After my first few weeks of work and reflection, I have begun to notice language and the stories within it more than I ever have before. I have started to take the time to think about the way that each person speaks and consider the intentions behind their words. Furthermore, I have been considering the way that I interpret their words and the judgement that I so often make simply based on the way that someone speaks. Words have the ability to attract, divide, engage, and challenge individuals in a very powerful way, even when we do not intend them to. The connotation behind someone’s words may be purposeful and strong willed, however, the way that someone listening interprets those words may be entirely different. I believe that this is both a strength and a flaw in language. Our voice is an incredibly important tool for expression but it can also be misused and misunderstood, thus leading to faulty assessments of an individual. These judgments are made not solely based on the words that someone uses but also the way that they choose to mold their words into sentences.
We all know that there are thousands of different languages that exist in the world today and these languages can be broken down even further into dialects. A dialect is defined as, “a particular form of a language that is peculiar to a specific region or social group” (Google). Small, and sometimes unintelligible, variations on one language create more division and misunderstanding between people and groups than two completely different languages. It seems to me that someone who speaks Russian has no problem standing in front of a stranger that speaks English and trying to communicate, but when an American English speaker from a wealthy New England family is face-to-face with an individual that was born and raised in a small, underprivileged neighborhood in Alabama speak different dialects within the English language, suddenly there is a sea of misunderstanding. History proves that these differences are nearly impossible to overcome.
I would like to try and relate language to my experience with dance. First and foremost I am a woman, but beyond that I am an artist, and furthermore I am a dancer. I grew up in Denver, Colorado where I attended an arts school for 7 years. At this school I had the incredible opportunity to study many diverse styles of dance including Ballet, Jazz, African, Character, Hip-hop, Flamingo, and Middle Eastern dance. Try and think about each of these styles of dance as a language. Just like languages, each one has an incredible history of evolution and growth within a community. A genre of dance, such as ballet, is a broad category that can be broken down into different methods including: Balanchine, Vaganova, Cecchetti, Bournonville, and others. We may consider these to be dialects within the language of ballet.
The world of dance struggled the same battle of misunderstanding and division as language has when artists started to stray from the “classical” dance techniques such as ballet. There were riots and protests and many people were very angry about the social and political messages that choreographers were trying to portray through dance. It took many years of persistence and dedication before artists’ right to freedom of expression was accepted. It was even longer before people began to realize the power of movement and the importance of using dance as a form of expression. While this was no easy feat, I do believe that the arts community has made progress; they have come to appreciate the diversity in movement, music, and meaning in choreography.
I would argue that the arts community has accepted diversity in dance faster than society has embraced diverse dialects. We still pass judgment on the slang that someone uses and the way an individual chooses to string their words together. Society today still uses the way someone speaks to unjustly determine the speaker’s intelligence, social standing, and capabilities. What if we try and shift our thinking and relate language to dance? There is a vocabulary of movement, but these movements are meant to be explored, broken-down, and built back up again in an entirely new and amazing way. There is no “correct” way to choreograph or move your body just as there should be no “correct” way to put words together to tell a story. Why should any form of expression be more “correct” than any other? It is just different.