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!