For as long as we have been upright creatures, human beings have been dancing. Dance is a form of expression that supersedes verbal language; it is possible to convey far more meaning in a sweeping gesture than a simple phrase. But why do we dance? What compels us?
Celebration. Every culture across the globe celebrates for many different reasons. Social events, such as birth and marriage are two of the most common causes for festivity. There are also dances to praise the merits of each season. In Africa, for instance, there are dances of praise for fertility, of both crops and offspring. Other dances may be more specific to a particular area, or tribe, such as dances to celebrate a recent victory. One could argue that dance rituals of death fall in this category. While dancers grieve over the loss of a loved one, they simultaneously celebrate the life of that person.
Communion. Most humans believe in a Higher Power, and with this belief comes the desire to communicate and receive blessings from that entity. Sacred dances have been practiced for centuries, and are still quite common in places such as India, Asia, Indonesia, Africa and the Middle East. Dancing for communion is intricately linked with prayer, as well.
Connection. Humans are social creatures, and dance has long been a way for people to find connection and community. The array of group dances over time is staggering, from the simple maypole dance of spring, to waltzing, contra dancing, square dancing, and the ubiquitous conga line. Never has the old adage “no man is an island” ever been more correct than on the dance floor.
In the end, the simplest reason of all may be that it feels good to move our bodies to music. It is one of the most natural forms of expression, and a common language we all share. Young children are the most accurate barometers of how innate dance is for humans. If they hear a beat, they move their feet. Or hips, or anything else they can think of. Dance is not only our heritage, but also our birthright.