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important to many beginners, really needs little if any attention. Every speaker is likely to have natural impulses to change his position, and these impulses usually come at the transitions in the thought, as where the debater might say, Now let us turn to the second phase of our argument.” This mental transition tends very naturally to stimulate muscular transition and the body moves almost unconsciously. This does not imply that the speaker changes his position only at the points of transition in the thought. There may be calls from the brain for movement at many other places, but these are the points in the speech when the promptings come most naturally. Some speakers are changing positions constantly without any call for it. This is always annoying. Others move as though carrying out some preconceived scheme of action. This is quite as disconcerting. The speaker will make no mistake if he relies always upon the genuine impulses that are generated by the thought, and moves freely in accordance with them. Indeed, the whole problem of platform deportment may be reduced to a single principle - proper coördination of mind and body.
Note. For practical exercises in action see end of Chapter IV.
In coming to the consideration of gesture in the sense in which this term is commonly used, - that of specific actions of the arms and hands, - there is little that can be said except in the way of helpful suggestion. An attempt is frequently made, by classifying all gestures as supine, prone, index, etc., and by dividing the body into so-called zones or spheres, to furnish the learner with a system of thumb rules that are supposed to enable him to employ gesture effectively at all times. It is my belief that no system of rules can be presented in print that will successfully accomplish this end.
Some writers even go so far as to tabulate various forms and positions of the hands, and to designate those that they consider appropriate for the expression of any given idea. Thus we find such directions as : "Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been
lately received ? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare
m-f-v to your feet.” Here the symbols m-o-s, according to their tabulation, mean "middle-oblique-supine,” and m-f-v, "middle-front-vertical.” The assumption seems to be that by learning the key and giving the passages as directed one will become proficient in the use of gesture. Nothing could be more mechanical. It violates the primary essential of good action — the impulse to express. Thus we find long passages set down and marked with specific directions, which the student is supposed to follow automaton-like in order to acquire skill in the use of gesture.
Such directions are detrimental, inasmuch as they assume that all speakers will have the impulse to express ideas in exactly the same way and, moreover, that the following of purely mechanical suggestions will teach one to employ gesture well. As was suggested early in this chapter, any conscious attempt by a beginner to employ gesture of a certain form on a specified word or group of words is almost certain to be artificial and wooden.
I shall not attempt, therefore, to set down rules to instruct pupils how to gesture. I am convinced that such instruction can never be given through the medium of cold type. It must always come from an experienced teacher, who knows good gesture and is able to give the right kind of instruction in its use. The suggestions that follow are chiefly for the purpose of setting the learner right in regard to some of the more important problems of gesture in which every public speaker is interested.
What to avoid in learning to gesture. The matter of how to make effective gestures by means of the hands and arms, like most other problems of action, can best be understood by knowing what not to do. My experience with college students has been that most of them are eager to learn how to employ gestures effectively in their speaking. This desire is not always apparent at first, but as soon as the preliminary steps of learning how to think and to express themselves on their feet have been fairly mastered, the question almost invariably comes, "Don't you think I ought to use a gesture in this sentence ? ” or "What kind of a gesture would be appropriate to use in this place ?” The desire to employ gesture of some kind is apparent, but the idea in almost every instance seems to be that the gesture is something that must be carefully determined upon beforehand and fitted in at the suggestion of the teacher. To most students it never occurs that by freeing the avenues of expression and by merely “letting themselves go,” the right gesture is almost sure to come spontaneously. Neither do they stop to consider that the worst thing they can do is to make a conscious attempt to execute a certain kind of gesture in a certain place. It is this consciousness of the act that, more than anything else, tends to make the gesture just what it ought not to be.
Let the student in the beginning of his training in gesture get as far away as possible from the idea that gestures are something that must be carefully planned and executed. So long as gestures are made with this thought in mind, there will be rigid muscles and the attendant angularity of movement that characterize most of the ill-looking gestures of beginners. It is the act performed spontaneously, rather than with conscious effort, that constitutes genuinely effective gesture.
What to seek in learning to gesture. The pupil is often told that the thing most needed in acquiring the ability to gesture well is relaxation. I purposely avoid the use of the term in this connection, as to many students it connotes a certain limpness, which is not at all the thing to be desired. No one admires the person whose handshake has the limpness of the proverbial dishrag; neither does anyone like to see gesture that is of the same kind. What is to be desired is a suppleness of muscles that will render the speaker free to make gestures that have no element of rigidity or angularity and that are sufficiently graceful not to attract attention.
The problem is not unlike that of one who attempts to learn the art of dancing. So long as the muscles are tense, so that there is no freedom of the body and limbs, there will be angularity and awkwardness. But as soon as the learner gains a sense of being able to give himself to the rhythm of the music, these things tend to disappear, and he becomes able to perform the act with ease and grace. The same is true of the art of gesture. As long as there is a conscious attempt at gesture, the muscles are almost sure to remain rigid. But when the speaker reaches the point where his hands and arms become more or less passive agents that act only when prompted by impulse, rather than very active and dynamic agents of expression, then rigidity is readily overcome and the employment of effective gesture becomes easy.
The prime essential of gesture training, therefore, is to lose all thought of the act of gesture as a difficult undertaking to be laboriously pursued, and to think of nothing but how to render the bodily agents free to act whenever impulses induced by thought or feeling call upon them to do so. This condition, under ordinary circumstances, can be acquired by a simple system of calisthenics that will give the body the desired freedom and