What happens when language meets movement?
I climbed in the car this morning and stumbled upon a Radiolab episode that set my mind to work on the connection between language and movement. It's not very often that a radio or television show will pique my interest as both an academic and a dancer, but today's episode did just that.
I've been dancing since childhood and love teaching, but academically, I was interested in language, so interested, in fact, that I earned a PhD in French. I think often about the connection between language and movement and have begun introducing French vocabulary to even my youngest dancers as an additional tool for keeping their minds working during moments of repetitious movement, such as stretching and flexing our feet.
Today's episode, "Words" centered on what happens in our brains and bodies when we put words to symbols. To make a long story short: language is a code-breaker, the key to understanding and organizing our world.
Here's the most interesting part: The more words a person has for the process of thinking, the better he or she becomes at thinking. What does this mean for movement? The more words we have for movement, the better we will be able to move.
By introducing basic movement vocabulary at a very young age and providing more input as a dancer matures, he or she will be able to improve quality of movement by understanding the different nuances of the language surrounding it.
The brain/body vocabulary connection is amazing in and of itself, but even more enriching is the idea that increased understanding of movement also leads to increasing verbal complexity. When we teach dancers that there is a difference between a slide and a shuffle, a bend and a sway, or a chug and a jump, we force them to identify the differences in those two movements and to establish a vocabulary that accounts for those differences.
Everything from simple concepts like tempo and level to complex steps in advanced ballet class can be better understood and better performed by adding complexity to the way we talk and think about movement.
We all teach knowing that the majority of our students will not be professional dancers, although we each steadfastly hope they will be lifelong dancers, but we give them the gift of complexity. We teach them to watch, to distinguish, to reproduce, and through all of that we deepen their love and understanding of movement.
What else do we do? We make them smarter! Having a richer vocabulary doesn't only mean that a dancer will be a stronger reader, it means that a dancer will have a sharper mind, a more confident tone, the ability to better communicate his/her ideas to others, and a keen eye for the small differences that make individuals, books, projects, works of art, and, yes, movement unique.