Dance, Dance Evolution: Why we move

Dancers depicted in an Indian rock painting.
Dancers depicted in a prehistoric rock painting from central India (possibly the Pachmarhi Hills).

Why do humans dance? What possesses our species to gather in groups and flail around in time to a beat? The phenomenon appears in every culture, in every time and place. Even babies are predisposed to bounce to a good beat. It may seem, at first glance, to be one of those things extraneous to our survival–one of those things outside of our core evolutionary or biological drives. Is it just because it’s fun? Is it just because it was a nonverbal form of communication we developed before we had language? It is fun, of course. And it can certainly function as a form of communication. But there’s more to it. If you’ve ever been dancing in a crowd of people and felt that thing–that electricity–that takes over the place when the whole group is in sync, then you know there’s more to it. The feeling I’m talking about, to be fair, isn’t limited to communal dancing. You may have experienced it at a concert when the crowd is singing in unison, or at a yoga class when everyone is om-ing together, or sitting on a porch in silence somewhere with friends, or even staring up at the stars alone in the middle of nowhere. It’s not the syncing up of our bodies or our voices that does it; it’s the syncing up of our vibe, if you will…to each other, to ourselves, to the stars–allowing ourselves to tap into the collective consciousness around us. Things just click in to place for a moment and everyone and everything is on the same beautiful page…sometimes for only a second, sometimes for hours.

Dionysus, circa 480 BC, dancing.
Dionysus, circa 480 BC, dancing.

But I digress. My point is that something about gathering together and jumping around to a beat clearly resonates with something primal and distinctly human within us. Think about it: the earliest humans in the earliest tribes were dancing around fires and making noises with rocks and sticks. The cult of Dionysus would go out into the woods once a month during the full moon and get ROWDY as a counterbalance to the reasonable, Apollonion thing they had going on the rest of the time. The hippies were doing it at Woodstock and the ravers are doing it at EDM festivals right now. According to the second movie in The Matrix trilogy, the last city of free people are still doing it in the year 2199:

We dance because it’s fun, because it stimulates our brain’s pleasure centres and boosts our mood. We dance to communicate, to flirt, to connect. We dance to worship and we dance to grieve. We dance to let go of some things and to hold on to others. So we’ve always danced, and so we’ll keep dancing.

Burning Man, circa 2014, still dancing. Credit: Pete Ross Photography.
Burning Man, circa 2014, still dancing. Credit: Pete Ross Photography.

I leave you with this, for lolz:

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