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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.

  • Danceespecially in its ritual and sacred formsis 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 effervescencethe 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.

Humans dance.

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Dance, Dance Evolution: Why humans love to bust a move

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    April Lu posted on 2019/05/30
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