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Humans dance.
It is a basic fact about us.
Indeed, there is no such thing as a culture which doesn't move to music.
In Zimbabwe, they dance the Dandanda; in Bohemia, the polka.
People in southern India dance the Bharatanatyam, and in Argentina, the tango.
Regardless of time, regardless of place, we find a way to bust a move.
It's fun, sure, but that doesn't really explain things.
Dance seems to be the ultimate frivolity.
So how did it become a human necessity?
The answer lies in our social nature.
We are born into groups: groups that already have ideas and customs and languages and symbols.
We call these groups "societies" and they are essential to human flourishing.
Yet jealousies, conflicts and disagreements also drive us apart.
A century ago, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim set out to provide a scientific understanding of what glues societies together in spite of our differences.
A part of the answer is what Durkheim called "collective effervescence".
This is, in his words, a sort of electricity.
It's that exhilaration, almost euphoria, that overtakes groups of people united by a common purpose, pursuing an intensely involving activity together.
Collective effervescence is a "flow", a joyfulness, loss of boundaries, a sense that your self is melding with the group as a whole.
The excitement of a group creates an intense force that lifts people up and draws them together on an almost spiritual plane.
And sure enough it's an experience that is found in religions across the world.
And dance is the great accelerator of collective effervescence.
Dance – especially in its ritual and sacred forms – is a social glue.
Recently, Bronwyn Tarr, a trained dancer and evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford, has been testing Durkheim's ideas further.
Dr Tarr has found that we humans have a natural tendency to synchronize our movements with other humans.
We find ourselves tapping along, nodding our heads, without even meaning to.
It's as if we're all quietly searching for a common rhythm to share.
When we observe another person moving, this activates a region in the brain which helps us make those movements ourselves.
When we mimic our partner's movements, and they're mimicking ours, similar neural networks in both partners open up a rush of neurohormones, all of which make us feel good.
This is the neurological basis to Durkheim's collective effervescence – the melding between "self" and "other".
Cue the music.
Even without dancing, music can leave us flush with feel-good chemicals: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.
In fact, it can make us feel so terrific that our pain tolerance can rise appreciably when the tunes are flowing.
Just listening to music can create such a euphoric delight that it appears to activate opioid receptors in the brain.
Through that excitement, music gets people to dance.
As everyone whose been overtaken by the thrill of a great song knows.
Bring all of these strands together: the music, the exertion, the synchronic swirls, and you can see why we so like to cut a rug.
Keeping to the beat together, we feel exhilarated due to the neurohormones.
And just as Durkheim intuited a century ago, we feel more tightly bound with our fellow dancers.
Such intensely shared experiences make the collective possible.
Without it, we would hardly be human at all.
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Dance, Dance Evolution: Why humans love to bust a move

4460 Folder Collection
April Lu published on May 31, 2019    Jessieeee translated    Evangeline reviewed
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