Posted on

The Dancer and The Horse

The PBS series Nature studies the horse as a social animal and as a unique physical species.

I often think of the horse when watching dancers simply because of the power and the elevated movement.

PBS has brought out a vocabulary that helps me to put together what I see as similarities between the Dancer and the horse.

The first term is “elastic energy.” A loose definition is Energy that simultaneously expends and rebuilds itself. This same principle has been studied in the kangaroo that can travel long distances without tiring.

The Dancer is a master of elastic energy. Like the horse, the Dancer engages every part of their body in a kind of give and take, unfolding and folding. This type of engagement is common to all animals and for the Dancer it means a singular full body focus. That focus has something to do with the springing motion of lowering and rising, folding and unfolding.

This brings out another similarity in the use of the legs and hooves. It deals with the question, why do dancers point their feet. The action of pointing is first raising the arch of the foot and the toes leave the floor last. This can be seen clearly in a frog springing in slow motion. The leg, the foot, and the toes form one line of projection.

The pointing movement is even clearer in the repeated spring of each step of the horse. The extended leg and hoof also shows a clear line.

Then comes the action that is identified as elastic energy. The tip of the hooves hit the ground first and provide a fulcrum of force. This is not muscle that is propelling the enormous size of the horse. It is Energy that is being simultaneously expended and rebuilt, sent into propulsion and received in a wave of refreshed Energy. The Dancer’s growth depends on this practice of elastic energy.

The Dancer also trains to place the weight of contact between the big toe and the second toe. This reduces friction for maximum efficiency of Energy.

Springing is also a key training for dancers. Like the horse, the primary purpose for the legs is for instant movement in all directions. Walking and running are springing actions rather than muscular pounding. Being erect and alert is also a rising motion of the entire body rather than a muscular pulling up.

The rhythm of the feet is also a similarity in horse and dancer with equal emphasis on the springing up and the landing on the ground.

A similarity that will take lots of study is the use of oxygen in the horse and the dancer. The horse can reduce their use of oxygen in order to go faster and longer.

The Dancer uses their breathing in a different way, more of a phrase that can vary than the horse’s breath on every reach and pull of the legs. However, like the experienced meditator, the dancer develops the ability to reduce the level of oxygen when necessary. I am not aware of studies of dancer breathing.

One similarity of dancers and horses is the love of moving. With the dancer there is always a curiosity, like the horse that enters their movement totally, fully engaged. For both there is an instant response of delight that does not need any discipline or procedures to begin.
Tim Hurst 01/18/19