A long time ago in a small Midwest town, an intrepid hero named Kevin Bacon taught a whole town how-ta cut loose… and kick off their Sunday shoes. But did he actually make a difference in their love lives?
Movies, music videos, even classic Jane Austen stories all imply dance is essential for two people to have cake by the ocean but is this for real? Did dance evolve to be part of our mating rituals? Lots of animals use courtship displays and dances to attract mates. Some scientists argue if you look at hunter-gatherer societies you’d see dancing associated with fitness and sexiness. But that being said dancing is rare in the animal world, scientifically speaking.
By science’s definition, dancing has to do with synchronizing movements to a beat; it can’t be a trained behavior, it has to be spontaneous! When Willy and the Poorboys are playing, you bring a nickel and tap your feet. No one told you to do that but you just… do! And humans are in a small club of animals that can do this.
According to a study in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience and a couple pieces in Current Biology, only species which can practice vocal imitation can learn to dance! So that includes some species of parrot, some cockatoos, the California sea lion and Asian elephants… among others. All these animals can imitate and have all been observed “dancing” to a beat. Not well… but they can. Humans on the other hand, we’re the dancing machines of the animal kingdom!
You might think Peter, you suck, but trust me, you can dance. You’re 9 Ladies Dancing and 10 Lords-a-Leaping above animals… they are definitely the loneliest number – and that’s good. According to a study in Evolution of Human Behavior, when humans synchronize our motions, it raises our pain threshold by releasing endorphins – feels good brain chemicals – and this also encourages social closeness! This happens, of course, even without music… other research has been done with rowing teams! And a study from Plos Genetics even identified two genes associated with creative dancing and paired that with a need for a social communication! But, just because you have a chance to do your dance at the Space Jam, doesn’t mean something happened and you’re head over heels, or that you’re an MF Starboy, right? Or put another way, dancing doesn’t automatically equal romancing… Music plays a big part too.
Tons of studies show listening to music triggers a flood of reward chemicals in the brain – making us feel happy! And when it comes to mating, “music” argues author Daniel Levitin, “would insinuate itself into the mind of a potential mate.” Implying this sick beat turns into a sexual earworm…
So, putting all this together: music makes us feel good, synching behaviors, makes us feel good and adds social closeness, and dancing is associated with sexiness and fitness… It seems like dancing to the music is a pleasure double-whammy! If you can do that, you’re well on your way to the bedroom hymns. The problem here is no one knows why dancing makes us feel this way, we just know it does. Hopefully, we do more research on this because we need answers people!
Final Word: I’m pretty sure twerking is a form of mating dance.