Dancing is the letting be of the musical flow, and dancing is the song of the body; the body through the letting be, sings its Ode to Being.
Years ago when I lived in St. Louis there was — and still is — a funk-soul-disco-hip-hop night every third Saturday of the month called Bump ‘n’ Hustle. This was St. Louis pre-Michael Brown shooting, and the city was, as it still is, considered to be one of the most segregated in the United States. During my time there, I remember many, many times people commenting on which streets demarcated the black and white neighborhoods, describing the cityscape like squares on a chessboard.
Bump ‘n’ Hustle was held in a swampy shoebox-shaped cellar below a venue called Blank Space. The cramped dimensions forced the bounds of personal space to be eased for those few sweaty hours. The beauty of these nights was that square foot for square foot, it was the most diverse place in St. Louis I ever went. Truly, no matter your race, age or sexuality, this was somewhere you were more likely to be judged for your footwork than anything else.
We all came to groove to the rhythms of Otis, Marvin, Diana, Delta 5 and The Ambassadors and left with an enhanced sense of aliveness and connectedness. And, yeah, when the last beat pumped through the speakers and the house lights came on, everyone headed back to their respective neighborhoods. But, still, for those brief hours, social frictions were shucked off and a community was forged from synchrony.
Even though it’s been known intuitively by virtually every civilization for thousands of years that group dancing fosters closeness between people, science has only recently confirmed it.
Last year researchers at the University of Oxford found that “performing simple body movements in time with others and a metronome encourages prosocial tendencies.”
They go on to write that the effect is thought to come from a blurring of the perception of “self” and “other,” leading to a bond between the dancers. In other words, in dancing with others, we feel part of something bigger than just ourselves.
Dancing throughout the ages has served many function from community building, communication, catharsis, courtship, corporeal affirmation and cultural ritual. But in the 1940s, combined with psychotherapy, dance was found to be an innovative medical treatment for soldiers who came back with what was at the time known as “shell shock,” today called post-traumatic stress disorder. By the 1960s, dance therapy had the backing of research and theory.
Lora Wilson Mau, a CSULB dance department lecturer and board certified dance therapist, has used dance therapy to help those with eating disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and trauma.
“When words are not enough, movement reveals the unconscious,” Mau says.
She describes the results as nothing short of magical. After half an hour of group dancing, patients that were unable to connect with one another became more open to engagement.
“It helps them not be so isolated anymore,” Mau says.
Although she’s careful to stress that dance therapy is not a dance class and must be performed under the supervision of a trained mental health clinician, she says that the effectiveness of the therapy is a testament to the power of dance.
Mau says that on its own, dancing improves body image and self-esteem, alleviates depression and reduces anxiety.
For all these reasons and more, when I moved to Long Beach from St. Louis, one of the first things I looked up was a funk and soul dance night. I found Bump ‘n’ Hustle’s West Coast analogue in The Good Foot put on monthly at Alex’s Bar.
So whether you twist, dab, twerk, nae nae, or headbang, my advice is: just dance.