The Psychology of Musicality part 3

Music and dance are primal to the human soul.

The First Dance

What is true of your first dance is true of all dance.  Music inspired it.

I now speak as a poet.  If this is not true scientifically that music comes before dance, it is true poetically.  I feel this more than I know it.  Music is the foundation of the human soul and it moves our bodies.  Music pries open our souls and makes us dance.  We know that we are alive, and we know something about our souls.  Alzheimer patients can be at a stage of total loss of their own biographies and deeply distressed, but music, especially music from their childhood, can restore them to joy which can last for hours.

I asked the question, "what came first, dance or musis?" to a group of tango teachers on Facebook last week.  Some felt that the answer would be different if one is talking about tango versus if one were talking generally about dance.  However, most agreed that music is first when it comes to tango.  I am perplexed by a perception that there should be any difference.  In both cases -- human history or the history of tango -- music comes before the dance.  For example, unique reggae movements were inspired by the inverted downbeat of this music (on 2 and 4 not the usual 1 and 3).

One tango teacher, Ilene Marder, felt it was music that came first, but also pointed out that human movement is the start of music. She said: "The first music was our heartbeat."

From the same Facebook tango teacher forum, Jay Abling, a veteran dancer, musician, conductor, tango instructor and DJ from San Diego said, "When the dance swing, first came into being, I doubt that the someone just started creating steps and said, 'There should be music to the steps I just created.' Swing originated with style of jazz music . . . and people started experimenting with movement to the music, creating different styles of swing. Eventually, musicians started riding the popularity and started creating music for those particular styles."

So one could argue that movement indeed precedes music, starting from the beat of our Mother's heart and then our own.   And, yes, one could say that a drummer's hands "dance" on the drum heads or a guitarist's fingers "dance" on the strings. Movement and music are at one truly, but movement is not dance.  Music is the stimulus for dance, and is still primary because it is created in the musical-mind.

The 9th Symphony: Written in deafening silence
Let me demonstrate: A man is walking down the street just moving and then a song comes to his mind. He is walking his dog, but his dog is not going to come up with music from its movement. The internal ability to create music in the human brain predisposes all movement to inspire music within our unique brains.  From this perspective, movement seems to create music.  But movement, whether a heart beating or legs walking is not dance or music. Music is an an internal disposition in musical brain (human brain).  This same concept is evident in the life of Ludwig van Beethoven, who wrote one of the greatest musical masterpieces of all time from what he "heard" internally.  He was entirely deaf when he composed his last symphony.  Music in a way is implanted in our brain, making music as one of the the most distinctive markers of what makes us human.

Oliver Sacks, a world-renowned neuroanthropologist and psychiatrist has this to say about the wiring of the brain that makes music primary and dance the response to music.

Being human adds up to being a lot of positive and negative things, but one thing we uniquely possess (among mammals) is the ability to make music and the human body's unique response to dance.  If you want be essentially human -- then return to what you did as an infant and allow yourself to feel the music and dance.  

18th Dynasty Egyptian Tomb Fresco with musicians and dancers
External expression of music, such as with clapping, sticks, drums and logs quickly is united with an automatic response from our cerebellum (motoric center of the brain) in the form of dance.  Take a closer look at the dancers and musicians which appear on an Egyptian tomb fresco from the earlier post (part one).  Notice the oldest of percussion instruments on the far left?  Clapping hands.

In some ways the closer we come to both music and movement being one and the same, the closer we are to being truly at one with music, and it does feel as if dance and music are parallel. 

The Influence of Dance on Music
I acknowledge that dancers can inspire musicians to create new things. There is a symbiotic relationship, a synergism, that happens. For example, chachachá’s name came to out of what dancers were doing. The inventor of the chachachá said he heard the dancers’ feet on the floor making the chachachá sound, but again the stimulus was music. Have you ever seen anyone ever dancing the waltz without music? Imagine musicians watching dancers and saying, “We should make that into music!” Or as Cherie, a tango teacher and correspondent out of Buenos Aires, wrote me back in 2009: “Can you just see gauchos around a fire dancing a tango without music? Yeah, right.” And I would add to that: “Imagine musicians being inspired to invent tango music just by watching people dancing at a silent milonga!” Maybe in a different universe?

We have chickens and we have eggs. Maybe one or the other came first. That is pretty mysterious stuff. My brain cannot get around the chicken/egg question. It is like rocket science. But music and dance? This is not rocket science.  Music, then dance. The power of music at a milonga routinely makes my body into a musical instrument, playing a song called, "Dance."

Photo Credit:
First dance fire


LeadingLady said…
Thanks for this article, You put my brain to work, man!

After lot of thinking I place the start of dance at early repetative work! This type of work easily puts us to sing or sound. Movements are combined by sounds and we have a primitive dance going on!

I would like to invite you to read a posting on my blog inspired by your article! Please follow here
Tango Therapist said…
Leading Lady! Sorry it took me so long to respond. I went to your post, which adds to the ideas presented in mine. I am moving to Germany... perhaps we will meet at some milonga in Europe! Ciáo, Milonguera!

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