Community: Core Need #4

This guest blog is extracted from the article Dance as a Tool for Unity By Tanja Taljaard on Sunday August 14th, 2016, It is the fourth in a series exploring the relationship of dance/ tango to our four core human needs; to be seen, to be listened to, to connect and to belong ( Reginald A. Ray, PhD, cofounder and spiritual director of Dharma Ocean Foundation.)

I will follow this post with a personal reflection on how we do community at Naked Cyber Cafe, Edmonton, Alberta.

Building a Community Through Dancing Together

It has been said that dancing is integral to the experience of being human. Like speech, it’s a way of expressing and communicating with others. The benefits of dancing are endless. Not only does it make you smarter, happier and healthier; dancing in synchrony with others raises our pain tolerance and makes us feel more connected. 

Dancing together is something universal that we humans have done since the earliest times. It is fundamentally cooperative in nature. Just as dance is innate to every human being, social dance is universal to every society.[1] Making music, and movement to music, is central to ritual, courtship, identity, and human expression cross-culturally.

While I dance I cannot judge, I cannot hate, I cannot separate myself from life.  I can only be joyful and whole. This is why I dance. – Hans Bos

Dancing with others makes us feel more connected.

There is something quite magical about dancing with others in synchronized movement. Whether it’s purely for enjoyment, for fitness, or as part of a ceremony, dancing with a group will most likely leave you with an ear-to-ear grin or feeling deeply stirred and part of something sacred. It blurs the lines between the perception of “self” and “other” and leads to a bond between participants.

Anthropologists have long recognized the community-building effects of dancing:

“As the dancer loses himself/herself in the dance, as s/he becomes absorbed in the unified community, s/he reaches a state of elation in which s/he feels himself filled with an energy of force immensely beyond his/her ordinary state . . . finding her/himself in complete and ecstatic harmony with all the fellow-members of his/her community, experiences a great increase in his/her feelings of amity and attachment towards them.” (Radcliffe-Brown 1933/1948)

Studies have found that even smaller moves like tapping or nodding your head to the same beat as someone else still has its benefits. Walking around in step, and singing in synchrony with others creates stronger feelings of trust and connectedness, as well as an increased willingness to cooperate.

Dancing builds community

Another study looked at how people grew closer through singing. It was found that making music together also elevated pain tolerance and social bonding. People from a community choir met in both a small group and a large group or “megachoir”. Results showed that feelings of inclusion, connectivity, positive affect, and measures of endorphin release all increased across singing rehearsals.

“The finding that singing together fosters social closeness – even in large contexts where individuals are not known to each other – is consistent with evolutionary accounts that emphasize the role of music in social bonding, particularly in the context of creating larger cohesive groups than other primates are able to manage.”

Dancing builds social bonds.

To anyone who dances, sings or makes music with others, these findings will hardly come as a surprise. The idea that synchronous movement and music increases group cohesion has old roots. Becoming “absorbed in the unified community” through music and dance can happen in many settings; at carnivals, parties, ceremonies or celebrations. Historians suggest that armies, churches and communities may all have benefited either intentionally or unintentionally from cultural practices that draw on physical synchrony to strengthen bonds between members.

Judith Lynne Hanna said: “... The more we know about dance — its presence, absence and its resurgence in individual and group life — the more we will know about ourselves: To Dance is Human.”

And if dancing and singing builds trust and unity, we probably should all do more of it.

Watch the video We Came to Dance.

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.

Tanja Taljaard