Regulars and Shorts, Shall We Dance

Shall We Dance?

By Amy Brunvand

Too much dancing: Scientifically proven methods to feel good and get what you want.
by Amy Brunvand

Why do people dance? Scientists in Hungary wanted to know so they developed a “Dance Motivation Inventory” which determined that people are seeking Mood Enhancement, Fitness, Intimacy, Socializing, Trance, Mastery, Self-confidence and Escapism. While the researchers found that Mood Enhancement is generally the strongest motivator, the study also revealed that more men than women are lured to dance by the prospect of intimacy.

So there you have it, straight from the statistician’s mouth: People dance because it feels good (and they hope it makes them look good).

But consider yourself warned: People’s motives for dancing closely resemble their reasons for drinking alcohol and gambling. The same team of researchers published another study called “An Empirical Investigation of Dance Addiction” that cautions, “Although recreational dancing is associated with increased physical and psychological well-being, little is known about the harmful effects of excessive dancing.” Do you use dancing as a way to change your mood? Do you feel a constant urge to dance? Do you feel moody and irritable if you can’t get to your dance class? Have conflicts arisen between you and your family over your excessive dancing? You might be a dance addict.

No, wait. It’s a real problem.

The slippery slope is described by Kathy Davis who asks in the scholarly journal Feminist Theory, “Should a Feminist Dance Tango?” Feminists might begin thinking it’s a bit of harmless fun, exploring retrograde gender relations and romanticizing the colonial imperialist past, but pretty soon they find themselves spending large sums of money on workshops, lessons, high-heeled shoes and provocative clothing; they stop going to the movies or listening to music they can’t dance to; they drift away from friends who don’t dance; they leave their homes, jobs and families so they can dance all the time. As Davis writes, “Tango exiles sound similar to the drug addicts whose biographical trajectory has moved from weekend user to full-fledged junkie.”

What is it that can turn dancing into such a passion? Davis thinks dancing is “more than a hobby and different than an addiction” because it offers the solution to a particular quandary of modern life. When standards of gender equality are the norm, it can be difficult for people to know exactly how to engage in non-PC activities like flirting. A little bit of role playing can help. Dance is a particularly good way to do that because, as neuroscientists tell us, dancing is a fundamental form of human communication, a gesture language that may have evolved even before human speech, or in any case, a very long time ago, since 12,000-year-old petroglyphs show people dancing.

So what does science tell us about the best way to communicate passion in the language of dance? For one thing, men watching women dance often get a message about sex. Scientists report that when women display more hip swings in their dancing men think they are better prospects for a one night stand; harmonic dance moves tend to suggest prospects for a longterm relationship.

By contrast, a rigorous study of “Male Dance Moves that Catch a Woman’s Eye” found that women considered men good dancers based on “variability and amplitude of movements in the central body regions (head, neck and trunk) and also speed of the right knee movements.”* Why the right knee? Probably that’s just a statistical artifact since 80% of people are right-footed. Feel free to speed up your left knee as long as you don’t have two left feet.

Just for the record, my main motivations to dance are Socializing, Trance and of course, Mood Enhancement. Why do you dance?

Amy Brunvand is a University of Utah librarian and a dance enthusiast.

*Guys, if you want to see how it’s done, watch the YouTube Video: Good Dancer from Nick Neave’s Study:

This article was originally published on August 1, 2015.