Now that nights out are back on, dancing is on the cards once again. This week's Editor's Pick was written back in October 2016 by Henry Johns. He reflects on the human instinct to move and groove from the second we are born.
‘Big fat kick drum makes me go boom boom’ said Felix Da Housecat. And as the bass drum bangs in the dark room, a pulse accompanies it, rippling through hips and ankles and shoulders of people. It bangs again and again and diffuses through the fabric of the club, like raindrops hitting a lake. The sweaty net of joints become synchronised with that pattern of sound. The limbs and the waveform jiggle with each other in ebb and flow.
A song is a dance between different instruments - or characters. The crowd joins that dance.
Her brain’s auditory and motor systems become in harmony, just like how her limbs become in harmony with each other, with the other people’s and with the beat. We don’t hear the beat then think and move, the beat and the movement occur in unison. This goes without saying. Dancing is natural for people. Children can dance to music before they know what music is or before they’ve ever seen somebody dance. But it’s natural to almost nothing else on earth. Because our system of learning is so finely negotiated through speech, humans naturally have an extremely delicate sensitivity to patterns of soundwaves and this is most clearly manifested on the dancefloor. Even if we don’t dance, we feel the rhythm inside us. Dancing is just allowing that feeling some material instruments.
In that sense, dancing is emblematic of the auditory system of learning which allowed humans to rise so incredibly away from life around us. Separating us from all else on earth is this strange inclination to align ourselves with the world of sound. It’s one of the most sophisticated and complicated processes the human brain can facilitate. At the same time, dancing is about joining the flow of stuff around us. The arms, the legs, the people, the sound: it all looks to be going in the same direction - together - even if just for a few hours. The crowd undulates and pops with the beat and becomes like a single organism. They stomp with the beat. They feel together. It feels together. Together, the crowd dance to the music.
Research sources for information mentioned in this piece (also good for just readin’):
Fujii, Watanabe, Oohashi, Hirashima, Nozaki, Taga, Precursors of Dancing and Singing to Music in Three- to Four-Months-Old Infants: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0097680
Phillips-Silver, Trainor, Feeling the Beat: Movement Influences Infant Rhythm Perception: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/308/5727/1430
Schachner, Brady, Pepperberg, Hauser, Spontaneous Motor Entrainment to Music in Multiple Vocal Mimicking Species, http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(09)00915-4?_returnURL=http%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0960982209009154%3Fshowall%3Dtrue
Perani, Saccuman, Scifo, Scada, et al, Functional Specializations for Music Processing in the Human Newborn Brain: http://www.pnas.org/content/107/10/4758
Winkler, Haden, Ladinig et al, Newborn Infants Detect the Beat in Music: http://www.pnas.org/content/107/10/4758
Chen, Zatorre, Penhune, Interactions Between Auditory and Dorsal Premotor Cortex During Synchronization to Musical Rhythms: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811906005064
Kung, Chen, Zatorre, Penhune, Interacting Cortical and Basal Ganglia Networks Underlying Finding and Tapping to the Musical Beat: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/jocn_a_00325#.WAdc0cn78lQ
Masataka, The Origins of Language and the Evolution of Music: A Comparative Perspective: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S157106450800033X