Sunday, December 18, 2016

What It Takes to Feel Good: The Nickolaus Technique

When I was a student at Juilliard I was often wracked with physical tension due mostly to constant practicing and always carrying a heavy shoulder bag filled with music and instruments. This was before people carried ergonomic backpacks. This was before the idea of ergonomic anything. Walking around the city in shoes that did not offer adequate support didn't help either.

One day in the winter 1979 a friend brought me to an exercise class that involved a brand new way of exercising developed by a dancer named Richard Nickolaus. The series of exercises, known as The Nickolaus Technique, was based on principles of Yoga and isometrics, and gave attention to all the moving parts of the body (including the feet). It involved controlled breathing, stretching, and strengthening, and it made an amazing difference in my life. There were studios all over the city, and if you were a member of one studio, you could take as many classes as you liked at any studio.

I took classes for around a year, and then I bought the book by Benno Isaacs and Jay Kobler so that I could keep doing the series of 30 exercises on my own when I went on my post-Juilliard travels. I somehow managed to misplace the book, but I still did the exercises. Well, some of them.

Last week, while I was out of town, I was showing a Yoga-minded friend some exercises from the Nickolaus Technique, and used my phone to search for it online. I couldn't remember the spelling of "Nickolaus," and was therefore unsuccessful. I tried again when I got home, and found a used copy of the book at Amazon for one cent. It arrived in the mail the other day, and I have been doing the series of 30 exercises after practicing.

What a great series of stretching and strengthening exercises it is! And it is particularly good for musicians of "a certain age" who are not as flexible as they once were.

Here's the cover:

And here's the Amazon link. I'm going to order a few more copies to give to my friends.


canoetoo said...

I recall taking exercise classes back when I was younger (as you were) in the 1970s. The gal that held the classes at a gym I attended said that the exercises were from the Nicolaus technique. I do recall that they made for a very efficient and satisfying session. I later bought the book you refer to but it went missing during a later move. When I searched for it a couple of years ago I couldn't remember the authors and searching for "Nicolaus Technique" didn't seem to get any hits. So now that I have the names of the authors I can have another look for a copy if you haven't snapped them all up already.

By the way, I always enjoying your blog postings. About four years ago I decided that learning to play classical guitar would be a very good retirement project. I've played the piano for many, many years so all the music notation, etc., is second nature.

But what an experience learning such a different instrument. Each hand having to learn a different technique not mention having the same pitch able to be played in more than one place on the instrument. Still it's enjoyable to play an instrument that you can hold in your lap (and take on camping trips). Feeling the vibrations of the instrument in your sternum. A much more immediate experience that the piano in that way. I hope to learn your solo piece for guitar which I've seen on ISMLP. Also, one night my guitar teacher had a sight reading session and we made our way through your English folk song arrangement for guitar quartet and enjoyed it very much.

Anonymous said...

I also was a student of the Nickolaus Technique in the 1970's. It was a fabulous experience which made me more flexible and toned. I attended the studio in Manhattan and really miss this exercise program. Unfortunately, no one teaches this type of exercise today and I am sure the studios do not exist anymore. I owned the book, but I am not the type of person to do exercises by myself at home. Since this was before the video and DVD age, there is no record of this program on either medium. It is too bad no one thought of putting it on DVD since that would be just like being back in the studio. It is the perfect exercise program for anyone who really does not like to work out on machines but just on a mat. If anyone out there knows of the existence of this program in the Long Island area or knows of the existence of the program on DVD, I would love to hear from them.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled on an ad for the Nickolaus Technique in a 1981 New York magazine and, just out of curiosity, Googled it (because how could a place go from 10 locations to forgotten in the age of exercise studio expansion?). That led me to your site ... and also to this:

I'll have to check out some of the moves. The website makes it seem like a variation on Pilates.

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you so much for this link!

farther rooms said...

