How To Nonverbally Connect With Others and Learn From Your Mistakes

I have recently read Won’t You Join The Dance? Written by the Swiss professional dancer and writer, Trudi Schoop. The book includes information about the author’s childhood in Switzerland, dance performance career in Europe and America, and experiences using dance therapy to treat schizophrenic individuals in the United States during the 1950’s. Her efforts provided a foundation for the use of dance movement therapy to treat mental illness. Schoop’s writing is phenomenal. She consistently expresses her own ideas about the human body that apply to a universal human experience in a way that helps the reader feel a deeper sense of connection to their own body and the bodies of their fellow humans. Additionally, she offers concepts about nonverbal communication and mutual understanding that is born out of dance and other human movements that are often taken for granted (i.e. facial expressions, hand gestures, general demeanor, walks, emotional reactions, social norms, physical activities etc). Observing the movements of others, reflecting or mirroring behavior to create a sense of connection or similarity, and accepting experimental mistakes in order to improve and alter a course of action are valuable lessons that can help anyone accomplish their communicative goals in a variety of unique contexts and situations.

            Three important things that I learned from reading Won’t You Join The Dance? Are (1) interpreting human movement in terms of nonverbal communication behavior, (2) an effective way to connect with someone is to mirror or mimic their behavior in a physical or communicative sense, (3) that valuable lessons can be learned from initial mistakes in any new endeavor someone attempts.

Approximately 90% of the messages we communicate to one another are nonverbal. The smallest micro-muscle movements can work together to convey the 7 basic universal emotions of joy, anger, sadness, surprise, fear, contempt, and disgust. We learn these signals as we are socialized as children, but we should never underestimate the power and complexity of human emotions, how they fit within a larger contextual framework, and that the knowledge of this information can be extremely useful in gaining fuller understanding about the individual one is connecting with.

One of Trudi’s initial methods for opening a line of connection with an individual suffering from psychosis was to attempt to mimic their movement and explore how it made her feel, what thoughts or emotions were brought to her immediate awareness, etc. Merely converging to the mannerisms and speech patterns of another person communicates acceptance, similarity, and therefore makes each individual more comfortable and likable in many cases.

During her first week of dance therapy classes, Schoop’s suggestions and movement exercises were rejected by the patients and failed to inspire involvement or interest. Upon accepting and reflecting upon her early mistakes, Schoop was able to deduce a new strategy to accomplish her goal of alleviating or reduing the symptoms of psychotic individuals. She found ways to make the class sizes smaller and more manageable, group the patients in terms of good or poor contact and withdrawn or hyperactive behavior to adjust the themes of exercises to fit their unique needs, create private sessions with select patients, and suggest that patients wear comfortable athletic clothes instead of their uniforms when dancing. She recorded improvements she needed to make in her teaching style as far as being more flexible with patients, going slow with introducing material and movements, being careful with the emotional states of the patients, and understanding the mind-body connection. Schoop discusses this concept as two entities that reinforce one another. In order to comprehend the mental state of a patient, she could gain information from their movements, and sought to strengthen the connection between their mind and their body in order to relieves the severity of the psychosis symptoms.

            Won’t You Join The Dance? is so beneficial to the creation of community through movement because it provides examples of individuals with wildly different world views coming together through understanding and compassion to help one another learn and grow. Schoop shows how similar human beings are in the natural laws that apply to all of our bodies and how we uniquely respond and discover our own senses of breathing, alignment, center, tension, rhythm, and space. These unique responses are also used to communicate with others nonverbally and allow people to develop connection and understanding when it seems most difficult to do so. Residing in close proximity of other people while dancing with a partner or in assisted yoga poses heightens our emotional state and senses in a way that connects people and creates a sense of community through positive reinforcement, while also sharing ideas and perspectives. The human mind and ability to use words are powerful, but they are even more powerful when we use the human body to reinforce the mind and express the complex spectrum of human emotion. Community is built by an individual’s expression (emotional, mental, or physical) that is communicated, both verbally and nonverbally, to other individuals.

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