Dance as Communication: How Humans Communicate through Dance and Perceive Dance as Communication
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This thesis is an offspring of the question: What is dance? Consideration of this question prompts the task of first defining dance. What Is Dance?: Readings in Theory and Criticism by Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen lends insight into developing a definition for dance that works well for this thesis which embraces the focus of how dance serves as a means of communication. Since dance involves gesture, defining "gesture" becomes the first step in developing a working definition of dance. Susanne K. Langer in What ls Dance? refers to "gesture" as "vital movement" and suggests that "dance motion is gesture, or an element in the exhibition of gesture" (28). Tossing in his theory on what defines dance a few more pages later in the book, Paul Valery observes that St Augustine once pondered the concept of"dance" and defined dance in terms of time. According to St. Augustine, dance is inseparable from the concept of time; he theorizes, "the dance after all is merely a form of time, the creation of a kind of time, or of a very distinct and singular species of time" (59). Grafting the two theories of dance, a definition of dance starts to evolve: Dance is time dedicated to meaningful gesture. However, dance communicates meaning, too. Roger Copeland even suggests that “the soul is in the body” (518). Therefore, for the purpose of this thesis, dance is defined by this definition: Dance is time dedicated to meaningful gesture stemming from the soul’s need to reach out and express itself in an energy force beyond words. This definition encapsulates the aspects of dance as communication, not simply as entertainment. Needless to say, dance has traditionally been viewed as a form of entertainment. Certainly, dancers have received accolades, and dance is credited as a means of artistic expression which involves technique, stamina, discipline, and creativity. However, dance is much more than one of the celebrated performing arts. It is a significant means of communication—communication in which the soul expresses itself through meaningful gesture—ubiquitous and important. Dance as communication is not always linked with music. Communication through dance is not music driven but rather body and soul driven. Dance involves the entire body, and the body can be a powerful agent of communication. Copeland even maintains that dance is “the conversion of bodily energy into something more spiritual, something worthy of the soul” (518). The soul of the dancer is inevitably tied to the expression communicated through the dancer’s movement. French painter, Edgar Degas who dedicated much of his career to drawing and painting dancers eloquently observes, “It is the movement of people and things which consoles us. If the leaves on the trees didn’t move, how sad the trees would be—and so should we.” Therefore, this thesis will focus on dance as a means of communication and will explore how dance has been essential to human societies throughout history and into the present day. This thesis will acknowledge the concept of dance as a means of communication in order to prove that dance is pervasive and vital in its presence in human societies throughout the world. As a means of communication, dance is used to lure and keep mates; define and perpetuate gender roles; form and cultivate social and cultural bonds; and even express societal and political expectations and preferences. It can also be used as a weapon for rebellion. Additionally, dance can be a means of improving cognitive abilities which allows for greater communication in especially older adults. Dance is indeed not confined to simply a component of the performing arts even though that in and of itself is a method of communication. Significantly, dance plays a bigger role in communication; it is communication through physical movements not reliant on vocal elements and sounds. The soul is a powerful force. The soul sometimes has something really big to say—something that cannot be conveyed through the limitations of mere words alone. That is when dance steps in and allows the soul to speak through the body. Perhaps this is what is meant by the expression “Dance from the Heart.” In the preface to their book, No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century, Nancy Reynolds and Malcolm McCormick recognize the importance of dance in the human experience. They state, “In the past hundred years, dance has emerged both as an independent art to be reckoned with and a new humanistic discipline” (Reynolds & McCormick xiii). Today, interest in dance may be due to television shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” Dance shows such as these reach large audiences and even invite the public to weigh in and judge the dancers via a voting process. Dance, as a result, has evolved into a popular form of entertainment for the masses. One does not have to buy a ticket to see phenomenal dancing; one can do so from the comfort of a living room sofa via a remote device. Televised dancing has kept dance more in the public eye and accessible. However, the importance of dance goes well beyond challenging choreography and glitzy costumes. This thesis will focus on dance as it pertains to humanism and the need for humans to communicate. Therefore, dance will not be relegated to simply a music-driven performance genre; it will be treated as an essential ingredient to life itself.
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