I Hear You: Understanding the Language of Dance
We live in an increasingly busy and demanding world, with a kaleidoscope of tasks endlessly competing for our attention. As such, sharpening up on communication skills comes with a real advantage. What better way to practice than with ballroom dance?
In a conversation between two people, each one takes their turn to talk and (hopefully!) to listen. Beyond words, more subtle nonverbal content is being exchanged as well.
On the dance floor and off, we all benefit from the art of "hearing" one another's unspoken language. Some say the ability to listen can be even more important than speaking. Though we're constantly being given clues from others about how they are feeling at the moment, we may not always be totally conscious of those indicators.
The study of body language is extensive and fascinating. When we bring this knowledge to ballroom dance, it takes on a new level and can deeply enrich our practice.
Talk to Me!
No doubt you've heard the adage: "Dance is the universal language."
While it may sound like a line from a dime store romance novel, there are actually volumes of truth in it.
If we pay attention, we can learn a lot from our dance partner... even if that dance partner happens to be a perfect stranger!
Like facial expressions, which are also universal, body language is a raw, unedited, often unconscious expression. It's a snapshot of a person's current temperament.
Contraction/Expansion: Communicating with Intention
Generally speaking, a relaxed, elongated stance, pose or movement communicates openness and freedom, while a stiff or contracted stance indicates retreat or moving away.
Let's take a look at the dance position. In the classic frame, the dancers are connected, but at a respectful distance. Depending on the dance style, you may be closer or farther away from your partner.
Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn
So how can this information help us in dance and in life? What does ballroom dance teach us about teamwork, cooperation and relationships?
Leads, you are probably already very good at picking up on certain subtle cues from your partner. If she pulls away or squeezes tightly on your hand, it probably means she wants to slow down or take a break. So relax, and let her communicate her needs. No one likes to be shoved across the dance floor. It makes for an awkward ride for all parties involved!
Follows, it can be a challenge to learn to follow your partner. Most of us (women especially) are accustomed to staying in control. Dance can be a wonderful way to release that control and "go with the flow". Of course, we also learn to trust one another. Constantly in tune with what the lead is doing, when the only way you know what's coming next is a subtle shift in weight, is a valuable practice in listening.
In essence, ballroom dance is an exercise in trust in the service of creative expression, movement, and most of all: FUN! There is a lighthearted connection between the dancers in the group on a level both primal... and civilized.
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