The Meaning Of Movement: Choreographer Paula Josa-Jones
By Amy Krzanik
You don’t need to be a “horse person” to read this article. You don’t have to have a background in dance, either. Although Paula Josa-Jones has had years of practice as both a rider and a choreographer, the only thing she asks you to bring to her latest venture, her book, is an open mind.
After all, therapy – be it sitting in a chair across from a psychologist, painting alone in a quiet room, or working with horses – isn’t about the psychologist, the art or the animal, but about you. No one can force you to look, but if you’re open to learning, they can make you see.
There are examples of this, along with strategies, and more than 65 meditations and gentle exercises, in Josa-Jones’ new book, Our Horses, Ourselves: Discovering the Common Body – Meditations and Strategies for Deeper Understanding and Enhanced Communication. In it, she marries her long career in dance and choreography (having taught at Tufts, Boston University and other schools) to her even longer adoration for horses. And while Our Horses, Ourselves will help you interact better with your equine, it was written to help you outside of the ring, as well.
The book focuses on improving consciousness of breath, movement and touch to better communicate with both animals and people. “Movement is our first, native language,” says the Kent, Connecticut-based Josa-Jones. “It connects us to others. Unfortunately, it’s not understood and not something people are fully conscious of.” Understanding the more subtle dimensions of our movement exchanges, she says, makes us more trustworthy, more comfortable in our own skin, and better prepared to act with balance, sensitivity and kindness in all of our relationships.
Although she rode when she was younger, Josa-Jones’ time with horses was limited during the years she ran a dance company in Boston. But about 20 years ago, she began to wonder if therapeutic riding would help the strain that years of dancing had put on her hips. “They taught me something far greater,” she says, “including connection, softness and compassion.” She says that, in addition to riding, she wanted to be on the ground with them and find out how she could be understood, speaking through the shared language of movement. “I hoped to understand them, and be understood in a more profound way.”
She began bringing her dancers to interact with the horses, too. “We began to understand how our movement languages were connecting, how to create an inter-species communication,” she says. It was a learning curve that led ultimately to her first dance performance with horses, “Ride,” which was then followed by other performances, classes and workshops with horses.
A TTEAM (Tellington Touch Equine Awareness Method) practitioner, somatic movement therapist and Somatic Experiencing (trauma healing) practitioner, Josa-Jones offers a way for people to explore their own relationships with horses and without, and to learn and explore on their own. It’s for horse owners, sure, but it’s also an open door for people who are curious, or even afraid.
“Horses aren’t here to win ribbons or help us achieve technical perfection” she says, “but for a bigger, more soulful purpose. Horses reflect our inner emotional landscape rather than what we may be trying to project.” She tells the story of her 22-year-old Andalusian gelding, Amadeo. “He continues to be my most amazing teacher because he has the capacity, in the most subtle ways, of showing me when I am out of sync, emotionally or physically. I came to his stall one day and wanted to pet him, and he moved away. I felt in that moment that I ‘needed’ something from him and that need was in the way of making a true connection. He felt it, too. I stood and waited, and when I settled into just ‘being,’ he moved toward me and placed his nose in my hands. That level of teaching is something that they can do, but you have to be willing to take the time. The real goal, and gift, is the ability to understand ourselves better, to ‘get ourselves right.’ We have to do that hard work to become more human, open, playful and compassionate.”
You can hear Paula Josa-Jones speak and answer questions at these upcoming local events: