Dancing with horses | SteamboatToday.com

Dancing with horses

Blake Pearson and Gina Paolillo with Sasha Nevidonski in a choreographed pairing of natural horsemanship and professional dance at Perry Mansfield Performing Aarts School and Camp last summer.
Tyler Arroyo

The way you train a horse to dance is the same way you raise a child.

“You set boundaries,” said JoAnna Mendl Shaw, artistic director. “There are basic rules to everything rather than just setting movement.”

At noon today, 24 students, staff members and riders at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp will dance with three horses that were brought in with two dancers and two riders from New York.

The horses, riders and dancers use nonverbal communication to work together.

“Vocabulary grows out of shaping the space in relation to the horse, or shaping the space in relation to other human beings,” Shaw said. “It’s a dialogue between space, time, flow and weight.”

Every part of the dance is based on function.

“There is a romantic flow in it, but we distilled our decisions down to functional tasks,” Shaw said. “Horses are creatures of flight and everything happens for a reason.

“If you are moving with the horses and paying attention to them, they will respond to you,” Shaw said. “You use and move them in space responding to the shape of your body, and mainly the torso.”

Horses will shape their bodies in relation to humans like other animals do.

“Cats shape to you and people shape to each other. We are just not aware of it,” Shaw said.

The choreography is comprised of a series of events with an internal rule structure.

“For the dancer, there is a huge emphasis on being present in every moment and living in the landscape that is created,” she said.

The accompanying music will include classical contemporary, bluegrass, some original compositions and female vocals.

“People have to integrate their right and left brain decisions,” she said. “And there are artistic decisions making it very integrated and very unadorned.”

There is an apparent visceral connection that occurs between the horses and the dancers.

“The horses respond to energy they get from touch,” Shaw said.

Both the dancers and riders need to be fully focused during the performance because this work can be dangerous.

“They are not predatory animals, but they are creatures of flight,” Shaw said. “If you cut them off, they may dump the rider. Yes, this is dangerous work, but I don’t think of it that way. It is no more dangerous than dancing.”

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