Tuesday, July 15, 2014

You really move me!

I came across a fascinating analysis of the dog trainer, Cesar Milan's, unparalleled success with dogs with behavioral issues.  If you're interested in reading that, you'll find it in the book I made you order last week, What the Dog Saw, by Malcolm Gladwell.  This link will take you to the Amazon "smile" page to order the book (because you didn't finish last week's assignment) and donate part of the cost to a charity of your choosing.

The book, for those who are still waffling, is a collection of articles by the famed economist on varied topics including--TADA!--Cesar Milan and the Laban Analysis of his movements.

It's not enough to just think you know what the horse (or dog, or spouse, or frustrating teen) saw when you were trying to educate him.  You've got to be really sure you know.  I'm all about eliminating variables as quickly as possible so as not to accidentally teach something you'd rather not be learned.  So you're going to learn to apply Laban Movement Analysis in a most rudimentary way.  Real analysts spend years learning how to do this, so don't expect to hang out your shingle after reading this one article, and please leave your friends alone.  Just worry about your movement and how your horse sees it.

I'm going to use classic Educationese and refer to all of the possible student versions as "the learner".  Teachers have to do that in their lesson plans.  Everything starts with "TLW" ("The learner will...").  so suck it up and be the teacher for the next few paragraphs.

The primary part of movement is non-movement, so get up and stand as if you were just, well, standing there.  Look at yourself from the inside.  Are your shoulders square?  Are you completely vertical, or are you leaning forward or back just a smidge?  Where are your hands?  Your shoulders?  Your eyes?

If you're going to have a clear moment of communication with a species that doesn't speak the same oral language (that includes the teen), you need to start with a clear introduction.  How you stand in front of your learner tells him immediately what's on your mind and how you intend to proceed.  If you're leaning slightly forward, you probably imagine that that's a welcoming pose.  "Oh, what a cute horsey!" is what's on your mind. What's on his is "She's going to attack me!"  Not a good foot to get off on.

On the other hand, if you're leaning slightly backward, that's a more submissive, opening pose suggesting that it's okay for the learner  to relax and maybe even approach in some small way.  If it's a horse, you may notice he'll reach his nose forward almost imperceptibly.  If it's a teen, you may find his hand in your purse.  You can lean forward if you do.

Leaning too far backward is an invitation to aggression.  You don't want to telegraph, "Hey!  I'm easy!  Come and poke at me and taste me while you shred my clothing in your search for treats!"  You want to simply say, "Howdy."
Inviting Zip to move with me.
He's accepted the invite and is wondering
whether he needs to bring his own cookies.

Your facial expression will also say something.  A toothy grin, depending on the learner, may be a good thing or a sign of anger and aggression.  Best to start with as few teeth visible as possible while still keeping your face and eyes round and relaxed.  If you're tense and high-strung, there are drugs for this stage.

Hands at your sides and relaxed indicates a non-aggressive attitude.  Hands out to the sides, while you may think mean "I want to hug you!" can come across as making yourself look bigger and more menacing.  A number of species use that ploy to intimidate.  You're not trying to intimidate the learner, so stop doing that.  If you want to indicate that contact is welcome, reach a hand forward slightly, palm up if it's to a horse, palm down if it's to a canine, your choice if it's a human (but avoid a fist at this point).

I was taught by someone a long time ago that the best approach to doing anything with a horse is to be completely matter-of-fact about it.  In movement, that translates into smooth, not jerky.  It also means a normal working speed, not a slow ballet that scares the bejeezus out of the horse and everyone else around you.  You're not teaching yoga, so be as normal as you can.  Move around the horse as if you know exactly what you're doing.  No sudden moves.  No big moves.  Just work around the horse as if you were cleaning your house (only without the cursing about food spawning fruit flies under the sofa).

The title of Laban's 1966 book is Space Harmony, which should give you a good idea about how this is all supposed to work together.  You have a personal space.  So does your horse.  You want to avoid moving too much in his, and you want him to enter yours only on command, so it's important that you demonstrate the outlines of your spaces with every movement.  Since Space Harmony  is not available, try The Art and Science of Dance/Movement Therapy.  I haven't read it, but it got five stars, which makes it worthy of consideration if you're looking to learn more about all of this on your own.

I'm going to leave you here for now. Go find a learner and move for a bit.  See how it goes.  Then come back next time for more specific suggestions about how to use spatial awareness and movement to work out a better relationship with whatever learner you've chosen.

Moving on.....

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