Miming Manners
Students Learning to Mime Their Manners

Staff Writer Portland Press Herald

Thursday, March 1, 2007

John Patriquin, Portland Press Herald

NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine - Karen Montanaro teaches a mime class at the Bridge School in New Gloucester on Monday. One student said miming is "a lot of fun and really cool." Parents who are tired of telling their teenagers to stop slouching and stand up straight might want to consider a quieter approach: Mime.

Karen Montanaro, an internationally known performer who uses mime, dance and improvisation to teach youngsters how to move and think in new ways, said adolescents tend to round their shoulders and cave their chests in. She said that kind of body language is teenagers' way of coping with peer pressure. "They don't want to stand out, so they shrink," Montanaro said. But in a class this week with ninth-graders at the Bridge School, a Waldorf-based school at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Montanaro soon had the boys and girls not only standing tall but moving their bodies with abandon. Soon the students were competing to do what Montanaro called a "glamour roll," in which they rolled around the carpeted classroom floor pausing every few seconds to assume vamping, exaggerated poses suitable for the likes of Vogue or GQ magazines. Jake Lyscars, 15, one of the students, said he got over his initial feeling of embarrassment and enjoyed the exercise. He said he figured out that the secret is that "you kind of have to step out of your shell and do things you don't normally do. I definitely would recommend miming because it's a lot of fun and it's really cool."

Montanaro's aim is to have students become so comfortable that they'll be able to join her in a benefit performance called "Karen & Kids" that will be held Friday evening at the Merriconeag Waldorf School in Freeport. Behind the learning about physical movement is a bigger lesson about mental discipline that Montanaro also imparts with each class she teaches. Students need to learn to focus to be able to do mime, and the ability to focus can help them in math class or other undertakings in life, Montanaro said. "I just love mime," she said. "I think it should be part of every curriculum."

Movement already is a big part of the curriculum at the Bridge School, so inviting Montanaro to teach a class this week was a natural, according to Cristina Post, lead teacher at the school. The Bridge School is a one-year school started last fall by parents of students who had just completed their studies at Merriconeag, a private Waldorf school in Freeport offering preschool through Grade 8. The Bridge School was created to enable ninth-grade students this year to get a Waldorf-based education until the new Merriconeag Waldorf High School opens as expected at Pineland in September. The school would be Maine's first Waldorf high school.

Waldorf education is based on the teaching principles of Rudolph Steiner, an Austrian philosopher who died in 1925. The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America says the schools focus on the whole child -- heart, head and hands. At the Bridge School that means not only academics, such as the study of thermodynamics, organic chemistry and "Moby Dick," but performing community service and learning practical arts ranging from pottery to engine repair. And Post said physical exercise is an important component of the school day. Teenagers who get enough exercise, she said, are "more ready to focus on learning."

Montanaro, who lives in Casco, is a ballet dancer who learned mime from her husband, Tony Montanaro. Considered one of the greatest physical comedians of the modern era, Tony Montanaro died in 2002. Karen Montanaro this week showed students how to extend an arm and make a fist, as if grabbing a metal pole sticking up from the ground. Then they moved their bodies around while trying to keep their fists completely motionless, as if fixed to the imaginary pole. The mime routine was harder than it looked but the more Montanaro got the students to focus on the exercise itself, instead of how difficult it was, the better they did. Lyscars said he plans to use that focus on math problems. "I won't think about how hard it is but on how to get it done and the steps to do it," he said.

Staff Writer Tess Nacelewicz can be contacted at 791-6367 or at:

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