WHY DANCE?

Don Herbison-Evans ,   donherbisonevans@yahoo.com

Generally, nobody does anything for just one reason: we do like to have several reasons for doing something before we actually set forth and do it. And so it is with dancing. There are lots of reasons why people like to dance.

One is that we are gregarious social animals, and enjoy being with a group of like minded people. Most people like to go to dances that are crowded, where there is an atmosphere, and the more people there are there, the more atmosphere there is. The crowd does of course limit the size of one's steps, and one has to indulge in "Crush Dancing", where one holds one's partner rather tightly to reduce the space you both occupy. This in itself can be nice, with the right partner. One really does not even mind being pulled, pushed and trodden on, if one is dancing with the right partner.

Which leads to a second reason for dancing: meeting the other sex. Across many cultures, dancing has been the socially acceptable way of establishing new relationships, with a view to further activities together when the dance is over, some short term, some long term.

One needs to be rather single minded to prefer going to dances where there are very few other people. Couples with this preference are typically more interested in the dancing itself, such as being keen to practice and perfect particular dance sequences or technique. They are indulging in our third reason for dancing: the challenge. We are not born with coordination of our movements. We learn them. As we grow up we learn sufficent skills to negotiate everyday obstacles like stairs and crowded footpaths. But learning to dance broadens our needs for coordination into a whole new world of movements, and doing these while holding a partner close to one is the epitome of challenge. This is a limitless horizon. The more accomplished one becomes at dancing, so the more complex and difficult are the figures that one attempts to learn.

And so we get to the fourth reason for dancing: once the challenge of learning some figures or sequences is accomplished, we love to celebrate our accomplishment by just doing them, because we do not do these movements in everyday life. For example, for most of the 100 years of the nineteenth century, that most popular of the dances, the waltz, consisted of just the single figure: the natural turn. But turning is such a rare activity in normal life, people just loved the novelty of spinning around the dance floor. So we dance as a celebration of the abilities that we have been given, of life itself.

Not only do we enjoy performimg our new figures for ourselves, but also we love dancing in front of an audience. This is our fifth reason: we love showing off. Luckily, audiences enjoy watching skillful people do difficult movements, and this is why people are attracted to circuses and sports generally.

But we also like winning. People like beating other people in any sort of competition. And so competitive dancing was born.

(written 12 January 2013)