Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
22 Apr

Primal Play: Dance

Though it’s an important aspect of the Primal Blueprint, the concept of play doesn’t get enough attention around here. I guess by virtue of its very nature this is to be expected. Play should be spontaneous and freeing, and the regimentation of our leisure time is what we’re trying to avoid! Still, given the time-sucking realities of adult responsibility, maybe we all need a few suggestions for new ways to play. I’m not talking about making play dates or anything, but a few concrete examples could really help. You know, something that’s free, that you can share with friends and family, and that’s fun. How about dancing?

Dancing? Bear with me, here.

Until now, almost everything I’ve suggested in the past as Primal play activities has had an overt physical fitness slant. Pickup basketball, Ultimate Frisbee, hikes, walks with the spouse, random play with dogs/kids/wilderness – these are all great, enjoyable activities, but it’s difficult for some people to separate them from the concept of exercise. Most people see a guy on a hike and think “workout.”

Dancing is different. It can be an awesome workout, sure, but people generally don’t hit up the gym, grab that hairy guy off the elliptical, head to the full length mirror, and bust out the Kid ‘n’ Play routine from “House Party.” I kind of wish that super hairy, extremely gregarious dude at my gym who can’t seem to ever find his pants in the locker room would, just for the comedy of it all. Maybe he’s even got a mean running man in him. I wouldn’t know.

Anyway: dancing is definitely different. It takes skill and athleticism, if you’re talking about advanced techniques or styles, but anyone can dance. Not everyone can be a professional or street performer, but anyone can enjoy dancing, and that’s the whole point of it, in the end. If you’re able to give yourself to it fully (“dance like nobody’s watching”), dancing can actually be extremely rewarding.

Dancing does no harm. Dancing is fun, it’s sexual, and, like singing and music, it is universal. Dance itself can be described as an exposition of human movement patterns; dancers explore the full range of human movements through three-dimensional space, by leaping, contorting, falling, twisting, rotating, spinning. Dance can be rigid and regimented, and it can also be free and fluid. Why not take a dip?

Well, for some people, dancing is a frightening prospect. It may not be quite so dire a situation as that small town in “Footloose,” where dancing was actually banned, but people are definitely somewhat restrained when it comes to dancing. It takes guts to let yourself go, I mean really go, and do so with a smile on your face. Dancing renders the dancer completely vulnerable, to outside criticism and prying eyes, but mostly to his or her own thoughts about what’s expected of a normal adult. Unless the alcohol is flowing, the lights are dimmed, and someone’s daughter is getting married, we’re not supposed to be dancing like wild men and women. We’re supposed to be composed, to – at the most – maintain a polite, inoffensive sway, preferably on beat, or at least adjacent to it. We’re rational, higher animals! We are above the frenzy of the ecstatic or the emotive… aren’t we?

Absolutely not. If we were, life would be incredibly boring and reptilian. Dancing itself is Primal – there’s certainly strong precedent for its inclusion in the human experience. Look at basically every traditional culture and you’ll find dance, along with music. In fact, the two are never really separated. You dance to music, after all. And since music is present in every culture, it’s a safe bet that Homo sapiens were banging on drums or singing chants since at least 50,000 years ago, which is roughly when the widespread dispersal of man out of Africa occurred. Some archaeologists even suggest dance has been around for over a 1.5 million years, perhaps manifesting as a literal “mating dance” between potential partners looking for the right mate. Anyone who’s ever been to a nightclub has seen this phenomenon in action – nothing really changes, huh? Regardless, a musical tradition had been established which spread as man spanned the world, and dance with it.

Even if dancing was useless and purely frivolous – that is, it conferred no concrete physiological benefits – it would still be worth doing, because frivolity is part of what makes us human. We do things for the hell of it. We’ll sing nonsensical songs, make strange noises when we’re alone, twiddle our thumbs, play with our hair, think of distant jokes and laugh all over again. Do we need a reason? No. We just do it to amuse ourselves and occupy our minds.

Dancing should serve the same purpose in our lives. Like other forms of play, it can reduce stress, get us moving, help us spend quality time with loved ones and friends, and improve our coordination, mobility, and flexibility. If you’re learning a particularly complex set of steps or moves, dancing requires concentration and memorization. If you’re dancing with a partner, your brain has to anticipate the other’s movements and respond accordingly. This all works out to exercise for your brain and your body. In potential dementia patients, dancing even reduced the incidence of dementia, better than other leisure activities.  And hey, if you’re good enough, dancing can make you pretty damn attractive – talk about the conferment of an evolutionary advantage.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you necessarily incorporate bi-weekly dance sessions, but they can’t hurt. Just think of dance as a potential tool in your bag of tricks. Take your wife or husband to salsa lessons. Turn off the TV and blast some music one night, and just let loose. Gather some friends and do the bonfire/drum circle thing at the beach or in the woods somewhere. Pass around a bottle of wine, if you have to, and dance. It might even be enough to just bob your head when a favorite song comes on, or dance with your upperbody while at a stoplight. You may look silly, but who cares? You’ve got to get over that stuff, especially when it stands in the way of you truly enjoying life and all it has to offer. Recall the last person you saw rocking out behind the wheel; did you laugh at and pity him, or were you slightly envious of his obvious joy? Exactly.

Dance is many things, simple being foremost among all other characteristics. It doesn’t have to be deep or overly technical. Just dance for fun. It should come naturally, ideally. This last bit of advice might be the toughest to follow, but it’s also the most crucial.

What do you think about dance? Does it have a playful place in the Primal lifestyle? Do you let go every now and again? Share your thoughts in the comment board and Grok on!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I live to dance.

