Communication as a Form of Dance

“Gentleman, reach across to the lady opposite you with your right hand and take the lady’s left hand in yours. Ladies, go under the gentleman’s arm as you both make a quarter turn.”

These are the instructions for making a quarter turn in our circle waltz dance – Spanish Waltz. The words may be confusing at first, but once you see it done, it is easy. Communicating knowledge to you with my words AND actions gives you a lot more information.

In-person, vocal communication has a physical dimension. I always talk with my hands –sometimes so vigorously that I have elbowed one of my children standing behind me in the face. But even if you don’t wave your arms around and around like I do, there is still movement in your shoulders, head and face that is communicating to your listener, perhaps even more than your voice.

In the 1960’s William Condon, analyzed social micro rhythms by video taping conversation between small groups of people and then slowing the videos down to watch the mirco-moments. He found that each speaker in the video would move a shoulder, cheek, eyebrow or hand in perfect time with their own words so that each person was basically dancing to their own speech. And that is not all. All of the listeners were making similar movements as well, and they were in perfect harmony with those of the speaker. Other studies have shown that it’s just not the movements that get synchronized, but it is the volume and pitch of the voices as well.

I just finished a book this week by Malcolm Gladwell called The Tipping Point. It is a fascinating book about how social epidemics – both good and bad – get started. The author talks about the importance of persuasive communicators and how they get their message across. Glad tells of meeting with a very persuasive salesman, Tom Gau. He says, “We know how people talk back and forth. They listen. They interrupt. They move their hands. In the case of my meeting with Tom Gau…some of the time he leaned forward and planted his elbows in front of him. Other times he sat back in his chair and waved his hands in the air… If you had a videotape (of our meeting) and slowed it down until you were looking at our interaction in slices of a fraction of a second, you would have seen … the two of us engaged in what can only be described as an elaborate and precise dance.”

Have you ever thought about your conversations as being a dance? Are some people better conversationalists (and better dancers) than others? Does dancing help you become a better communicator? A more persuasive speech maker? Like most skills, the more you practice, the better you get. So get out there and dance, and you may find that you receive the extra benefit of becoming a better communicator as well.

Maybe you didn’t realize it, but you and everyone around you are dancing all the time!

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