- JoAnna Mendl Shaw
What’s in it for me?
I know many excellent equine trainers who use treats as learning incentives. My mistake was using a teaching strategy in a performance situation. My misguided logic was that treats would improve the attentiveness of my equine partner. Instead, I had a horse that focused on my pockets, not on me.
That performance was not a total failure… I used the enticement of treats to get some animated responses. But my misjudgment of desire and the power of What’s in it for me has stuck with me.
When do we encounter human situations where we misread peoples’ motives?
All the time…
As teachers, we miss cues all the time: That super attentive student who is starving for attention and your approval; the student who is not interested in your work but is using the class as an audition for your company. I stumble upon these instances and, even after 40 years of teaching, am still surprised. A part of me wants to just name what exactly is happening, then and there, in the name of honesty. I simultaneously feel compelled to satisfy that student’s desire, acknowledge the reality of the need and somehow satisfy that without compromising my own pedagogical integrity or disrupting the class. I want the student to ultimately ask themselves “Why are you here?”
Now I am turning that question on myself. Why did you take that workshop; accept that job offer; make that comment; ask for that favor. What did you really expect or want in exchange?
There is always some form of exchange expected…in every encounter.
In 2014, an acquaintance invited me to fly out to Denver, all expenses paid, to explore some collaborative possibilities. As I am the only choreographer in the States to actively make performance works with horses, I have received numerous invitation like this one. But I have become cautious, especially after Denver, and a project that was ultimately hijacked by the host after I had envisioned the project and found a producer.
Now I make sure I ask myself, “Want’s in it for me” to make sure all expectations are aligned and realistic
In June, I invited a friend and fabulous photographer, Nir Arieli, to come down to a barn in central New Jersey to photograph me with one of my favorite equines, a gorgeous 17 hands Andalusian, Pegasus. The outcome was over 200 photographs, all beautifully conceived. What was disappointing to me – and totally my doing – was my dishonesty in many of the shots. You see I was not really interacting with Pegasus. I was posing for a photographer. And that reality leaked visibly into those lovely photographs. It is possible that Nir totally recognized this .....but was far too nice to say anything. Horses do not lie.
I like to turn this constellation of questions into choreographic inquiry: I ask of every movement choice, what’s in it for the piece? This is an odd and indirect way of asking oneself what the primary motivation is for choreographic choices. What do I want the viewer to see, experience, think about? In a way that is all about “Want’s in it for me?” I want every nanosecond of that piece to serve my choreographic intention.