In her book, PHYSICAL LISTENING, A Dancer’s Interspecies Journey, choreographer and educator JoAnna Mendl Shaw describes her deep dive into the world of horses and equine training. On this journey, Shaw realized that her dancer’s skill sets reached far beyond plies and pirouettes, performing and making dances. Beyond athleticism and artistry, a dancer’s movement intelligence and physical listening skills can powerfully traverse into other fields, informing our modes of communication and deepening our ability to make nuanced and informed movement decisions.
The book describes the choreographic journey of her company, the Equus Projects, and simultaneously explores the intersection between sensing and thinking. Each chapter of the book follows the devising of a performance project, offers essays on lessons learned during that creation process, and detailed somatic exercises that emerged during that research phase. The functional anatomy information has informed and inspired equestrians throughout the United States and their merging of horsemanship and improvisational invention brings a sense of play into equine training.The innovative choreographic strategies that she and her company of dancers devised when working with horses find dynamic application in the dance studio, in 3rd-grade classrooms, in board rooms, corporate training sessions and in our professional and personal interactions.