This wonderful article is a continuation of a series first published in Desert Rain's 'Tribal Journeys'
By Nancy Montgomery

Okay. Twist my arm harder. I'll explain my metaphor of tribal style belly dance as nonverbal communication. I think it's an important analogy because it's one way to put some power in your dancing, the power of communication.

Any dance is nonverbal communication when it's done well. Otherwise, it's random movement. In tribal style belly dance, we don’t just do a hip move and paste on the arm movement. A belly dance movement is a total body gesture. It has feeling and meaning as a word does. That's not to say that it symbolizes something specific, as hula moves do, but a belly dance move may suggest a feeling or have a certain flavor, both for the dancer and the spectator. We should also be aware of the connotations and cultural context of some of the dance moves we may choose to do just as we consider the implied meaning of a word before we use it. Does a dance "word" we choose to use have an undesirable connotation? Is it ridiculous when used out of its cultural context? If so, should we really use it?

To take the analogy further, we string dance "words" together to make dance "phrases" and "sentences". We "write paragraphs" when we put dance "phrases" together. We can think of a dance "paragraph" as a single dance and a dance "story" as a set of dances. Regardless of the length of the communication, if we just string a bunch of words/movements together without thinking, we'll come up with either a dictionary of sorts, or nonsense. If you want to present nonsense, that's fine, but that usually isn't what we're trying to do. And it may be lovely nonsense (sounding nice, in the case of words; looking good in the case of dance), but if it could actually communicate something the dance would make more of an impact on the dancers and the audience.

How can we make our dances communications? Well, we communicate verbally in one of two ways: rehearsed "speeches" or extemporaneous (improvised) communication. Choreography is a speech. Tribal style (group) improvisation is an extemporaneous presentation. Each has its place, but if you can't speak extemporaneously, you find yourself tongue-tied in informal situations. It's also much easier to be predictable if you write dance "speeches".

We can continue the dance/language metaphor by comparing how we vary the way we talk with how we vary the way we dance. If we change a few terms, it's essentially the same process. The words we use day-to-day are actually a small vocabulary in comparison to the number of words available to us. They are words everyone in our verbal group knows. Sound like tribal style belly dance? We limit ourselves to these words so we can all speak together, but our language is not monotonous. We start with this limited vocabulary in either language or tribal style belly dance; then we organize our vocabulary into families. In each family (of words or movements), there is a root movement or gesture (word, in the case of language) that is varied, embellished or layered to create the other movements/words in that family. In the case of language or speech we vary our speaking speed and rhythm. We vary the quality of our voice. We embellish our words with hand gestures. We layer body language and facial expression upon our speeches. In the case of tribal style belly dance we vary our dance gestures by changing their rhythm, speed, direction, level and quality (percussive v. fluid, e.g.). We embellish the gesture with the use of arms, head, hands or props; or by layering another movement over the root movement.

Dance is nonverbal communication, not random movement. If we apply the same concepts to tribal style belly dance that we apply to speaking, we'll do a better job of communicating. And our dances will be more powerful because they have the power to communicate.

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