By Linda Marchisio
To me, storytelling and dance are relatives. Both are performance genres, both art forms, both communication forms, both connected to portraying emotions, we can learn about or partial experience a culture through both. They overlap but they are not the same. The obvious difference is that one is verbal and one in nonverbal.
I realize as I write this blog that when I say storytelling and dance, it’s a misnomer. I really mean storytelling with dance.
I use dance (defined loosely as artistic movement) to support and communicate the story I am telling. I use dance to express and convey meaning. I feel the story kinetically inside me. For me it’s part of the being “in the story”, in the moment, to feel the dance of the story. I don’t have to be dancing around the stage in a traditional manner to be dancing with the story. The essence of the words, the essence of the emotions expressed through my body in the flick of hand, the thrust of a hip. Telling The Dancing Man by Ruth Borstein at the Connecticut Storytelling Festival, people came up to me afterwards and wanted to know how I did the dance moves. The thing was, I didn’t really dance. I only hinted at dancing with a toe point, body shift, hand twirl. But I believed I was dancing as I told the story, so they saw dancing. As storytellers, you will recognize that. When you are really “in” the story believing it’s truths, the listeners hear/see/feel it too. To me that’s storytelling with movement. The nonverbal and verbal amalgamated to form one telling.
I became part of the storytelling community because of dance. As a child, I danced improvisationally anytime there was music and sometimes when the music was only in my imagination. I never feared dancing when people were watching. Yet, I was shy and didn’t have much of a personal voice. I am a storyteller who originally had a fear of public speaking. Mara Capy, dance therapist and storyteller changed that when I took her “Storytelling through Movement” class as part of my Master’s degree and told my first official story orally. It sounds trite but I remember my surprised realization that I could talk and dance at the same time! A strength of personal connection, previously unknown to me, flowed through me with that first telling. From this came my Master’s research on the effects of movement assisted storytelling.
We all bring our background, life experience, culture with us as we tell a story. Storytelling with dance is not every teller’s style. It doesn’t need to be. Even I have stories that I tell sitting still. For me, the story dictates the dance, the movement, or the lack of it.
According to writer Amy Choi, “traditional hula dancers dance not to a beat, but to language, Hawaiian-language chants or songs. Without the words, the dance loses meaning as a story.”* I am currently pondering this and reflecting further on how storytelling and dance connect and support each other.
*Choi, Amy. “How Stories Are Told around the World.” Ideas.ted.com. TED Talks, 31 Jan. 2016. Web. 14 May 2017.
Linda Marchisio is an experienced Connecticut storyteller and library media specialist. She teaches students how to tell stories and performs for all ages. Her “The Constitution Jive” and her “The Garden Rainbow” stories are published in Holiday Stories All Year Round. She won the Connecticut Humanities Council 2003 Wilbur Cross Award for her role as a champion of reading as book discussion leader. Linda completed her Master’s research on Movement Assisted Storytelling as a Vehicle to Motivate Reading. https://sites.google.com/site/marchisiostoryteller/home and firstname.lastname@example.org