up alone because my sister and I were very different. She loved being involved with homemaking. I preferred to be removed from these things and found excuses to be away. I did many things my mother did not approve of and learned to lie to get my way. Everything was a lie. I lied from morning ’til evening. Soon, I didn’t know truth.
“You must move!”: Bode Gymnastik in the 1920’s
There was always this war going on at home. Playing the piano was my only solace. I hardly ever moved and I ate constantly. I became very heavy.
I had a cousin who was a dancer. One day she exclaimed: “Charlotte, do you know how you look? You cannot go out looking so heavy, you must do something for yourself. You must move!” I didn’t want to “move” but I found an activity that connected music with physical activity. Dr. Rudolph Bode had a system whereby he played the piano and the students moved according to the music being played. I enroled in his school.
Although Dr. Bode considered me completely ungifted I completed my studies after two years and started to teach Bode Gymnastik. One of Bode’s senior students, Hinrich Medau, said to me: “Let’s go and conquer Berlin.” This was a time when everybody wanted to study movement and in no time did we had a lot of students.
During this time, I also met Elsa Gindler and began studying with her. In the beginning it was all just wonderful but after some time I realized that all my movements were artificial; that everything I did was not heartfelt. I had a terrible time when I began to feel my own falsehood, my own deafness in movement. All I had learned so far was not me and it took a long time before I began to understand more of what Gindler’s intentions were and what true movement, what honesty was. I came out of my web of lying. This was a very, very important time for me.