Centaur Project: Of monkeys and men

Human and monkey joining hands

Last week I went on one of Luke’s Centaur workshops. It was very different to what I expected – actually I had no idea what to expect – and when Luke asked if I could write about my impressions, I was happy to.

A small group of us got barefoot on the wooden floor of the high-ceilinged hall, and prepared to “explore the role of our girdles” in our expression. Thankfully, it didn’t involve being strapped into a corset! The girdles in question are the shoulder girdle and the pelvic girdle. I’d always thought of the movement of the shoulders mainly in two dimensions – creeping up towards my ears as I worked at the computer and me sending them back down somewhere where I thought they belonged. But the shoulder bones actually encompass (the word “girdle” means to go around like a belt) basically the whole top of the chest. And they move in every direction, if you let them.

We did a series of quite unorthodox warmup exercises. First we tried to walk like a soldier – effectively exaggerating the power and expressiveness of the movement. I remember doing this when I was five, and it’s still quite fun to do silly walks, when you’re given permission. Then we had to walk like a monkey. Not so easy. Luke explained that monkeys move their shoulders in line with their hips. In other words, right leg forward, and at the same time, right arm forward. Try it.



Feels ridiculous, huh? But now you can do a passable imitation of a great ape. By contrast, humans move by twisting these two girdles in opposite directions. We practised being aware of this.

Then we tried to give a short “speech” to our partner (just to say how our day went) while experiencing the space around as light and free, inviting our shoulders to move freely, in turn moving our arms as we wished. This was a lot easier and more expressive for me than the alternate version, where we tried the same thing while experiencing the containing space as viscous, and limiting the movement of our shoulders and hands. Finally I understood from the inside the truth of the joke “How do you silence an Italian? Tie his hands.”

Of the other exercises, one that remained with me involved a concept from a previous Centaur – oscillating between gravitas and eagerness. We played with nonverbally communicating invitation to our partner in this exercise, for them to approach, and then at a certain boundary feeling the support from the back, showing that that was far enough, and saying out loud, “No.” I noticed the recruitment of resources all the way up from toes gripping the floor to a strong chest-first statement.

All in all, such a time spent cultivating bodily awareness is very hard to sum up in words. But I do retain more of a sense of the mechanisms and motions that we explored, and I trust that those resources are still around when I need them.

Written by Pavel




PS It turns out that you can’t do a soldier walk unless you move like a human. So Planet of The Apes doesn’t look likely after all.

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