Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Body knowledge

I grew up without paying much attention to my body. It was there, but my mind was more important. My first forays into storytelling coincided with my first visits to a chiropractor who taught me how to stand up straight--when she put me in a truly upright position, I thought I was going to fall over backwards!

The first storytelling workshop I went to was with Heather Forest, at the Jonnycake Storytelling Festival in Rhode Island. She talked about being aware of "physical noise," all those distracting things we do with our voices and bodies. I started to notice other storytellers' tics, like the fellow who rocked back and forth as he told, or the woman who swept her long hair out of her face every fifth word. I began to practice in the mirror.

As I got more serious about storytelling, I got more serious about being connected with my body. In Connecticut, I took voice lessons, then went to a dance therapist. We didn't do regular dance therapy: I told her stories and she guided me to a better understanding of my body and my breath.

I've also taken Alexander Technique lessons to further this body knowledge. I began those lessons because I was getting sore throats frequently. It turned out I was straining the muscles that held up my vocal chords. One-on-one Alexander Technique lessons subtly retrain the body, breath and voice so they work more efficiently. Someday I'll go back for more. My teacher very diplomatically would say, "Priscilla, do you feel that maybe you're a little bit...ungrounded?" Thanks to AT and yoga, there's more than just the very toe of my sneaker touching the earth now. That groundedness comes out in my performances.

I've been taking Iyengar yoga for almost six years. I'm more flexible and stronger than I was when I began. I couldn't even touch my toes without bending my knees. Now, on most days, I can. Usually my sister is in the same class and I get to see how she has advanced. She's much more diligent about practice than I am. At any rate, I know that yoga has helped my storytelling.

I can't say that I don't have any physical tics when I tell stories, but I try to keep them at a minimum. I want my body language to be congruent with my story. I don't want to be a "professor," a storyteller who paces back and forth on stage as if giving a lecture at a university (my own term), or one of those tellers who uses a kind of waving and pawing motion that doesn't mean anything. I'm not sure I described that right--if you can think of a better phrase, let me know. I get sidetracked watching performers whose motions don't have anything to do with what they're saying. Gestures are most effective when they match the words.

As I write this, I remember one more vitally important way to keep my body in shape for storytelling (and life): drinking lots of water. Keeping hydrated is key to good voice health. Writing this is making me thirsty. Time for another glass of H20.

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