Language is a fascinating thing. From the way that different people all over the world have different ways to say the same things, some with drawls, some with clicking and some with endless abbreviations. For awhile now, I’ve become increasingly aware of languages that are not recognized as such.
For a more popular and noticeable example, you may see how best friends or family members seem to be able to communicate without speaking, and sometimes without even being near one another. As someone who is fascinated by human behavior, this is something that I try to pick up on when I’m around other people. There are the obvious things, where parents make eye contact when their kid isn’t looking as if to say “this is such a bad idea” or “do something about them!” Then there are more subtle things, like when you are at a social gathering and someone leans across another person, who has their arms folded and leans away in response. It’s a definite bubble burst.
There’s the communication with words that always seems to say something different. The infamous, “I’m fine” coming from most girls seems to be a sure sign of trouble. “What do you want to eat?” is always followed by “I don’t know” as an obligatory response because being too decisive comes across as selfishness.
One part of communication that seems to be increasing and developing its own rules in our modern culture is that of pictures as communication. Not photos, but rather emojis and gifs. When I am texting, I can replace punctuation at the end of my sentences with emojis and it will still be understood and read as separate sentences. I can send a wordless gif to show how I feel or what I think. These methods allow for text which previously was thought to be lacking tone, to be indicated by images or lack thereof. For example, if I am upset with someone, my text messages to them will grow shorter and contain no emojis. My messages with my best friends, are super long and have lots of emojis and are sent at a much more rapid rate.
All of these are still pretty popular and well understood ways to communicate. I happen to have a few ways to communicate that not many people understand. A very uncommon language of my own, if you will.
“Language may refer to the cognitive ability to learn and use systems of complex communication, or to describe the set of rules that makes up these systems…” -Wikipedia *insert eye roll here at baby boomers and comment about how ya’ll relied solely on encyclopedias and wikipedia isn’t that terrible of a source for some information*
My first additional “language” that I am pretty well versed in is dance. Now there are tons of quotes and people that say ‘dance is universal blah blah blah’ and to a certain extent, they are correct. But more specifically, ballroom dance is my language. To most people, I have to explain ballroom to them in a way that they know, referencing pop culture and movies that make me cringe. No, what I dance is not like Dancing with the Stars. I prefer watching Blackpool and WDSF. This response is followed by “oh” or “what” and I have to stop myself from getting frustrated because there was a time when I didn’t speak this language either. This is why when someone new in a dancer’s life says that they like to dance ballroom, the dancer usually responds with “Oh? What do you dance?” The response gives the dancer all the information they need to know if this person actually speaks their language. If they say something like “I love to dance the waltz!,” they probably don’t know a whole lot. But if they respond with “International, mostly standard,” then they know at least some of what’s up. The language continues quite extensively with vocabulary like “shoe brush” and “Swarovski” and “backing center” being terms that mean nothing to the general population.
Ballroom is a multi part language with facets of dialect in different areas not limited to speaking with words. There’s technical language, where when the coach seems to pull a hair from the top of his head, we know to stand up straighter. Where a nose pointed towards the ceiling is not (always) a sign of a petty person thinking they are better than you. Where the flick of a finger or pretending to reel someone in with a fishing rod at social dancing is not rude, but often flattering.
Then there’s the dancing itself. I have struggled many times to explain to new or non dancers how I know which way to turn my head based on how my lead’s ribs move. How do I explain that the slight movement of a single finger on my back can tell me where to move and my feet what to do? Or how despite dance being a connective communication between me and my partner, that them turning their head while we dance standard will throw me off balance; we have to rely on feel only. A push or a pull tells me to step back or forwards. A rotating wrist can mean styling or a move. My hands can be soft or have more energy based on the dance style, my partner and the song all at once. In what way do you communicate that latin dresses are shorter not to increase the provocative nature of dancing, but simply because that’s what the dance calls for? Can you imagine cha cha in a full ball gown?
There don’t have to be words in dance. I can dance with someone I’ve never met, without ever learning their name or speaking with them, and yet still communicate. Blindfolded, I could recognize a friend by their lead (honest side note that I may just recognize them by their smell because I tend to associate smells with nouns).
I could go on forever about the ways I communicate in dance. One of the more necessary parts of dance communication that is necessary to understand though also happens to be my next language; music.
