On language and dance, part 1: Introduction

(This is part 1 of a series of posts on the relationship between language and dance. Part 2, on partnered dance as a communication system, is here.)

Some readers may not know that while I spend my days as an academic with research interests in communication and language, among other things, an unhealthy proportion of my evenings and weekends is spent doing swing dance, in particular lindy hop and balboa. (Incidentally, the first of those links is a choreographed routine; the second is not.)

A great many people, including both dancers and linguists, have likened dance to language. In fact, the analogy comes in more than one form. On the one hand, it can be about dance as an art form: the communication takes place between dancer and audience. This must be right. As I explained in a previous post, I think all art is, ultimately, a form of communication between artist and audience.

Another use of the analogy between language and dance regards partnerships, and in particular the interaction between leader and follower. How deep does this analogy go? This is the first of a series of posts, each of which will look at different aspects of this question. But I’ll tell you this much now: I think the analogy is very deep indeed. In a later post in this series, I’ll even argue that there is an important sense in which partnered dances are languages. But I need to build up to that – and I start, in the next post, by discussing the type of the communication that takes place between a lead and a follow.

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3 comments

  1. Looking forward to reading the rest of this series. I wanted to see which dance links you had used, so I clicked on them even though I need no explanation of what these dances are! Thanks for the Skye and Frida one – I hadn’t watched it for a while. I think you should check the balboa one, though, because it doesn’t seem to be working (could be my computer, though).

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