In this new reality of COVID-19, we all have time to attend to plans and promises that were set aside because before this pandemic we were all too busy. In this new reality, Equus Projects dancer Rachel Keane found time to do some writing about her experience of dancing with horses.
Rachel joined The Equus Projects company in early 2019. Her first performance was in April 2019.
People frequently ask me what my experience working with The Equus Projects is like. Usually they jump to the assumption that I am riding horses or performing circus-style feats alongside animals that are trained to follow my commands. I love the process of explaining that, actually it’s much more subtle than that. Learning the skills of physical listening through working with The Equus Projects has really shaped the way I approach not only my dancing, but my interactions on a day to day basis.
Before discovering JoAnna and The Equus Projects, I found myself primarily practicing Contact Improvisation (CI). When I began working with The Equus Projects, I’m not sure I fully understood how thoroughly these two fields were related. CI requires a constant awareness of not only your own body, but of the bodies moving around you. It creates a space where conversation becomes possible without the aide of spoken word. Learning to work with the horses truly paralleled the mindset I was already diving into with CI. After my first trip to Majoda, I found that I was so much more aware of the underlying energies that I am capable of. The idea of “driving” a horse has really stuck with me.
At first, and admittedly still, I struggled with the concept of getting a horse to walk backwards. The best way I’ve come to understand it, as of now, is that you have to send your energy out ahead of yourself. You have to imagine the horse moving back before you even start moving yourself. Really, it's about commitment. I’ve also learned it helps to have a set goal in mind (ie: I want the horse to take 4 steps backwards). All of that is great, but what happens when it doesn’t work? That, to me, has been the most interesting aspect of this work.
How do you stay cool and keep your energy level when the horse just isn’t giving you anything? How do you stay open to the possibilities you weren’t expecting instead of just trying to force a horse to bend to your will? I think about the dances I’ve had in my experience with CI. The ones I’ve truly appreciated were the ones that did just that. I wasn’t boxed in by what my partner wanted out of the dance, but rather there was a meeting of ideas. Both members of the dance were open to any possibility that could have come up. I think, one of the biggest things I’ve taken away from The Equus Projects is being able to notice and let go of when I have a preconceived notion of what “should” be done in a dance.
While this has been vastly informative to my practice in Contact Improvisation I find that it spills over into my day to day life as well. My primary job is as a new-born photographer in the maternity ward of a few hospitals in Manhattan. As you may not be surprised to hear, working with day old babies is very similar to working with the horses, but moreover, working with my creative colleagues is applicable as well. The interactions I have daily have become much more about meeting people where they are. For the babies, that’s understanding that they have about 4 basic needs. My coworkers and the horses are a bit more complex, but the same principals apply. If I can tap into the energy that they are giving me and learn how to shape my own energy to reach them, I find that sharing ideas and feedback is a much easier experience for everyone involved.
I feel that overall, my work with The Equus Projects has allowed me to know myself as a much softer and more intuitive mover, trainer, and human. I can’t say these are things I expected going in, but something about seeing another person interacting with a horse in such a subtle and thorough way ignited a desire in me. I remember watching Kat Reese working with a horse in Ithaca for the first time. I remember how soft she was and the way she listened. It looks gentle on the surface, but there is an underlying strength and determination. Kat cannot be toppled, but she will allow herself to sway, when necessary. I’ll never forget that moment. I knew then that I wanted to exist with that sort of energy in everything I did. I think The Equus Projects brings me closer and closer to that goal.