The range of things that humans have done with their bodies is truly amazing. We are the adaptive and expressive masters of the universe.
Humans have used language to transfer knowledge from generation to generation and that has advanced the species from just another of the great apes to the rulers of the planet. Language, however, is is an abstraction of ideas. Concepts are transferred from head to head via sounds and later, symbols on a durable medium, like the pages of a book.
But before language, there was the body. The body is the original ‘instrument’ of human will, and humans have pushed it to do remarkable things. Motion is a sort of language and we’ve developed as many languages of motion as we have languages of ideas.
Marvel at this selection of clips that demonstrate what is possible for the body to accomplish:
Mikhail Baryshnikov – This Latvian born star of the USSR’s ballet program set the standard for male ballet stars. He defected to Canada at the height of the cold war in 1974 and was a media darling afterward.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers set the standard for dance in the American movie industry in the Golden era. Astaire may have gotten the ink, but he was always best with the pretty girl next door to him. Ginger Rodgers made motion look effortless and cool, and they lit up every screen the hosted them.
Black Americans have set the standard in many areas of dance, and have always been innovating. Break dancing was one of those many innovations, and it was the dance version of the rap artistry. This scene from the movie ‘Breakin’ provides a wonderful example of the genre.
Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Clay in Louisville Kentucky in 1942 and he defined boxing for a generation, He didn’t win every fight, but he dominated in style and grace for the ‘sweet science’ and was one of the most famous men in the world.
Holly Holm is an American mixed marital artist and brutal competitor. There were female boxers, but they were long overshadowed by their male counterparts. MMA has given women fighters a whole new platform to shine and Holm is one of their peak performers.
Kabib Nurmagomedov is an mixed martial artist well known for his high level ju jitzu and toughness. A native if Dagestan, he has the longest streak of undefeated fights in UFC history.
The Actors, Comedians, and Acrobats
Comedy has often had it’s physical geniuses, and Jim Carrey, with his mobile face and easy way of translating ideas in to motion, once defined the physical, rather than cerebral, genre of stand up.
Cirque de Soleil introduced a strong element of design in to the acrobatic act and pulled together the world’s most talented physical performers with interesting themes.
Charlie Chaplin was an American movie star who brought a strong element of physicality to performances that had no precursor. His ‘”Little Tramp” characters gave the new medium of cinema something with of the camera to record. He was a natural star of the silent era of movie making.
Actors take ideas of human emotion and internalize them, and then turn them in to physical performances. Few are more subtle and adept at it than American movie star Meryl Streep, who has translated an enormous range of people, from Holocaust victims to British Prime Ministers, in to physical acts that can be recorded.
Franco Harris was a running back for the NFL perennial championship team of Pittsburgh Steelers. He was a star in an era of star running backs.
Sadly, Pete Rose has had his baseball legacy tainted by scandal, but nothing can erase what he accomplished within the tight rules of baseball. The times alwasy have a player that stands out, and in the 1960s and 1970s, it was Pete Rose.
Basketball is a very physical game with an incredible combination of skills needed to excel. It’s a team sport, but Michael Jordan defined his team and era, and often, it seemed that he could defy gravity.
David Beckham seemed to control the ball after he had transferred his energy in to it.
Arnold Schwarzenegger defined and dominated bodybuilding so completely that no one has followed behind him. He changed that sport and he changed Hollywood by upping the anty for male movie stars. He took a German accent and a long last name and made it synonymous with comedy and fun.
The Iceland Crossfit Girls have taken a sport built around lifting and endurance and make it in to a training ground for toughness and beauty.
Franco Columbu was also a bodybuilder but also a very adept power lifter.
This list is just a few of the things I thought of, but there are hundreds of other body languages that humans have developed. We are remarkable for the ways in which we’ve thought of to challenge and develop the fully capacities of our physical selves.