Dance as a Language

What is dance and how does it relate to language? Dance is the “artistic form of nonverbal communication” while language is “the mental form of verbal communication”. From this, we know that dance and language are both forms of communication. The only difference is that dance is non-verbal and language is verbal. Although, if language is strictly verbal, then why is the way mute or deaf people communicate called Sign Language? If movement of the hands to convey a message is called Sign Language then why not consider dance as language since it also conveys a message not only through hand movements but through body movements as well.

Dance is an important part of every culture. During the early days, ancient people used dance to communicate to the highest beings. For example, the natives performed rain dance to ask the gods for a good harvest by giving them rain and they dance again to thank the gods after a good harvest. Why not just say it aloud like what most people do in houses of worship nowadays? It is probably because they think that dance is the highest and most powerful form of communication. They reserved dance for sacred purposes only. As time went on and civilizations arose, dance has served many other functions. For the African slaves, there was a time when they were prohibited to speak especially about their culture. Almost all of them were uneducated and so they did not know how to write. They used dance as a very important tool to preserve and pass on their culture to the next generations.

When they danced, the rich men thought that they were “just” dancing and nothing else. What they did not know is how powerful dance is in transmitting messages. As of now, we have what we call “social dancing”. While most of us think that we are only trying to have fun while doing this kind of dance, we fail to realize that we are transmitting messages to the audience beyond our awareness. What kind of message? It will depend on the audience, although we might be able to manipulate it.
Depending on how well the dancer transmits the message of the dance, the audience might perceive the dance in a different way, just the same with speaking a foreign language. For example, when a non-native English speaker comes to America, even if the speaker is speaking English to a native speaker, the native speaker might not be able to understand some parts of the speech due to a different accent. Just like in dance, when a grounded dance is not done with emphasized stomping, the meaning might be lost. Another example is that depending on the tone of the speaker when delivering a message, the listener can interpret the message in different ways. One gesture I always hear is “Great!”. This gesture can either be interpreted as a gesture of agreement or disagreement. Again, just like in dance, the dancer can manipulate how the audience perceives the message through gracefulness.

Yes, the message in a dance can be easily misinterpreted depending on the performance just like how easily a foreign language can be misunderstood depending on pronunciation. However, unlike a foreign language, dance is actually universal. Try watching a dance from a different culture for example. It is amazing how something in you can relate to it. You get the sense of were that type of dance has originated whether just by identifying if it came from a country with cold or hot climate. You also get the sense of what the function of that dance is whether it is religious, social, for courtship etc…

Dance is also defined as “the rhythmic step by step process. . .” according to the same source. So how does this relate to language? Well, isn’t language also a compilation of steps? For example, to learn how to speak a new language, one will have to know words or phrases at first. Once you get the hang of it, you start putting them together into complete sentences, into paragraphs and later on, you learn to fluently speak the language. In comparison to dance, to learn a new dance, you have to start learning some steps. Once you get the hang of it, you start putting them together into a complete dance. And later on if you want to learn more of that type of dance, let’s say ethnic dance, the compilation of ethnic dances (esp. of a certain culture) is analogous to paragraphs in language.
In conclusion, dance and language are very similar in meaning. One does not have to think very deep to be able to tell this. Even just by looking up their meanings in a dictionary, one can tell that the only difference is how it is delivered – nonverbal versus verbal. From this we can say that dance is a language itself.

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