46 | Ix-Nay on the Anguage-Lay

64 Arts

This post is part of our ongoing exploration of the 64 Arts.

In eighth grade we had to choose our foreign language for high school. Since, at that time, I still thought I was heading towards law school, Latin was the obvious way to go. Even though I gave up the law school idea (it was never what I really wanted, it just seemed practical–practical doesn’t equal fulfilling, right?) I stuck with Latin all four years. Sure, I was never truly great at the grammar (though bits of it did make the English grammar rules make more sense) and I reveled in the cultural side of Ancient Rome more than anything, but the foundation it’s given me for sussing out bits and pieces of the more common (and actually spoken) Romance languages is still hanging around in my head.

About that time, the Latin for All Occasions books were becoming quite popular among the egg-heads among us, and we did have a bit of fun cheekily spouting corrupt Latin phrases at a moment’s notice. Talk about your initiates!

And so we find ourselves at the next art:

46 Understanding barbarous foreign languages (mleccha)
Or by inverting syllables, being understood only by the initiated 

“Barbarous” makes me think of the more guttural German or, perhaps, Russian languages, but many French or Italian speakers would not be out of line to say that English is just as barbarous to their ears. I tend to thing anyone speaking any language flawlessly is a pleasure to listen to, but some are certainly more melodic than others. Of course, a quick search on “mleccha” indicates that anything not the native speaker’s language counts, so we could just have ourselves a field day.

The description of the art obviously made me think of Pig-Latin, though: far more easy to decipher if you know the basic rules:

  • For words that start with a consonant or consonant sound, pop that consonant onto the end of the word with an -ay following
  • For words that start with a vowel or vowel sound, just add the -ay to the end of the work without further rearranging necessary

Have you ever tried to come up with your own language? Either with a swap or reversal style of pig-Latin or just using different words for different reasons. Even, perhaps, certain in-jokes that mean things among your friend groups could count as your own language when used to send “coded messages” in a crowded room.

And then there are the pop culture references that can show a bond between you and a near-stranger when you realize you like the same things. Fans of Battlestar Gallactica, for instance, might recognize each other when someone drops a frack-bomb in casual conversation. Or, to reference another fandom, Firefly fans will certain understand you when you toss in a gorram or two.

After all, isn’t the whole point of a language–public or private–to communicate? And in communicating with the people around us (either in person or online), we build community.

45 | Sign a Song

64 Arts

You know how when you go to buy a blue car and you suddenly start seeing blue cars every-freaking-where? It’s not that there are suddenly more blue cars on the road, you’re just noticing them more. You’re tuned in. Aware.

That tends to be the case for a lot of things, but then sometimes the universe is kind enough to pepper whatever circles you travel in with a little more of the things you need. As was the case when this gem showed up in my RSS feed last week:

Direct link for the feed readers: ASL Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know”

Isn’t that awesome?!

And if you click through to some of the other videos, there are plenty by the interpreter in the video, Azora Telford (there’s a great interview about creating the video over at Planet DeafQueer), and others that are just phenomenal. They’re also a great example of the non-fingerspelling side of sign language. Knowing the alphabet is one step, but fingerspelling everything would take a long time to get anywhere, so single and combination signs have been devised to make communication easier, though it’s truly a lot to learn!

For an idea of the types of signs that are out there, you can see video demonstrations over at the ASL Pro Dictionary. Some signs are fairly intuitive–like those that point to a part of the body or, like in the video above, the sign for “know” that pantomimes the tapping of the head (you’ve probably used a similar gesture when you’re talking to someone and can’t quite remember whatever it is you’re trying to think of)–while others might take a little more thinking to really grok. (Check out the sign for Xerox, for instance). Of course, if you’d like to learn ASL in a more formal way, there are courses available online at ASL University (including some free lessons if you just want to check them out). I’m not affiliated with any of these sites, I’m just offering them in case anyone wants to dig a little deeper on their own.

