Dancers and Wallflowers

Last weekend was a perfect Seattle weekend.  We had a few amazing days of stunning fall sun and sunsets.  Our autumnal foliage started to reveal shades of yellow and red.  And it was also a perfect day for a wedding that I had the privilege of attending, especially since it took place in an amazing setting overlooking our fair city.

East View att

West View Sunset att

Now I’ve noticed that at weddings and other large social celebratory occasions—and especially when good music comes on—we somehow naturally divide ourselves into two very distinct groups, and the division starts even with young children.

Sure enough, after a lovely wedding feast was served, heartfelt speeches and toasts given, and a gorgeous cake cut, the lights in the ballroom start to dim and the music gets louder after the first dance to encourage others to join in.  This is when the group of guests naturally splits like the parting of the Red Sea into two distinct camps:  The Dancers and the Wallflowers.

Now I’m mostly a Wallflower when it comes to social dancing.  And when you’re usually the one standing (or sitting) around watching other people enjoy themselves, you tend to have more time to observe and over analyze things.  I suppose some Wallflowers sometimes graduate into becoming Bar Folks who pass the night chatting and drinking with their friends over by the bar.  And once in awhile if you’re really a Wallflower at heart, but you’ve had enough to drink at the bar and a particularly good song comes on, you might be persuaded to venture out onto the dance floor with friends or your date.

But this time I decided to just sit at my seat and to watch what would happen.  And it was intriguing.

As I was observing the younger kids at various tables with their parents, I noticed that when certain catchy dance music came on, a few of them naturally started unconsciously moving and shaking their heads to the beat as they finished dessert or coloring, while other children paid little attention to the music and lights, or were frightened and started crying from the loud music.  A few natural Dancer kids even grabbed their parents’ hands and ran straight to the dance floor with much enthusiasm and glee.

This observation got me to wondering why some of us love to dance, while others of us feel uncomfortable with expressing ourselves through movement and music.  I think the primary reason why I don’t really like to dance is that I subconsciously feel like everyone is watching me, which makes me feel even more awkward, whereas the reality is that no one’s likely paying me any attention in the first place!  And I’m guessing that most Wallflowers feel the same uneasiness about being watched or embarrassed.  But the Dancers look like they don’t really care whether people are watching or not, and seem to be able to tune everything out because they’re simply enjoying themselves and immersed in the music.

This observation led me to a bit of internet digging where I discovered a Dr. Dance, and the term Dance Confidence, which is roughly defined as “the factor that makes the difference between you sitting glued to the bar seat and actually going for a boogie.”

And it’s fascinating to note that our varying degrees of Dance Confidence are directly correlated to three factors: age, gender and genetic makeup, and that it fluctuates with age and gender.

Mean Dance ConfidenceThe Guardian article goes on to describe why people dance, and why some of us are simply more confident dancers versus others.  It seems that when we are young children, we dance purely for fun or for ourselves until we turn into teenagers, which is when dancing is then seen as social engagement and is done in the context of the opposite sex.  (Think back to all your high school dance stories and those awkward slow dance moments!)

Dr. Lovatt’s studies also analyze different types of dancing for men and women, and break them down in terms of attractiveness to the opposite sex.  For example, some of his studies have shown that women find men who use medium-sized, complex movements to be the most attractive.  “If a woman is looking for an attractive and dominant man, she’ll go for one doing very large, complex movements, but if she wants an attractive yet submissive man then she’ll go for one doing smaller, complex movements.”

Conversely for women, it seems that a woman’s dance style actually changes throughout the month, depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle, and during peak fertility, their dancing is rated most attractive and concentrates on more rhythmic hip movement versus large arm and leg movements.

Other tidbits from Dr. Lovatt’s studies have confirmed that: 1) The quality of your dancing is directly correlated with the size and symmetry of your ears, and 2) The relative size of your fingers (2D-4D relationship, which measures testosterone levels) is also correlated with how well you dance and move.  (The more symmetrical your ears, the better dancer you probably are.  And higher levels of testosterone in men seem to lead to better dancing.)

But there are also other interesting side effects to dancing and movement.  In fact, Dr. Lovatt has studied the effect on dancing on Parkinson’s Disease patients, and has found that that dancing actually helps our brains by engaging three specific elements:

1) Social: enhances social engagement

2) Physical: physical exercise helps our brains (especially the hippocampus area) to grow

3) Cognitive: training of special awareness and relation to problem solving/memory work

He ends one of his TEDx talks with the following profound message about dancing and why we do it:

“We are biologically born and driven to dance.  If dancing is an expression of our hormonal and genetic makeup, it suggests that dancing is one of the most natural things in the world that we can do.  We also know that dancing also has an amazing impact on our thinking and thought processes.  So dancing is a fundamental part of who we are, and has a profound impact on our thinking and our ability to learn.”

I guess the next time I’m at a wedding or party with great music and friends, I’ll throw caution to the wind and shed my comfortable place on the wall and join in with all the other Dancers who look like they’re enjoying themselves.

So long as I don’t end up doing an Elaine.

Happy Friday!