The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues


The body dances in time with the speech. --Condon and Ogston (1967:225)

The truest expression of a people is its dances and its music. Bodies never lie. --Agnes de Mille

Body motion. A repetitive series of usually rhythmic movements of the body and body parts (esp. feethands, and shoulders) to a musical beat, based on the alternating oscillations of walking.

Usage: An ancient and powerful medium of nonverbal communication, dance is a nearly universal venue of human courtship. Dance not only synchronizes a couple's physical movements (e.g., as they move to the beat of the same drummer), but their moods and feelings as well. Some dance forms (e.g., break dancing, military marching, and the tribal war dance) stimulate strong feelings of togetherness and esprit de corps through the reptilian principle of isopraxism.

Anthropology. "One field which still awaits exploration is the question of how far a dominant kinesthetic awareness of certain parts of the body is related to psychological factors. If posture and movement of an individual are closely interdependent with his psychological state, would not stylized posture and gesture in the dance of a people be relevant to a general psychological trend in their life?" (Holt and Bateson 1944:52; the authors contrast, e.g., "rhythmic, rotating movements of the pelvic region" with "rigid" postures of the torso and hips in dancing.)

Motions. The human form is more noticeable when it is moved. Thus, dancers not only attract attention of their own partners but of onlookers as well. Through principally palm-down motions, the arms participate in dance as "walking" forelimbs. Exaggerated reaching (i.e., extension) movements of the arms (e.g., while waving the hands high above one's head) signal strong emotion through a principle of nonverbal release. In dancing, a. we show our emotions, physical prowess, and health, and b. give our partners an opportunity totouch.

Popular culture. When Joey Dee and the Starlighters played loud music with a beat at the Peppermint Lounge in New York in the 1960s, "even the waitresses were twisting" (Sutton 1984:33).

Neuro-notes I. The oscillating movements and rhythmic footsteps of dance are keyed to a two-point pedestrian beat. The natural rhythm of our upright, bipedal gait is coordinated by the same spinal paleocircuits which once programmed the oscillatory swimming motions of the earliest fishes (Grillner 1996; see AQUATIC BRAIN & SPINAL CORD).

Neuro-notes II. In right-handed dancers, music appeals to the more emotional, intuitive, and nonverbal right-brain hemisphere. Thus, dancing couples are on similar feeling (rather than rational thinking) wavelengths .
Neuro-notes III. Mirror neurons play a role in the synchrony of dance: "Almost instinctively we humans tend to synchronize our movements. I fold my arms, you fold yours, I look at you, you look away, you look back, I look away, I look at you, you start a new sentence, you look at me, I start a new sentence--it's quite a minuet we're dancing!" (Iacoboni 2008:130).

YouTube Video: To Dance is human.

Detail of classic photo of the world famous dancer, Isadora Duncan, by Alfred Eisenstaedt (note the hyperextended left arm and extreme dorsal flexion of Isadora's head and neck; copyright Life