Stand up, sit down, shout, let it all out!


This Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s NY Times got me really excited, and I strongly suggest that you read it. It talks about “the indivisibility of movement and sound” and humans’ natural tendency to move when we hear music. The author, who is a professor of music and psychology at McGill University, mentions the brain scans that he has conducted and which have shown that the motor cortex is active during music listening. Additionally, he discusses how “civilized” behavior has prevented people from moving freely when listening to music, especially in public places.

So, sound stimulates movement. No wonder I can’t stand still when I’m listening to music! It just feels “natural” to move! In a dance composition class I took at Barnard, I was asked to dance in silence, and even to choreograph without music. While it was interesting (and challenging!) to explore the idea of creating movement in silence, I always felt a little awkward. Movement can definitely be initiated from within, but for me, music is what gets the choreographic and improvisational juices flowing. The Op-Ed piece points out that music and dance have occurred together “through tens of thousands of years of evolutionary history”, so why would we try to separate them? When listening to music in public places – walking down the street, in a clothing store, on a bus, etc – have you ever had the desire to jump up and down, shimmy your shoulders, do a bunch of pirouettes, or a huge grand jeté, but then restrained yourself because it wasn’t “normal”? I know I have!

I think that people are naturally movers, but social norms and self-consciousness force us to limit our physical movement. At music concerts (and I mean everything from the NY Philharmonic to Justin Timberlake), the audience would be more actively engaged in and part of the performance if they felt comfortable dancing to the music. And not just tapping their feet or nodding their heads, but using their whole body to express themselves. Plus, they’d probably enjoy the concert more, too. Think about this: tons of subway riders listen to ipods without moving at all, but wouldn’t mass transportation be more fun and interesting if we danced to our respective soundtracks? The subway would be one crazy dance party!

This entry was posted in Articles, Dance, music and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Stand up, sit down, shout, let it all out!

  1. dara says:

    oh, pevs. this post made me smile. love you!

  2. magpie says:

    It was a nice piece. Did you see the snarky letters to the editor in today’s paper (10/29)? All these old curmudgeons who want the concert hall to be a silent temple – silent but for the music of the dead white men emanating from the stage.

  3. Evan says:

    Magpie, thanks for the comment. Many of the letters to the editor point out that if people want to dance to music, they should do so at home, which emphasizes the op-ed contributor’s point that people feel “abnormal” and “uncivilized” if they dance in public. Some of the letters correctly point out that it’s important to listen to music on its own, to fully appreciate it, but I agree with you that the concert hall doesn’t have to be a “silent temple”.

  4. That is why the two best Ani DiFranco concerts I have ever been to have been in gymnasiums where all the fans were standing and dancing. I don’t like when I have to sit in a theatre seat to “watch” her concerts. I would rather participate, but the presence of seats makes me embarrassed to move around. I have also seen Tori Amos in concert and the implied social pressure to sit in my seat was excruciating.

  5. Evan says:

    I, too, have seen Tori in concert! Luckily there was enough room between the rows of seats to move around a little, which seemed to encourage people to stand for most of the concert. It’s hard to stay seated when she’s straddling two pianos and belting out Cornflake Girl.

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