Some traits and customs are common to all human cultures, all over the world — a phenomenon known as the cultural universal or anthropological universal. Language, personal names, myths, art, and song are a few examples. Then there’s dancing, something so universal that it’s impossible to say when the earliest humans, or even their primate ancestors, began to hop around in some kind of deliberate and rhythmic manner.
Dancing, it could be argued, ranges from the sublime to the subjectively silly. In the former category, there’s the fine art of ballet, with all its athleticism, control, and artistry. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the Macarena and the Chicken Dance. But there is no true hierarchy when it comes to the multitude of dance styles that exist across the globe. From tribal rain dances to raves, the tango to tap dancing, it’s all part of being human.
But why do we dance? Psychologists, anthropologists, and philosophers have all tackled that question. Perhaps dancing emerged as a means to build community and strengthen social bonds. Maybe it was simply a form of entertainment, exercise, or creative expression. Courtship, of course, is also a major part of dancing — as George Bernard Shaw supposedly said, “dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.” Whatever the reason, dance is an inherent part of us, as the following quotes clearly show — even if some of us need a lot of convincing to shake our stuff on the dance floor.
The dance can reveal everything mysterious that is hidden in music, and it has the additional merit of being human and palpable. Dancing is poetry with arms and legs.
— Charles Baudelaire, poet
Dance is the movement of the universe concentrated in an individual.
— Isadora Duncan, dancer
I shall dance all my life… I would like to die, breathless, spent, at the end of a dance.
— Josephine Baker
You live because you dance; you live as long as you dance.
— Rudolf Nureyev, ballet dancer
Dance is the only art of which we ourselves are the stuff of which it is made.
— Ted Shawn, choreographer
To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth, and it is yours for the taking.
— Agnes de Mille, dancer
Dance is the hidden language of the soul, of the body.
— Martha Graham
The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing.
— James Brown
Dance is for everybody. I believe that the dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people.
— Alvin Ailey
I dance not to entertain but to help people better understand each other. Because through dance I have experienced the wordless joy of freedom. I seek it more fully now for my people and for all people everywhere.
— Pearl Primus, dancer
To dance at all is to confront oneself. It is the art of honesty.
— Shirley MacLaine
When a body moves, it's the most revealing thing. Dance for a minute, and I'll tell you who you are.
— Mikhail Baryshnikov
When we dance, we are free. To put it better, our spirit can travel through the universe, while our body follows a rhythm that is not part of the routine.
— Paulo Coelho
If you're feeling blue, lock yourself in a room, stand in front of a mirror, and dance — and laugh at yourself and be sexy.
— Salma Hayek
Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances.
— Maya Angelou
Photo credit: Harrison Steen/ Unsplash