I bow back to a friend of mine, Sako, a Japanese contemporary dancer. Bowing is still a common expression of greeting, gratitude, or apology in Japan. Sako comes over and warmly welcomes me. We haven’t seen each other for a long time. We meet up that afternoon in an art house Tukad Abu, chatting and having a cup of hot tea, a typical drink in Solo, my hometown. Our jasmine tea with sugar sweetens up the afternoon. Sako laughs, pats my shoulder, and says, “We don’t have Japanese green tea today, do we? But I like this Solo tea with jasmine aroma, it’s sweet.”
The sun is peeking through the trees in that warm, sweet afternoon. Sako and I are chilling out in a bamboo house, sipping the warmth of our tea, having our good conversation. I first knew Sako when I was involved in an art performance project Human is Alien. We talk in English, and some Indonesian. Sako speaks a little Indonesian even with her limited vocabulary; she is enthusiastic in learning more. She jokingly tells me, “At times, when I happen to suddenly fail to recall my memory of words, my body speaks a lot. I will pat my friends’ shoulder, cheer them up, and shake my head showing I don’t understand some particular occurrences. I love to comprehend the moves of human body, which is why I decided to dance.”
All types of communications are generally significant, be it verbal or non verbal communication. However, most people find it quite difficult to understand the message conveyed by the sender of non verbal communication. For instance, dance. When we dance, we are communicating messages in every move, which is not easily understandable by everyone. That is to say, dance is one of the mass communications, as the dancer directly communicates the messages of their dance to the public mass.
Between her sips of tea, Sako explains how dance possesses compelling body language. We let our body move to what we want to express; we don’t have to speak in words. Dance has emotions, in which the message communicated through the dancers’ moves can reach and touch the audience. It is as if we communicate with somebody from different cultural background: even though we have language barrier, we understand their body language. Verbal communication (showing politeness/impoliteness, intellectuality level, ability to speak foreign language, et cetera) is not the only aspect to perceive human; non verbal communication is essential as well. The importance of non verbal communication can be illustrated in this phrase, “it is not what he says that matters; it is how he says it”. We can recognize somebody’s emotions of happiness, confusion, or sadness through their non verbal communication.
Simply put, non verbal communication is all signs other than words, intentional or unintentional behaviors, as a part of the whole communication process. We send out many non verbal cues every day, without our noticing that the receiver may find them meaningful. These nonverbal behaviors include various activities, but touching is usual in relation to cross-cultural communication. Touching as the form of communication gives an idea of nonverbal communication as a cultural product. Sako explains, one of the nonverbal communications is eye contact. In United States, eye contact in communicating is highly considerable, while in Japan, it is often neglected. Nonverbal expression as a cultural component has numerous similarities to language. Both are code systems, studied and passed along to other generation as a cultural experience. Every symbol has its own meaning for each individual, due to their different, personal experience on that symbol.
When she is dancing, Sako believes that dance, a universal communicative medium, positions itself to the point where anyone from any culture can enjoy it anytime. Dance plays central role in human life. The society needs it not only in its function as aesthetic satisfaction, but also as traditional/customary necessity and communication medium.
I smile. Two tea cups with peonies pattern staying still on a wood table witness our warm conversation. It is getting dark. I bid farewell to her, we hug each other and will soon keep each other updated.