Dance, the Pied Piper
A simple movement can seduce. An open hand, a shift in weight, a tilt of the head are all things we understand. Movement – not words – is mankind’s primary form of communication. The potential for dance to send powerful messages is still underused.
Consciously or unconsciously, irrespective of its origins and intended function, each movement phrase in every dance has evolved, honed into a synthesis of meaningful moments. Huge gestures and tiny nuances can be combined to tell stories, express feelings or to evoke a response. A dancer’s art is not simply discipline. It need not be beautiful. But it is always a refinement of expression of joys and concerns, desires and comforts, passions, experiences and aspirations.
Kinesics (nonverbal communication related to the body as a whole) or; as we know it, body language comprises around 55% of face-to-face communication. It is used by everyone, everywhere. Just as we combine words to make sentences, we combine movements to add shades of meaning. That’s why a beckoning finger combined with an upright stance gives a different message to one with a dropped, coquettish head. Proximity between people add to the context; the meaning of a backwards or sideways glance changes completely if the person being looked at is nearby or further away.
Dance can seduce or inspire, it can repel or enthuse. It can bypass an individual’s internal heuristics and online algorithms, can tickle our intellects or reach right into our souls. It’s no coincidence that our blood races when we are confronted by people dancing Haka, that two bodies feel as one when they dance the Argentine tango or that Sega makes us think of grace and regrets. The first is a postural declarative battle dance. The second arose between lonely people who, speaking different languages, needed to communicate another way. The last was created by slaves remembering the travel over sea from their homes. Every dance embodies meaning and is a thing of power conveying strong or subtle emotions without the need for a single word.
There are more dance forms than can be counted, from quirky and trendy to artistic but bland. Dance phrases evoke feelings in certain international demographics whether or not they’ve been exposed to the dance form or its culture before. People respond through empathy, intellectually or viscerally because they can’t not. That’s we are made. Our common humanity, the fact that we are all a similar shape with similar internal organs means that every dance has the capacity to reach us.
Whether dance is captured in still or moving images our super-sensitivity to movement makes the creation of evocative images a challenge. We subconsciously read a dancer’s inexpert moves as ‘wrong’ or ‘uninteresting’. The wrong micro-expressions can be misinterpreted as disapproval and if the movement vocabulary loses its authenticity it will at best evoke no feeling at all.
Like the Pied Piper, provided they know what they’re doing, the director, working with the right people, can tie demographic with dance form, movement vocabulary with emotion and demographics and work with image makers, stage managers, choreographers and others to ensure that the right images are presented for selection for a campaign. To maximise impact they need a good working knowledge of a large number of dances along with their movement vocabularies (dancers tend to specialise so this is a challenge in itself) and a good feel for how particular demographics respond to particular movements as well as an appreciation of the creative processes of choreographers. Without such perspectives the campaign might not work.
Whatever genre, however it’s created, the very best dance opens us to new ideas, strong feelings and different perspectives. Great dance can reach into our hearts without the intercession of conscious thought. Get it right, keep it genuine, get the right moves with the right tones and the right people and good dance will bypass the constraints imposed by any spoken language, help us identify and admire people of different shapes races and cultures, changes the minds and invoke feelings and moods of great swathes of people across the globe.
Turn your back on dance at your peril, we need its power more and more.