Today I was chatting with a friend who facilitates a weekly ecstatic dance jam and the topic came up of how to communicate ‘no talking’. It’s a core component of many (dance) practices because our movement exploration can bring us to deep feelings, deep movements, deep connections – and chatter quickly bring us back into the (comfortable) shallow.
Ah, this is a tricky one. As facilitators, we want to communicate this in a way that is effective, understood, and respected, and at the same time is not (interpreted as) controlling. ‘Lead by example’ doesn’t work so well in this case – because talking is much louder than silence – and carries much further. The person chattering away at the back is not able to ‘hear’ the 40 people in the room purposefully not talking.
Oooh this reminds me of all the confusion with Silent Jam! I remember people saying “I want to come, but I like to hoop to music!” or some interpreting silent to mean ‘solemn’, or ‘solitary’, or ‘don’t make any sounds’. None of these were intended when we started the weekly jam – the intention was to have a space where movement was the focus, where our bodies learn from other bodies directly, without the filter of the logical mind.
‘No talking’ does not ask us to silence our inner voice, our expression of our truest self. It requires that we re-shape this expression to be body-focused so that others may do the same. Taking away the talking component allows us to deeply listen (…really really listen) to this inner voice that is so often talked-over by our outer voice.
For some (like me), having a no-talking space is easy, juicy, and very welcome. Shy dancers flourish and suddenly communicate fluidly when they don’t have the pressures of maintaining/ending conversation. We learn how to show “I’m so excited to see you!” or “I’m so sorry to hear about your cat” with our bodies, and after a while the gestures become more true, complex, heartfelt than the words that they initially represented. We are each able to be in our own flow, and reach out for inspiration or companionship in body language whenever the need arises.
For some, having a no-talking space is difficult. Talking is how we’re used to socializing, and it’s how we fill space when we’re nervous or bored. Habits can be hard to drop. Some dancers are rebels who, when told to not talk, suddenly find that they have Something Very Important To Say. For others, the request triggers memories of repression – being shushed by teachers and clergy, being quiet because you have to be, or not being able/allowed to speak up for yourself. For many, communicating (…to share, to teach, to play) without adding on the familiar vocal commentary takes practice.
I’ve seen initially-resistant chatterboxes come around and embrace the quiet. It takes patience to build the new habit, and faith that there will be time to talk afterwards! In time, they speak of the benefits of non-verbal dance – for the calming, the grounding, the chance to silently admire and silently be supported by the community.
As a facilitator, to stop and explain the benefits of a ‘no talking’ space to a talker is not productive – it’s adding to the chatter in the room. Shushing doesn’t work at all – it triggers! Over the years, I’ve found a few ways to physically ‘stir’ the energy of the room to dissipate the conversation, which works well when dancers just need a reminder to be present to the moment. When my dance is interrupted by a conversation, I find a quick whisper of “say it with your body” or “welcome! please take your conversation to the hallway, and come dance with us when you’re ready” are usually well received.
How do you communicate ‘no talking’ in way filled with love and lacking in judgement?