Finding Community through Alternative Communication

Communication is a key element in any community/relationship/society/etc. So, what happens when you’re completely immersed in a country without knowing their language? For a moment, I felt isolated. I was only alone for a short amount of time as I walked from my airplane’s gate to the luggage carousel but found myself drowning in foreign accents and loose translations. And then, I found my people.

I say “my people” as if we’d been friends for years, but in reality, this was the first time any of us had met. The familiarity of English drew us together in the Rio de Janeiro airport as we stumbled over introductions and humorous airplane mishaps. My usual shy exterior was buried as words began spilling out of my mouth to these strangers who all share a love of dance and culture. The simplicity of mutual understanding brought our group together as if we had been friends for years and gave us a place where we could be the purest form of ourselves without getting lost in translation.

Dance is boundless. This universal language connected all of our group with Rio in a way that words could not. A translator cannot convert what dance and movement provokes as emotion is felt through every spectator’s bones. Dance begins speaking to its diverse audience and goes past learned language into an almost primal instinct. As I began to try new movement styles that encaptured Brazilian history in every motion, I feel the well-known physical demonstration of universal empathy that dance brings.

In Brazil, it was very apparent to me how dance culture allows for people to connect on these somatic levels and develop a form of communication deeper than flimsy words could attempt to reach. Teaching dance was especially impactful because the joy that dance brings radiated through each child’s smiling face and enthusiastic attitude. Before class, children would run up and ask eager questions, give air-tight hugs, and talk about whatever was on their mind. Not understanding much that they were saying, a shrug followed by a nod and smile was my usual response before guiding them into a circle. Then, it was pure magic experiencing the power of dance unfold as unspoken communication took over and allowed children to express themselves in a way other than words. As a teacher, it was so beautiful to see the mutual awareness and knowledge that developed between our two cultures as dance took on the role of translator.

Overall, I found that actions do speak louder than words. Connection develops from physical communication and bounds us together in a profound level of understanding words cannot begin to grasp. From finding comfortability in those with similar traits to connecting with people on the complete opposite side of the equator, communication is inevitable through dance.

– Shannon Smith, Dance Diplomat from ASU