When someone asks ‘How are you?’ you know they’re not expecting an honest answer.
Which is why when you learn a foreign language it’s the first phrase you learn along with ‘Fine, thanks!’ It would be strange, after all, to meet an acquaintance in the street who began to tell you in detail about a worrying pain in their foot…
In fact, the more honest questions would be ‘Tell me how you are in five words or less and if you’re doing really badly – please lie.’
Part of the absurdity of the question is that in the few seconds of attention span open to you there’s simply no way to give a meaningful answer. How are you? is more like a quick check to ascertain that you’re well enough for the conversation to continue. The question is, in essence: ‘Are you currently in need of an ambulance or we can we move to more important topics?’
We probably don’t even know how we are anyway. Physically? Emotionally? Spiritually? How do we begin to assess these things and then put them into words that the other will understand? ‘It’s nice of you to ask! I suppose right now I’m feeling a little wealthier than usual, mildly entertained but with a gnawing sense of sexual inadequacy.’
The great thing about dance as we explore it on the retreats is that it can become a language in itself. You may not know what you think about how you’re feeling but it’s much easier to feel what you’re feeling. You’re probably expressing how you’re feeling by the way you’re sitting and breathing as you read this. Our bodies are forever talking in the silent language of posture and gesture, and they need only be set free to become eloquent.
So I’d like to propose an alternative: the next time someone asks the ridiculous question How are you? please respond with a gesture or a short dance. It would only take a few seconds and by sidestepping the minefield of semantics, it would communicate something about our inner state in an authentic and spontaneous way. Sure, it might cause some raised eyebrows at first (see, even the face wants to dance!) but after a while it might catch on and then everywhere we go – in the street, at the workplace, in the bar – we’d see people performing little dance routines each time they meet.
You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one…though perhaps we needn’t go as far as the Japanese dancer, Kozue…