45 | Prompts for Non-Verbal Communication

64 Arts



This post is part of our ongoing exploration of the 64 Arts, specifically the art of Sign Language.

On the way home from work, yesterday, I was first cut off by one driver as I tried to merge into another lane and then blocked by two more. This prompted the usual rise in ire and more than one bit of non-standard–but quite universal–sign language.

I’m not exactly proud of that, but it does fit in well with our exploration of sign language, yes?

Rather than focus further on ASL, here are some prompts to get you thinking about the other sorts of signs we’re giving and receiving.

1. Picture this: Your new college roommate/partner at the office is from another country, doesn’t speak English, and you don’t speak their language either. How do you communicate? How do you accomplish goals?

2. Observation time! Wherever you spend your day–be it at the office, in a classroom, or on public transit–look at the people around you and examine their body language. What stories do they tell with how they carry themselves, where they put their arms, the expression on their face?

3. Spend a day not talking or writing, instead get what you need with hand, body, and facial gestures. How successful are you in getting your point across? (Perhaps best on a weekend–don’t want you giving your boss the silent treatment!) Alternately, film a “silent movie” and send it to a friend–see if they can translate it without hints.

I’d love to hear if you try any of these prompts and how they turn out!

Body Language

64 Arts

“I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what it too deep to find for words.” ~Ruth St. Denis

How can we watch a performance and follow a story with no words? Why do we weep at the play between dancers on stage during sad on poignant moments? What is something so intangible that one look can convey a page’s worth of information? Sure, the music helps a lot and if there’s a program it might give us a little synopsis to follow, but in the end…

It all comes down to body language.

Dancing is more than just moving your feet in a prescribed pattern of steps. Dance involves the entire body, every muscle–even some you never knew you had!* This includes all those muscles in the face that smile, frown, grimace and do everything else. (q.v. “With One Look” from Sunset Boulevard)

Sometimes there are no words.

Usually it’s in times of grief that words take a back seat but even in happy moments, sometimes it’s best to beam at someone’s happy news, jump up and down, clap your hands and just be excited with them rather than say something. Why? Because words are more easily misunderstood than actions.

Any question you ask of a celebrant can (unintentionally, I’m sure) pinpoint that spark of insecurity that even the most self-confident person possesses. You end up in a “why can’t you just be happy for me” kind of thing. By the same token, a true smile has no subtext. Just the way a cold shoulder given to another will more effectively communicate disdain and dislike than a tirade of angry, hurtful words.

So when we dance on stage for others or just delicately step our way through human moments of the day-to-day, it helps to remember that our body’s are talking, too. Sometimes more loudly than our words.

*Seriously. During my first bellydance lessons I learned that the basic hip movements are controlled by muscles along the side of your torso. It wasn’t apparent the first day or two, but after that, they told me exactly where they were and how indignant they were at finally being put to use. I have yet to find anything else they do other than hip raises and drops!