I don’t play any instruments although I have in the past and I don’t really like singing. So how/why music? I have an ear for music that I lack most explanation for. Throughout the last few years, I’ve made dozens of playlists on Spotify. They’ve become a way for me to communicate, and songs are something that I wish I could use to speak my words. I was explaining this to a friend awhile ago, how I would love to be able to send someone a song and have them understand exactly what I am thinking and feeling through that song. This is not based only on the lyrics, but by the exact sound and everything about that particular sound. The only way I’ve found to be able to explain my ability to do this, is with a parallel to Remy on Ratatouille. This is exactly how I feel and experience my music and playlists. It’s truly a feeling that I have an inadequate feeling to explain.
This is often a struggle for me as a popular get-to-know-you question seems to be “What kind of music do you like?” I always seem to kind of choke when it comes to answering this question. I don’t know how to explain that genres are restricting categories that stigmatize their listeners and cause people to make assumptions about me? Usually, I provide a cop out answer consisting of “lots, not country, favorite band=Parachute.” That usually shuts the conversation down after a minute which I am grateful for since I don’t know how to explain my experience with music.
Needless to say, my playlists are not categorized by the specific genres or moods that they fall into, but more by sound. This began with a playlist of a few songs that just went together. I had no other way to explain. I had lots of different people in my life listen to the songs in an effort to recognize what it was that made them fit like puzzle pieces. The songs were not the same in length, key, gender of singer, time signature, or even topic. I just did not understand, but somehow, they still went together. This became somewhat of a hobby, to find other songs that fit together with or without reason and thus an endless creative streak of playlists were born. (Not exaggerating, I made a new one yesterday). I have a folder of dance playlists, which consist of relevant songs for each dance, but I’ve had dance friends even argue my choices on some of these, claiming that they aren’t right for that style of dance. There are so many different songs that can be used for different dances whether they fit the common mood of that dance or not. To combat these arguments, I’ve picked through those playlists with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that the tempo and time signature works for the dance whether the song relays the suggested mood or not, because all of them, for me, fit.
I have a list of “Complete” playlists that will never truly be complete and then a list of “In Progress” playlists waiting for me to discover more songs that connect. Some of them are more general and some more specific, but either way once someone actually sits down and listens all the way through, they can find some understanding of the message I try to convey with these playlists. For example, I have a playlist with songs currently all by females that is super powerful. Several of the songs talk about love or relationships and other’s about independence but to me, as a whole they all convey the message that forms the Playlist title: Feminism doesn’t mean hating men. There’s another Playlist, The Dreams that leave you Shaken, that through music is the exact way that I feel when I have a dream that isn’t a nightmare, but isn’t exactly a good dream either. It’s the dreams that I keep coming back to in my mind the day after, trying to understand what was happening. There’s a Playlist of songs that are not all West Coast Swing songs, but perfectly describe how I feel when I dance West Coast.
On any given day, if asked, I can provide at least one song to describe me and where my mind is that day. Some of those songs repeat a lot. Some show up once and then never again. I’m not consciously aware of the song everyday but I always know when I find it. Sometimes it’s more than one. It’s a song that if I share it then maybe with effort it can be understood. So far, most everyone doesn’t seem to. This language dialect of music seems to be one that only I speak. It makes regular communication more difficult for me, because I’d prefer to speak this way.
And I certainly try to. Within my array of playlists, there is a folder containing 20+ playlists made for people. I could probably make one for everyone I know, but some of them would only have a song or two so I stick to the people I know best. I’m sure most of these go unused, but still, it’s my way to explain that person. If I were going to show who someone close to me was and what they mean to me, the best place to go would be my playlists. It’s often different styles of music than that person usually listens to which loops back to their lack of understanding and my lack of explanation as to why that song fits or even belongs to them.
What’s my song today, you ask? “Don’t Blame it on Me” by Something in the Night. I can’t tell you why. I don’t have the words. But today, in this moment, that’s the song that my soul clicks with. How do you know who I am through my music? You don’t. My music language is one that exists within my soul and I try very hard to share it with others, but there are no words for it in the way that there are for dance. Dance can be learned. I haven’t yet learned how to teach my language of music in a way that people truly understand so for now, I leave “Hide and Seek” by Amber Run, and I return to my playlists.
Sing a tune, little baboon!