What is Dance?
Dance is very strongly associated with music.
Dance is something that people do while music is playing.
But what is dance?
Why do it at all? What purpose does it serve?
We can ask the same questions about music. Like what is music, and why do we make music, or listen to music, and what purpose does it serve?
Probably the fact that we don't know what music is has something to do with the fact that we don't know what dance is.
In my article Music Generates Feelings That Are Only Weakly Bound To The Music, I propose the hypothesis that music is something that generates certain feelings, and, those feelings are weakly bound to the music, and as a result, those feelings are transferrable to other things.
If this hypothesis is correct, then one of those other things, to which music-generated feelings can be transferrred, is dance.
The Applicability of Music-Generated Feelings to Dance
In my article I also listed a set of criteria for things, or perceptions of things, that music-generated feelings can be transferred to:
- The target perception has to be an imagined perception – music-generated feelings to do not easily alter an individual's perceptions of things that are real.
- The target perception must be happening at the same time that the music is playing.
- The music-generated feelings should be applicable to the target perception. So it only makes sense to play sad music while presenting a story, if that story has a sad interpretation.
- The music-generated feelings will more easily bind to the target perception if the target perception is itself strongly bound to the music, for example by association with the melody or rhythm of the music.
It's easy to see that 2 and 4 apply to music. For item 2, people dance when music is playing, and generally people don't dance when there is no music. For item 4, dance is bound to the music, because it matches the rhythm of the music.
It is less obvious to see how 1 and 3 apply to music. Dancing itself is real, so it is not an imagined thing.
To determine whether item 3 applies, we have to consider what feelings are generated by music that would apply to dance. Some musical items are much more "danceable" than others, so presumably it is the feelings generated by those tunes which are the feelings which apply, somehow, to dance.
Most of the feelings generated by music have some identifiable relation to a protagonist, the goals of the protagonist, beliefs about whether or not such goals are achievable, and beliefs about what level of effort or perstistence might be required to achieve them.
We can tentatively identify dance as a form of physical effort.
Of course dance is not particularly relevant to the achievement of any normal goal, other than the very self-referential goal of dancing for the sake of dancing.
However, if we imagine that dancing is something that is important and necessary to do, then we end up satisfying both criteria 1 and 3:
- (1) We are imagining a situation where a certain important goal can only be achieved by dancing
- (3) The music is generating a feeling which is telling us that it is necessary and desirable to engage in a certain amount of effort in order to achieve a goal
Do It Like It's Important
One prediction of this hypothesis is that:
This concept of "doing like it matters" can be observed in dance, for example in many music videos.
The same concept often applies to the act of musical performance, where the performers don't just play their musical instruments to generate the sounds of music – they put on an act to show that they are playing their instruments as if doing so is a very important and profound thing to do.