I was glad to find this thread as one never hears of the method or NYC studios anymore. I still do the exercises at home but miss having my old tapes. I was a devoted student of the method from the '70s through the mid-'80s. I typically took two hours in succession 5-6 days a week. My very problematic back was never stronger, and I was never more calm or fit. I had two prior horseback riding accidents, a significant whiplash, and man pulls and strains in my practice of ballet and modern dance. The technique was a godsend for all of that. It also was good for my depression. When it was done correctly, you automatically lost some weight as one does with any serious breathwork be it yogic or other. Initially, I took classes only at the Grammercy Park studio, then some at the studios on the upper Westside and Wall Street. I owned a set of their three-class cassettes. I played them at home many years after I ever listened to any other tape. I planned to have them transferred but waited too long, and they were also degraded. I always wish I had DVDs of the classes. I bought another copy of the hardback book on Amazon ten years ago. I am glad to have it, but it is no substitute for the class tapes.
In the early 1980's, there were rumblings that much of the management of the studios were practitioners and managers in Sokka Gakkai (sp?), the Korean practice or cult with the mantra Nam Myo Renge Hyo which purports to be Buddhist and part of Nichiren Shoshu which many believe is a cult and not a real piece of Buddhism. It is a practice which was done by Tina Turner, Orlando Bloom, Patrick Duffy, and many others. I always liked everyone I knew there who taught or was in management and never quite believed all of that, I moved from NYC and missed the last act. I assumed there must have been some financial/ commercial I never knew any of the details or facts, but I think there must have been a severe commercial/legal crisis to cause the studios and the method to seemingly vanish from NYC.
I have the best memories of those days and the classes-- those and some other methods I studied in NYC in those years. I studied the Alexander Technique, and The Lotte Berk Method, which was a forerunner of so many of the barre classes which have dominated for the last few decades. I find that all of it has links to Pilates which I have practiced since then. I have a Reformer at home now. It was surprisingly affordable, and it has saved me.
I am curious about the link but could not get it to work. I would love to read the piece. I have heard of Bill Thompson and may have a book by him. I will type in the URL.
I still search eBay and Amazon hoping to find someone selling an errant old class cassette which still works. I would love to buy and transfer one.
Oh, this keeps reformatting, erasing and compressing text, making its own line breaks. I apologize for the format.

Hopefl said...

When Richard Nickolaus and Bill Thompson were in Durham NC in the late 60s-early 70s, my mother corralled them to create some exercises for me to do to help the curvature forming in my back. They agreed, and I visited them religiously for a couple of years for exercises. They introduced me to the Nichiren Shoshu book and mantra ("nam myo ho renge kyo"), and gave me some wooden prayer beads, which I still have - somewhere.
My mother and "the boys" (that's what she called them) became very good friends, and they formulated a set of exercises for her as well, which pleased her no end. Richard sent her his original back book when it was published - not The Nickolaus Technique, but another title that I can't quite recall right now, which drives me buggy! If anyone can help me out here, I would really appreciate it!
I lost touch with them when they moved away and went back to their ballet.
Would love to know where they both are now!

Unknown said...

Hello . My mother used to teach Nikolaus both in New York State and back in Canada. - back in the 80's and 90's I may still have a cassette or two . I'll search.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I was one of those who was briefly at the Gramercy Park Studio in 1986. Unfortunately, I didn't continue the process of the full dive into the teacher/apprentice training process which at the time seemed a bit challenging if one was going to do that and continue ones day job (for the rent/food/etc). Glad to see others are sharing information and that brief time wasn't a figment of my imagination as I couldn't find any remaining clues to what the method was until now as google is a blank slate. I have taught Pilates for the last twenty years and probably accepted so readily to train because of (shhh!) Pilates training that I had begun in 1981 up that point. I would love to look through the book!


Anonymous said...

Hello. I took the Nickolaus Technique exercise classes for many years at the Dance Studio in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY. It was the best form of exercise I have ever done. I would love to get a copy of a video or cassette. Has anyone found one recently? I just purchased the book on Amazon. Can't wait to get started again!