Advisor: Emilie Zaslow

Major: Communication Studies

Document Type



Through elements of sound and movement, tap dance employs rhythm as a universal language for nonverbal communication through the medium of music. Through three distinct but related elements, (a literature review, an artist’s statement, and a performance piece), this thesis will explore tap dance as a form of nonverbal language. For individuals with autism spectrum disorder, tap dance may help to achieve further attunement with themselves and the outside world. Due to autistic people’s impaired communicative, interactional, and skilled abilities, experiencing the relationships formed through tap dance may facilitate improvement. The literature review begins with a brief definition of nonverbal communication, followed by a history of tap dance as nonverbal communication used in African slave culture. Following, I explore how tap dance and tap dance therapy can create synchronicity in an autistic person through the study of full body attunement, where music and movement can be used as tools for personal excavation. By digging deeper into my past and present selves, the process of personal excavation has helped me take off layers that have restricted me my whole life. My work showcases how within the synonymous relationship of sound and movement, communication can grow past prior limitations, thereby creating more therapeutic outlets for the autistic community. Studying communication in interpersonal relationships, rhythm in life, and the mind, body, and soul of neurodivergence generates broader ways of discussing tap dance as a nonverbal language for autism spectrum disorder.

J Sydney Rhane Burtis Thesis.docx (26 kB)
Thesis paper