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The Human Body On Stage (Muscle and Skeletal Bias)

With regards to this heading I want to go on a Donald tirade about physicality and what I see many South African actors, presenters, politicians and public speakers doing incorrectly over and over again – working against their muscle and skeletal bias! 

Every single animal on the face of the earth is designed to move and function in a certain manner.  And none of these animals work against the rules of this construction because if they did they would hinder themselves and render themselves inefficient and more vulnerable to attack or physical damage. And so what I find amazing in this regard is how we all marvel at how a cheetah runs, how a kangaroo jumps, how a mole burrows and how a snake slides or strikes, and yet everyday we allow ourselves to adopt behaviour that deliberately works against our natural construction. We straighten our spines, pull our shoulders back, push our jaws forward, cross our legs, hold our knees together and so on and so on, and in so doing we often cripple our ability to physically perform tasks normally – including speaking! 

I ask you to think about how we as humans allow ourselves to shift and change the use of our bodies to fit fashion and cultural expectations. I want you to think about what you think is a normal way to stand and sit. And now I want you to think about how many ancient tribal people who still live and function in their traditional ways use their bodies. Very differently to us? More instinctually? More naturally? Perhaps a little more like primates than we (as supposedly sophisticated and advanced beings) would like to admit or see. Well, guess what. These more traditional and instinctual human beings don’t get the back-pain that we do. They don’t physically age in the way we do. They build muscle in more functional and useful ways. They walk differently, sit differently and gesture differently. But they are strong, they breathe effortlessly, they are sharp and they function efficiently on a physical level.  

So what is it that they do? They work with their bodies rather than against them. They work between gravity and balance. They still function forward and down. It’s that simple! They do not use the balletic aesthetic and they do not walk around with puffed up self importance. They don’t tilt their heads up and thrust out their jaws. They look forward and down. They don’t pull their shoulders back, but rather let them fall slightly forward and down. Their spines operate in the S curve and they do not try to transform their spines into rigid straight ramrods. And they all have their centres of gravity in the hips and operate off their legs and out of their hips.  

And if you think I’ve gone mad, think about all the sports stars. Could a soccer player control a ball in the back and up position? Could a rugby player tackle back and up? Could a hockey player, cricketer, baseball player or golfer manoeuvre their bats, clubs etc back and up? NO! They couldn’t! And guess what. Neither can you use your voice like this. Your vocal instrument is located in the body and functions in it best when your body honours its own muscle and skeletal bias. When you work forward and down. When you acknowledge gravity and work with it and its pull. Break this rule and understand that you will limit, muffle, stifle and weaken your voice. You will shut your communicator down and end up looking like actors who studied their craft by imitating bad news readers!   

© Donald Woodburn

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