Thursday, April 5, 2012

Creative Movement

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I believe it was in Reader’s Digest, many years ago, that I found this touching, true-life humor:

A young man in love walks into the telegraph office to send a message to his sweet heart. He tells the old signaler to send, “ Oozy loves his woozy woozy woozy.” The old man counts the words, and then says for the same price he can add another woozy. The young man looks puzzled. He says, “But that would sound silly, wouldn’t it?”

It’s touching how the young swain feels perfect freedom to tell his girl friend of his affection. “Perfect love casteth out all fear.”

You’ve probably read Dale Carnegie’s depression-era classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. Carnegie wrote of how Howard Thurston, the greatest stage magician of his time, would stand in the wings before every show saying, “I love my audience. I love my audience.” As a boy reading this, I sensed Thurston was casting out fear while summoning up the spirit of excellence. As a college graduate, I realize he was reaching for an optimal concentration of focus.

At college, although I was a career major, one of my favorite classes was one outside my program; namely, a class for theatre students called Creative Movement, taught by Joyce Grey. I remember once, when we all paired off to do a freestyle one-minute exercise, a woman and I kept doing the same overly repetitive movements. How dull. Significantly, we made almost no eye contact: We were too afraid of each other. Our teacher noticed.

Perhaps as the semester passed we all increased our love and acceptance of each other. Such a joy. Most assuredly, and most importantly, we substantially increased our ability to summon our “energy” and our “concentration” on what we were doing. This sort of Zen, this learned energy and focus, was the whole meaning of the course. This global skill we could then apply to technical training for dancing, acting or anything else that involved any people being around, or any audience, which might throw us off balance.

My friend John Duban was a practical farm boy; he attended the University of Lethbridge. John still enthuses over a movement course he took, called Creative Dance, taught by Ms Day. The class had such an affect on people. John told me, “There is a long foyer, where we could spot certain people walking, and they’d turn out to be from our class.” He explained how his teacher told them they shouldn’t just walk but should have an awareness, and that they were not just taking up space, but “had an airflow around us, air space overhead, as a body moving in space and time.”

Once they had to pretend to walk through water, then light motor oil, then thick honey… I know such exercises truly work. When my teacher reminded us during class to imagine a chord from our heads we’d all straighten up, standing even straighter than we already were.

John knew I was wondering: How did a kid from the farm get into that course? And so he told me. “Three of us got in because we dared each other.” Had any of the three young men withdrawn, the other two would have withdrawn too, so that meant they all had to show up. In my own case, I had wanted to continue onwards from my Introduction to Drama course, and there wasn’t much else to take except movement.

I started out a little anxious—good thing I had a sense of humor. It didn’t help matters that the first day of class, for me, was the start of the second semester of Movement, for them. Right after that first class, I recall standing at the actor’s “call board.” That’s a cork bulletin board that professionals of the footlights are expected to check as often as executives check their e-mail. Also reading the board was Brendan Lavery, a guy from the class I felt friendly towards. I said, “Pssst! How many in that class were outsiders?”

“Three.”

“Because I’m the only poor s.o.b. there who can’t touch his toes!”

Midway through the semester I was very pleased to show my career classmates how I had improved: I went from being able to lean over and touch the bottoms of my kneecaps, to being able to reach halfway down my shins. Wow! I might add that, as a boy, I had by far the strongest legs in my high school.

Although surrounded by theatre majors, I didn’t feel like one of them, partly because of my recent army years. In fact, I kept wearing sweat pants, or my green-pajama combat pants. One of my career classmates, Henry from New York City, said he didn’t blame me at all for not wearing tights. But then came our final class group projects, to be presented on a stage, complete with lights and sound. We presented on our last day of classes. As it turns out, although I was already sure to pass the course, my two partners were not. If they failed this project, it would put their theatre diploma back by a full year. For their sake, I broke down and got a plain black body suit. Ah, the power of love. And you know something? As our teacher pointed out to the class, that final day, once I had broken that limitation, I could easily wear a body suit again. And I did.

For college, I was enrolled in a four-semester program, Leisure Services, specializing in therapeutic recreation. I watched as my classmates slowly learned a modicum of concentration. Our teacher, Chuck Killingsworth, pointed out how for the first semester he always had to keep the classroom door closed; for the second semester he could leave it open; for the third we could do our games and exercises just outside the class, using the wrestling pit; and for the fourth, when a space crunch forced us into rented classes downtown, we could go do games in public parks… Meanwhile, first semester students in an Introduction to Drama class would giggle, tee-hee-hee, from sheer self-consciousness, thereby rendering their efforts ineffective.

As for me, to this day, I can instantly focus, without any warm up– and that’s just so cool! I think I understand why young actors can seem so flamboyant, for they are just like young rock climbers who clamber up classroom doorways: They have a new skill, they use it because—suddenly—they can!

John told me that, in retrospect, “I thought everyone at university should take that class.” I know that my own movement class, as I look down the years, has sure changed my life.


Sean Crawford
Midway between entrance and exit,
April 2012

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