When I’m not dancing, I currently work on making plain-language legal resources. This means that I write things that are supposed to be easy to understand for people without advanced English language skills. Today, I had a thought: what if we apply the concepts of plain-language communication to social dancing?
What if we had plain-language dancing?
What is Plain-Language Communication?
Put simply, plain-language communication is when your audience can understand something the first time they read or hear it. It’s making things as simple as possible for your audience. If you have to read something more than once to understand it, it isn’t plain language.
Depending on the person, plain language can mean very different things. A new English speaker’s version plain-language is very different from language a lawyer would consider ‘plain’.
What is Plain-Language Dancing?
Plain-language dancing is when your communication is easily understood by your partner, without the need for additional information. For example, plain-language dancing is leading something that is easy to understand. It can include choosing the best point of contact, using both hands, or using a better frame.
It also means adjusting the type of movement to the level of your partner. For example, a single-handed lead may be perfect plain-language for an intermediate dancer – but unclear for a newbie. You may need to use both hands and your frame to communicate in plain-language for the new dancer.
How much skill do you need?
Communicating clearly takes a lot of effort. Simple isn’t always clear, and complicated isn’t always confusing. For example, a beginner may be able to dance the basics. But, it’s not necessarily always clear what they want. They lack the ability to clearly communicate in plain-language because they can only communicate very narrowly.
For example, a new English speaker may say this:
“Go front two times then after left”
When what they mean is this:
“Go straight for the first two lights, then turn left at the third”
The thought is the same, but the first example misses critical information and uses words that can be misinterpreted – especially by other non-native speakers.
This is what often happens when two beginners dance together. If they both learned the same way to ‘speak’ the movement, they may be OK. But, if one doesn’t recognize the exact way the other person is communicating, they may be lost.
Therefore, you need some skill to be able to communicate clearly in dance. You need to have the words necessary to establish a clear path of communication.
Complexity does not equal Clarity
Have you, upon any occasion, met such an instance of a being that, when in direct discourse with your person, creates utterances of an exceedingly complex constitution, that are by no means of absolute necessity to the communication?
Or, should I say:
Have you ever met someone who uses a lot of unnecessary big words – or too many words – to express an idea?
Same idea, but one makes your head hurt.
In dance, the equivalent is the person who learns a lot of fancy things – and uses them regardless of their partner’s comprehension level. Even if you do the move ‘right’, it is useless if your partner doesn’t understand it.
And, it doesn’t make you look like a great dancer. It makes you look like the guy who asks pointlessly complex questions in university just to ‘look smart’. Did you like that guy? I didn’t. Even when the point was totally valid, it wasn’t appreciated by 98% of the class.
Choosing your Audience
The more sophisticated your partner’s understanding of the concepts, the more complex you can make your language while still being clear.
For example, I’m a lawyer. Because I have an understanding of legal language, I can read most legislation quite easily. It is ‘plain-language’ to me because I can understand it after one read-through. But, someone who has been speaking English for one year will look at the same language and have no idea what is going on.
That means I can use more sophisticated language when I speak with other lawyers. That doesn’t mean I make my language more confusing – but I can use more nuanced and complex words and ideas. I can say things like ‘due diligence’ and ‘indemnity’ without confusing my conversation partner.
This is what happens when two advanced dancers are together. They both have a stronger grasp of the language. They have bigger and more complex words that they can comfortably use. Their grammar and sentence structure is better.
But, they pick their audience. They don’t use those ‘big words’ with newer dancers. They adjust the complexity to the level of their partner. And, even with advanced partners, they don’t complicate the communication unnecessarily.
The Role of Fundamentals in Plain-Language Dancing
A solid grasp of fundamentals is what makes you able to dance using plain-language. This is because the fundamentals are the ‘base language’ of dance. They are not specialized, and are not needlessly complex. They are the common and most-used ‘language’, which makes them the most universally understood.
If you have solid fundamentals, you can dance with almost anyone – even if they do not have the strongest ‘language skills’. And, when you communicate clearly, it makes it more likely that they will be able to respond in an understandable (though perhaps still unclear) way.
When you speak the fundamentals without any accent and with great grammar, you reach the ultimate ability to communicate. All advanced dancers will get what you’re saying, because they already know those words. And, most newer dancers will get what you’re saying, because you’re speaking the only words they know.
Why Use Plain-Language Dancing?
To me, the reason is simple. When you are easily understood by other dancers, you are a more desirable dance partner. More people of all levels want to dance with you. Your dancing will also be more effective and clearly understood. Better yet, there’s no downside to clear communication!
Are you ready to embrace plain-language dancing?
Sounds related to the concept of “clean leading” that Evelyn often teaches about
This is an aspect of dancing language that is often neglected. One of the better problematic examples is in people who dance with too few partners to really understand the broader communications of dancing. Social dance is an under rated skill, a lot of performance dancers can dance at a high level, but unless they do regular social dancing they can be out of touch with the social dance community. Performances generally require choreography in which case the next movement is planned and known so leadership can be minimal. True social dance involves judging your partner and improvising a dance on the spot that recognizes the best talent and skill combination of the lead and follow. So social dancers can improvise a dance with total strangers as a kind of desirable adventure in a city they visit.
So that performance dance that looks great with its carefully manicured movements may also be by people who have not properly developed their own social dance skills. The risk of constant practice with a small number of people can cause them to learn and accommodate each others faults and not be able to step out of their learned movement combinations easily.
The objective of social dancing is to make a broad slice of the dance community happy to dance with you and social dances should not underestimate the kind of broadness in dance skills they have that are measured differently from a judged performance. Perhaps this objective is part of what we might think of as requiring a clean lead.