Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Best Dance Analogy

My favorite way to describe dance is by comparing it to language. Each dance style is like a separate language or dialect, and they inter-relate in similar ways. They are also similarly rich, complex, and full of expressive possibilities.

This is a great analogy to use with non-dancers, when you want to explain just why you'll spend three nights per week and hundreds of dollars per year doing what looks like, to them, a version of the hokey pokey.
But what is he trying to say?

Here are some of the ways that that this awesome analogy holds true:

Dance styles and languages each have unique syntax and vocabulary.  For dancing, these are moves, rhythm, and the order in which it makes sense to do things.

Both dancing and language take a finite amount of separate pieces - words or movements - and recombine them creatively in infinite different ways.

Both dancing and language are used expressively.  I originally got hooked on lindy hop when I saw people using it to tell jokes with each other!

Ever feel like this in class?
Learning a new style of dance is very similar to learning a new language.  When you learn, you start with vocabulary and grammar (moves and patterns). You spend a while learning how to shape your mouth (body) for correct pronunciation (posture, movement style). Learning at the beginning is rote and rather awkward, but with enough practice over a long period of time, you are able to start recombining the things you have learned and expressing yourself in the moment.

With both dancing and languages, classes are certainly helpful, but the best way to reach fluency is always immersion - for example, by living with native speakers, or by social dancing frequently with good music and skilled people.

You can have an accent in both dance and speech. If I dance, say, ballroom with any competent partner, they will almost certainly spot my lindy hop background from the way I move, connect, and respond to certain cues.

Once you learn one dance style or language, it is easier to learn another. Although, when you start learning a new one, your first style or language will probably creep in and disrupt the process a bit. I know I kept trying to rock-step when I first tried salsa.

Learning a line dance is very much like learning a rote poem or chant. You can use it to practice vocabulary and pronunciation, and then you can "recite" it alone or with other people for fun.
Wow, she must have dance-dissed him
pretty hard.

Dancing with a partner is very much like having a conversation with someone.  You can share moods and thoughts, respond to each other's communications, and in the process, learn a lot about each other. In both verbal and dance conversations, people can be overbearing, shy, subtle, casual, funny, serious, challenging...the list goes on!

I am frequently sad that with most new friends, words are the only way to get to know them. If only everyone could speak a dance language!


  1. I like the comparison between dance and language. There are many languages that are different, yet similar, some people who speak Spanish may be able to understand Portuguese. A similar thing happens with dance, once you learn rhythm and some basic dance styles, you are often able to pick others up more quickly.

    Legacy of Dance Academy

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