45 | Sign Language 101

64 Arts
Signs Language font  by zanatlija

Signs Language font by zanatlija (downloadable from dafont)

Moving onto what I’m going to unofficially call the “language arts” section of the 64 Arts, we’re starting with the quiet one:

45 Sign Language
Using the mudra, or symbolic gestures of the theater.

Three things immediately come to mind when I think of sign language…

1-In elementary song, for some assembly or another, our class learned a song in sign language about friendship. Searching online I was able to find the lyrics but not a video of anyone singing/signing it:

Friends, everybody needs friends.
Someone to share your day with me, to cheer up when you’re feeling blue.
Friends, would you like to be friends?
Would you like to share the day with me, to be who you want that you wanna be.
We all need each other, that’s what friends are for,
So if your see someone, without a smile, give ’em one of yours.
Friends, would you like to be friends?
Would you like to share the day with me?
To be who you want that you wanna be.
Friends, would you like to be friends?
Because, your friends are my friends, and my friends are your friends, and your friends are MY FRIENDS TOOO.

I remember a handful of the signs (bad pun totally unintended), including the linked index fingers sign for “friends,” but not much else. Still, it’s something.

2-Seeing The Miracle Worker with Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft when I was in middle school. Knowing this Art was coming up I found it on Amazon Instant Video and watched it again–I forgot how “old” the 1962 looked, especially in the opening scenes, but it was still amazing to watch. I see that Disney remade the movie with Hallie Kate Eisneberg but I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it.

If you want to read something rather extraordinary, look at Helen Keller’s autobiography. There’s actually more than one, but The Story of My Life is available via U Penn’s digital library and it really is a fascinating read.


3-The signing monkey from the Madagascar movies. Not only are they a) monkeys and b) hilarious, I watched the movie once with an ASL interpreter and she about fell off the couch when she say the flinging poo scene and confirmed that they accurately animated the question, using the more vulgar term at that!

(Direct link for the feed readers: Monkeys vs. Tom Wolfe)

There, I think I’ve successfully brought the conversation down out of the rafters with that last one. Still, sign language (be it ASL or one of the other hundreds of types out there) is really impressive, and I have amazing respect for anyone able to communicate with it. I also find it fascinating how different cultures and communities create their own shared signals organically.

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!

The All-Important Rhythm

64 Arts

“Dance is your pulse, your heartbeat, your breathing. It’s the rhythm of your life. It’s the expression in time and movement, in happiness, joy, sadness and envy.”
~Jaques D’ambroise

And 5, 6, 7, 8–

Rhythm. Some say you either have it or you don’t. I think if a person is willing they can learn to find rhythms and follow them, though it might take a bit more effort for some.

A rhythm is a pattern. Count an even 1-2-3-4 and you have a simple rhythm. Usually the emphasis in music falls on the first (the downbeat) and third beats, with rock ‘n roll and R&B favoring back-beats or the 2nd and 4th beats. Of course, a beat or count can be subdivided a lot and rearranged so that it can take some effort to fit the counts of a dance to the rhythm of the music you are dancing to.

The rhythm floating through my head, as I type, would be counted 1-2-3-and-a-4-and-a (from Higher Ground, the RHCP cover).

Interpretation is a glorious thing in music. It’s what sets the true musician apart from someone playing notes on a horn. In dance, anyone can memorize a set of steps or movements. The dancer, though, imbues them with life, with style, with grace.

Recognizing rhythm is important because you can count off the choreography diligently but if you’re not matching the music, there will be a disconnect. You’ll be out of sync. It just won’t feel right. And if anyone is watching you? Chances are they’ll see it, too.

This can happen with people.

Humans are wonderfully varied individuals and we all have our little quirks. These personality traits make us who we are. But what we aren’t, always, is a perfect fit. Finding the people we click with starts with finding our own rhythm, figuring out the dance steps in our own life, first. Then, when we meet others, it’s easier to see (or hear) when our rhythms match up.

Sometimes people don’t “mesh well.” This can happen both in personal and professional situations. In the latter, you almost have to try and boil it down to it’s basic rhythms and find a common ground–sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In personal situations it’s (occasionally!) easier to find a new dance partner than make a 3/4 and a 4/4 match up.

My middle school band director used to challenge us to keep 4/4 time with one hand while keeping 3/4 waltz with the other. He could do it if he concentrated, I still can’t get it. Give it a try and let me know if you can do it (remember, the trick is that the four beats of one and the three beats of the other both take the same amount of time to complete).

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By the way, when I was writing for eHow.com, I wrote an article about choosing a dance teacher. If you’re thinking of plunging into the fun and learning to dance from a pro, give it a read. Not every teacher was made for every student, but when you find a good one you get way more than you pay for!