Why people dance – evolution, sociality and dance | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 2, Issue 3
  • ISSN: 2051-7068
  • E-ISSN: 2051-7076



Dance, along with song and body percussion, emanates from the body. All three therefore can be said to belong to the most elementary artistic processes. Anthropologist John Blacking believed that they were ‘a special kind of exercise of sensory, communicative and cooperative powers that is as fundamental to the making and remaking of human nature as speech’. The article engages with such an idea and examines the significance of dance in human evolution, moving away from the usual schema that presents bipedalism and the development of language as the two key moments in human evolution. It proposes instead another stage in-between, that it was the ability to move together in time that allowed collaboration among individuals, which led to the acquisition of language, and, therefore, culture. The article also investigates what can be loosely called the ‘power’ of dance. Dance is seen as powerful because it integrates intellect, our mental apparatus that engages primarily with reason and cognition, and affect, which emphasizes feeling and emotion. Three examples from Europe, Oceania, and Africa are discussed to demonstrate the similarities of the ways dancers have articulated what can be called, for expediency, a shared aesthetic experience bringing a heightened state of consciousness. Through such examples, dance is presented as a multi-sensory pursuit that connects human beings in a particular kind of relationship, which gives dance its power.


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