How come when we talk about baby milestones, we talk about their first smile, crawl, steps, words, and poop in the potty—but I haven’t heard much about baby’s first dance? Why not? Dancing is ingrained deep in our psyche. Even if we’re completely inept and uncoordinated, some particularly hoping music will get even the most reluctant person tapping a toe, moving their head, or clapping their hands. Sometimes we don’t even know it, driving along and some particularly funkilicious tune comes on the radio or ipod or 8-track tape or whatever you’re listening to, and you groove. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you groove, just a little bit. It’s no different than taking a deep breath of fresh air or biting into a particularly scrumptious piece of food. You just do it because that’s what you do.
So why do we dance, anyway? We’re not the only species to dance—there are all sorts of birds and fish and lizards and other mammals that do it. Even insects. Typically, they dance to get mates or establish dominance with other members of their species. Sometimes, we do that too, though more often than not for the males of our species, we end up looking like a flatulating penguin keeping semi-step with the music—not particularly sexy or scary (or perhaps that’s just me?).
There are in fact, many explanations for why humans make music, appreciate music, and then move their bodies in ways that attempt to keep time with that music. Most of these explanations involve some sort of communication. First and foremost, communicating sexiness (or lack thereof). Other explanations include communicating to enhance social bonds within a community and/or to ward off would-be attackers. How else can you explain break-dancing? If that dude can spin around on his head like that, no way I’m gonna mess with him.
But it seems like there’s more to it than just communication. From listening to Mozart while still in the womb to listening to giant purple dinosaurs and other colorful characters singing, music is supposed to help our brains develop as we grow. But why? And why do we dance to that music when we’re not attracting mates or fending off enemies (or even learning to do those things)? Why do we dance just to feel funky?
A couple of weeks ago, Jack started to show signs of getting funky. I was driving around town, and he was in his carseat. We were listening to ABBA, and all of a sudden he’s smiling and flailing his arms and legs. He’s never heard ABBA, and never really seen anyone dance (at least dance well), and there he is grooving in the carseat with no prompting. Is ABBAs ‘Dancing Queen’ some throwback to tunes we played on the savannas of
Africa during the dawn of our species? But I couldn’t be sure he was really dancing or just flailing his arms and legs around in a way that appeared randomly timed to the tune (kind of like when I dance).
In the intervening weeks, he’s been getting more and more bold with his funkitude, and it’s become clear that this isn’t random flailing, but he’s dancing to the music. But as I think about it, he’s never really watched us dance. Certainly not much. And we’ve never really tried to teach him to dance, nor has he watched any TV or videos with dancing. So, he hears music, and just wants to dance. Check out the video below for one of the first unquestionable grooves of Jack's from a couple days ago.
As I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve generally been able to find satisfying answers to most of my questions about why we do what we do from a scientific perspective within a few minutes of Google-ing around the internet; why we eat what we eat, and love how we love. Even for most types of art, there are decent explanations for why we do it and appreciate it. But music and dancing seem different. Certainly, there’s lots of evidence about what music does for our brains, that it makes us happy, more intelligent, and the like. But, why? I am not yet satisfied by the explanations that exist, particularly as I observe Jack developing his own sense of funk. Aside from communicating love and war, why are we so into music and dancing?
Apologies for the incompleteness of this post—Jack and I have to go off to do some more research before we can reach a satisfying conclusion about the science of funkitology. What do ya say, Jack, wanna hit the clubs tonight?