Feldenkrais and Clowning

In watching videos of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, one can see that he had a great sense of humor and was a very funny (and, of course, brilliant) man. When one of my Feldenkrais trainers asked me what I thought of seeing him in one video, I told her that he reminded me of some of the great clowns, like Grock or Dario Fo. Lest I be misunderstood, I should probably make it clear that this is meant as a great compliment, in that I have tremendous respect for clowns.

In fact, I think there is a great deal of overlap between clowning and the Feldenkrais Method.

In my first clown class, my teacher (Jane Nichols, clown maestro extraordinaire) taught us about pleasure. The practice was to learn how to find pleasure in everything we did onstage, even failing. As I was training, I practiced pleasure even outside of class. There was some seriously fun teeth brushing in that period, as I recall.

The Feldenkrais Method, too, holds doing things with pleasure in high regard. We’re often seeking the most pleasurable way to move a leg or lift a finger (that is, we do it with ease and comfort.) And while pleasure isn’t the only word we use for this quality of movement, it is one that resonates very strongly with me.

It became clear in that first clown class that we were seeking a kind of authenticity of performance. One could see that the process of training a clown was fundamentally a process of revealing the human at the core.

Similarly, the process of learning the Feldenkrais Method often leads to an authenticity of self. As our learned patterns and habits fall away, our core human selves tend to come to the forefront. My Feldenkrais training brought me closer to myself. I am more authentically me than I have ever been. And not just on stage as I had been in Clowning.

Clown training teaches a kind of deep listening to one’s self and the audience. Feldenkrais teaches deep kinesthetic listening. Both practices will encourage you to listen to yourself and respond gently and authentically.  Try and force a funny thing in clowning and you discover very quickly how delicate humor can be. Try and force a movement in Feldenkrais and you discover how little force can actually accomplish (aside from pain, force is great for accomplishing pain!) You learn very quickly how the delicate and small make the big changes. In clowning, your biggest success might come from the way you open your eyes. In Feldenkrais, your biggest improvement might come from the same.

In clown class, I discovered how much gold there was to be found in not-knowing. As my teacher (comedy maestro fabuloso, John Wright) taught us, the clown lives in bafflement. That is, the less the clown knows, the more remarkable s/he is.  There is a great deal of value in Not Knowing in the Feldenkrais Method as well. That is, in remaining open to what is before us and in exploring it without pre-conceived notions, we make more powerful improvements.

At the heart of both clowning and Feldenkrais there is a beautiful mystery. In both, there is pleasure. There is delicacy. There is sensitivity and deep listening. I think this is why Dr. Feldenkrais himself seems so like a clown to me in videos. He is so fully present with himself, so authentically who he is and so alive to the people before him. And he has great clown hair.

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by Emily Davis, Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner

An expanded version of this article appears in Feldenkrais Journal 27 in winter 2014