Saratoga County

Movement training teaches clients to be more in tune with their bodies

Riding a unicycle at a Mechanicville gym, Jaimen McMillan said he felt like a king atop his throne.
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Riding a unicycle at a Mechanicville gym, Jaimen McMillan said he felt like a king atop his throne.

McMillan is the founder of Spacial Dynamics, a company that trains teachers, therapists, athletes and others how to move efficiently and naturally.

The company uses aspects of circus training, such as spinning plates and riding unicycles, to train people to interact with the space around them. It leases the gym of the old school building in Mechanicville at 10 N. Main St.

McMillan says that as he balances on the unicycle, he imagines his head riding and hovering above the unicycle as he feels his arms moving his body, with the tire and ground below him.

“Spacial Dynamics: what is it?” he asked, then answered: “It’s saying a person is their body, and it’s their ability to change the space that’s around them.”

When the old school building was purchased in 2003 from the school district, McMillan was the primary owner of Hudson/UpRiver. At the time, he presented plans for a $7 million development of the property that was to include 77,000 square feet of office space, but those plans fell through.

In 2004, McMillan sold his primary interest in the company to John Takacs, a doctor from Portland, Ore., who is also affiliated with Spacial Dynamics.

McMillan now leases the school’s gym from Takacs and Hudson/UpRiver.

Mechanicville County Supervisor Tom Richardson recently sent a letter to the board of supervisors asking it to revoke tax breaks the company was given because the property hasn’t been developed in five years.

“I’m hoping these people will either decide to bring through the plans that are necessary and the finances that are necessary to develop the property or sell the property and give somebody else an opportunity to develop it,” Richardson said .

Takacs said his company is working hard to develop the property but that Richardson is making it difficult. Last year, Richardson pushed the city not to help Hudson/UpRiver pursue a state grant because he said the developer Takacs chose lacked the experience and financial backing for such a large project.

“We actually like the people of Mechanicville and we understand the disappointment, and we’re also disappointed,” McMillan added. “Although it was open to buy, the politicians have their own idea of what they’d like to have happen with it. I can understand that.”

Takacs said last week that he has lined up one investor to help develop the property, but he couldn’t give any further details since a plan hasn’t been finalized.

“Of the several prospects that we have out there, one of them has just recently matured in a more exciting direction,” Takacs said. “My goal is to satisfy Tom [Richardson]’s concerns. I think if Tom sees that there’s a lot more money available as well as satisfying him about the quality of the developer, I think we’d be all right.”

Circus techniques

In the meantime, Spacial Dynamics continues to operate in the gym. On a recent Thursday, McMillan was training a group of about 20 people from 12 different countries to be Spacial Dynamics trainers. Participants ranged from physical education teachers to massage therapists and circus performers.

Spacial Dymamics is a system McMillan developed after studying Bothmer gymnastics, a system of age-appropriate exercises and movement, in Germany. Bothmer movement is used in the Waldorf education system developed by Rudolph Steiner; Spacial Dynamics also trains Waldorf teachers.

Born in Detroit, McMillan studied psychology and education at the University of Detroit and received a master’s degree in gymnastic education.

“I really realized that one of the most transformative things that somebody can do is to learn how to move in new ways,” he said. “If you want to build up confidence, you teach them to do something they couldn’t do before.”

His first Spacial Dynamics location was a small gym in Stuttgart, Germany, 22 years ago. He also co-authored a book on circus techniques in Germany. McMillan was also a consultant for Michelin Tires, working on ergonomics on the company’s assembly line to help workers avoid injuries.

At the recent workshop, McMillan set up four informal stations where people helped each other learn various circus skills, including walking a tightrope, riding a unicycle and balancing on a board.

Typically, participants pay $500 for a five-day training session that includes movement therapy as well as presentations on training principles and techniques. Spacial Dynamics occasionally waives fees for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.

Dieter Bigler was spinning a plastic plate on top of a wooden rod in the gym. He works as a movement therapist at a state-owned psychiatric clinic in Switzerland.

Bigler said that people who are depressed have specific gestures and that he works with patients to try to bring more positive movements into their daily life.

“Every illness has [its] own gestures, so we look for the contra-gesture,” he added.

Reaching students

Will Crane is a physical education teacher from Spring Valley, about 120 miles south of Albany. He teaches gym to students in first through 12th grade at the Green Meadow Waldorf School in Rockland County.

Crane’s school incorporates Spacial Dynamics into its physical education program at all levels. For example, programs for young students include circle and line games, while older students participate in javelin, archery and circus games.

Crane has been incorporating Spacial Dynamics into his class since he started teaching 18 years ago.

“It sharpens their skills,” he said. “It gives them a sense of connectedness to the world around them.”

Crane created a special type of dodgeball he calls “virus” that is usually played by teenagers.

In the game, one player starts out with the ball and can only move around the gym by throwing the ball up in the air and catching it as they move.

Once someone gets hit, they’re “infected” and can have the ball passed to them from the other player. After a certain number of players are infected, they are required to stop moving and have to pass the ball around to each other to try to hit the remaining players.

“I like to bring dodgeball because it really helps them develop their throwing skills,” Crane said. “When you give the game certain parameters, then kids will feel safe.”

Crane also introduces plate spinning to kids in seventh grade and above. “Once you have the experience [of success], you might have a cross-reference at some point in your life,” he said. “It’s actually the effort that’s the interesting part of it.”

For McMillan, it’s all about being present in the space around you. One of the best examples, he said, is is professional golfer Tiger Woods.

“He creates that shot in space and that dynamic of the muscle memory,” McMillan said. “He creates that before he does it, and then it looks like he’s just slipping into something that already exists.”

McMillan also cited athletes like basketball legends Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. “Any good athlete doesn’t just move their body; they also move their awareness and presence in space,” McMillan said. “Visualization is just the eyes, and a real athlete hears the movement and almost tastes the movement.”

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