Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Communal Function of Dancing

For Christmas my friend Scooter (who has stamped red stars on the wrists of FSLD attendees) gave me Barbara Ehrenreich's "Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy." I just started reading it this week, and, aside from some slightly dubious speculation on the evoluntionary function of dancing in early societies, it has provided some interesting food for thought. Last night I came across the following passage, which nicely sums up why I have always been interested in throwing parties and, eventually, hopefully, getting people to dance together:

[British anthropologist Robin] Dunbar is not the only one to see group dancing - especially in lines and circles - as the great leveler and binder of human communities, uniting all who participate in the kind of communitas that [Victor] Turner found in twentieth-century native rituals. Interestingly, the Greek word nomos, meaning "law," also had the musical meaning of "melody." To submit, bodily, to the music through dance is to be incorporated into the community in a way far deeper that shared myth or custom can achieve. In synchronous movement to music or chanting voices, the petty rivalries and factional differences that might divide a group could be transmuted into harmless competition over one's prowess as a dancer, or forgotten. "Dance," as a neuroscientist put it, is "the biotechnology of group formation." (24)


zenosf said...

Whoa...... Have you been reading my mind again, or is synchronicity at work here? I did not know that "nomos" also referred to music until you mentioned it and I looked it up in the dictionary. Wow. I wanted to type in all my thoughts, but blogger doesn't like html code (understandably), so I gathered my thoughts together over here. Peace!

The Jaded Gay DJ said...

Regarding this comment:

"Coincidentally, I have been wondering if something like dance or poetry or religion or eating could bridge the gap between the so-called Apollian and and Dionysian mindsets. And so here, amazingly, is a word that does seem to bridge that gap, and in a real practice that was practiced thousands of years ago. Hmm. This musical philosophe has given me more food for thought. Stay tuned. Something's coming."

You might want to check out Nietzsche writing about Wagner, as well as The Birth of Tragedy, which aims at reconciling the Apollian and Dionysion through festive ritual and theater. Nietzsche was quite fond of dancing as one of his guiding metaphors. Here are a couple fun quotes:

I do not know what the spirit of a philosopher could more wish to be than a good dancer. For the dance is his ideal.

I would believe only in a God that knows how to dance.

And Zaranthustra is quite the dancer himself.