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September 14, 2010 / HJD

What dogs teach me about dance

The Dog Whisper knows the magic of movement.

In What the Dog Sawby Malcolm Gladwell, TV’s Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan tames unruly canines using body language akin to a dancer. Or, so explained Gladwell, with movement experts to back him up.

Karen Bradley, University of Maryland dance program, analyzed the dog tamer’s everyday actions– head shifts, hand gestures, steps down stairs — and said that they were “beautifully organized intra-physically.”

“Bradley was watching Cesar with the sound off, and there was one sequence she returned to again and again, in which Cesar was talking to a family, and his right hand swung down in a graceful arc across his chest. “He’s dancing,” Bradley said. “Look at that. It’s gorgeous. It’s such a gorgeous little dance.”

The story concluded that Millan’s predictable, steady and coordinated “dance” disarmed dogs — and calmed their antsy, anxious owners, too.

Gladwell uncovers the magic behind the Dog Whisperer’s movement,  which translates well to the dance studio, stage, and otherwise:


“Combinations of posture and gesture are called phrasing, and the great communicators are those who match their phrasing with their communicative intentions…”


“…if you are going to teach a classroom full of head-strong ten year-olds, or run a company, or command an army, or walk into a trailer home in Mission Hills where a beagle named Sugar is terrorizing its owners, you have to have presence or you’re lost.”

Translating that into dance, intention has to be clear in my head when, for example, there’s a remate, or 10 staccato stomps with an accent on every third one, while the spine moves from concave to convex– in a second and a half. The intention has to be there to communicate it well, to pull it off. Conveying stage presence all the while is what every dancer aspires to do, and what the flamenco world refers to as duende.

For dogs or danceMillan’s movement “principles” stick.

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