Joan, the Observer

As anyone who’s worked with Joan notices, she teaches through giving students the experience length and width day in and day out.  What I love about her approach is that it is all through observation of what works or doesn’t with each particular student instead of through abstract theories.

After being on the course for awhile, I have started to think that the approach of the course is part of what I learn from as well.  Joan is constantly finding subtle things that she finds beautiful (a spiral of the limbs, relationship/direction of people, etc), but she never makes a big deal out of anything, so that you get the experience of length without trying to hold onto it.  She is always working the long game in that way – never trying to hurry the process of people finding their habits but always giving them an experience different from their typical shortening and waiting until they notice what it is for themselves.

One thing that she occasionally says is to not “over-straighten the elbows.”  This is something that I never heard in my modern dance training and often it’s the opposite – those Cunningham-esque straight arms that are supposedly more neutral than ballet arms.  I now feel, though, that over-straightening the elbows does disconnect my arms from my back and puts them into constant pushing mode which is, of course, not always useful.

One way that Joan works with people on the use of their arms is by having them lift them up in front of them.
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Then she will have the person pronate the thumbs/wrists.  She doesn’t do this because of some concrete theory about the arms that told her it was good to pronate the wrists but because she notices that when people pronated the wrists, they soften (or don’t over-straighten, which I am doing with my left arm especially in this picture) the elbows.
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Then she gives them direction in the upper part of the arm that opposes pronation, spirals the shoulder/arm outwards, and widens the upper part of the arm (here’s video of Sally giving me that direction).

It always leaves people at their widest in front and is a good example, I think, of Joan finding things through observation and individual work above holding onto theories.

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