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PHYSICAL LISTENING, A dancer’s Interspecies Journey

JoAnna Mendl Shaw

Published April 2021

Arnica Press


In her April 2021 book, dancer, choreographer and educator JoAnna Mendl Shaw describes her unusual career – a path that took her into a deep dive into the world of horses and equine training.


What Shaw learned on this journey was that as a dancer she had a toolbox of skills that reached beyond just athleticism and artistry. Shaw became convinced that the dancer’s skill sets just might have relevance beyond plies, pirouettes, performing and making dances. In this book Shaw follows her conviction that the dancer’s movement intelligence can powerfully inform our mode of communication, our ability to listen with curiosity and compassion and our ability to make nuanced and informed movement decisions.


As she describes the choreographic journey of her company, the Equus Projects, she is simultaneously exploring 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 phase of research.


Shaw has been creating performance works for stage, rural and urban landscapes since the 1990’s. The innovative choreographic strategies that she and her company of dancers devised when working with horses, find dynamic application in the dance studio but also in 3rd grade classrooms, in board rooms and corporate training programs and in both professional ans personal interactions. The Equus Projects company has taught physical listening to engineers at the Naval War College and 1st Year medical students at New York University. Their knowledge of functional anatomy and improvisational invention has inspired equestrians throughout the United States in work that truly brings a sense of play into equine training.


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