    Linda wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  2. About five years ago, I came to the realization that the reason I didn’t dance wasn’t that I *couldn’t*–it was that I simply didn’t know how. Dancing wasn’t a part of growing up. So, I looked around and figured out what would be most useful to an early-20-something: belly dance. 😉 Did that for a couple years, performed a few times–and gained the moves and confidence to dance in public. Belly dance moves can be modified to dance to most music and there is something primal in the sensuality and intensity of it. Also primal because you dance barefoot :)

    I was thinking this spring would be a good time to sign up for lessons again, and now here’s this post. I’m signing up for a class now!

    Angela N wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  3. Yes! Dancing. I love it. When I was younger I used to go out every Friday and Saturday night and dance until dawn. People thought I was crazy. I was not there to drink alcohol at all, I just danced all night. I was incredibly fit and thin too :)
    Finding the time to dance now is hard but I should really try to find the time to do it again. Perhaps not until dawn this time though :)

    Angelina wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  4. I always put on headphones and rock out to whatever music I’ve got on when it’s time to do chores – dishes, laundry, you name it. It makes it more fun, the time goes faster, and even though the hubby and roomie can see me, I don’t care. I don’t even know if I’m a good dancer…. it’s fun, so I do it, lol.

    lady_daraine wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  5. Tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop…it’s my job!

    Anyone else out there into this stuff?

    TimActor wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  6. Mr. Mark Sisson please stand up.

    I Jack Christopher award you 1000 whuffie points for the “House Party” reference.

    — Pretty fly for a white guy. 😉


    Jack Christopher wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  7. I am going to take up belly dancing this fall through the local school district’s adult classes…it looks like fun…and I love the music!

    Cj wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  8. Women LOVE men who can dance! (Ahem)

    Cj wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  9. What a timely post! I was just checking out Zumba classes offered at my gym. I checked it out on Youtube, and it is exactly what I need! Looks like soooo much fun!

    Susan in Spokane wrote on April 22nd, 2010
    • I do both Zumba and African dance, and it’s a blast (and a heck of a good workout!) This is a very timely post as i just love to dance it is has become a huge part of my new fitness routine. And, the African dance is , of course, barefoot…which would be make Barefoot Ted very happy :-) And Tim, if you read this, I live to watch all types of dance: contemporary, jazz, tap, ballet…everything…it’s all good!!

      Janine wrote on April 25th, 2010
  10. LOL I rock out all the time in the car, by myself, with the kids and occasionally at work. I was always involved in music programs in school, and to this day I can not be streetside at a parade without rocking out with the drums..parades suck to march in (rain, cold, think New England) but are so fun to dance with!
    I don’t actually go to clubs these days..and I really am NOT a good dancer, I just have no shame! I have noticed my mother, who is normally VERY shy and reserved, bopping along lately at different events..HMM.. could having two granddaughters (ages 6 and 7)who LOVE to dance have something to do with it?
    Nothing better for feeling Primal, and happy, and relaxed except for, well, you know…and the generations continue!:)

    Julie Aguiar wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  11. Great post! Being able to dance is a nice peacocking effect at big parties. It definitely gets the women’s attention. 😉

    This post reminded me of the can’t-dance-but-brings-joy-anyway-guy who travelled the world and danced at different locations: Where the hell is Matt? –

    Awesome song throughout the clip and at 0:51 it really kicks in and shows the universal joy of just letting it go. Inspirational.

    Petter wrote on April 22nd, 2010
  12. Love you work Mark.

    “You’ve got to get over that stuff, especially when it stands in the way of you truly enjoying life and all it has to offer. Recall the last person you saw rocking out behind the wheel; did you laugh at and pity him, or were you slightly envious of his obvious joy? Exactly.”

    That is an excellent line, and I think that if more people listened to that sort of advice it would have a more profound effect than sound nutrition.

    Matt W wrote on April 23rd, 2010
    • Awesome and agreed. I think my girlfriend becomes slightly embarrassed when I do this in public with her – I think I will refer her to this post.

      Jeremy McMinn wrote on April 23rd, 2010
  13. It’s not so primal but I do like my Wii dance mat for messing about on :)

    On a side note – I was flicking through a copy of Muscle & Fitness yesterday in a news agents and on p72 there was Mark’s name in the bright lights with a nice column review Mark’s past endurance lifestyle and current primal approach. It was brilliant!!

    Luke M-Davies wrote on April 23rd, 2010
  14. Belly dancing! We learn it as kids and just have to dance whenever a good song is played.

    In the west that might be weird but where I come from it is not that strange for people at (not that upper scale) restaurants or pubs to just clear a small area if a particularly good song for belly dancing is played :)

    HKay wrote on April 23rd, 2010
  15. I love dancing. Unfortunately, I learned recently I’m known in some places as “that guy who can’t dance”. Not sure what to do about that.

    Simon wrote on April 23rd, 2010
    • If you love it and you feel like you’re dancing, then you can! What to do about it? Ignore them!

      Deb wrote on April 28th, 2010
  16. To all the people that said they can’t dance: be assured that almost nobody “can” dance. The people you look at and think to yourself “Jeez, I wish I could dance like that.” only look like that because they just “do”.
    As it’s often the case, it’s not about having the ability or talent, it’s about doing.
    I hated dancing and going to clubs/etc. for years until I just told myself: Let go and give it a try. And that changed a whole lot.
    Try it :)

    And regarding Simon’s comment: I’m sure most of the people who call you that are those, that never step on the dancefloor, too. Face the fire, take the heat. In the end it’ll just make you better.

    Dominik M wrote on April 23rd, 2010
    • Hell yeah. I was annoyed for about five seconds, then the DJ played a song I like.

      Simon wrote on April 28th, 2010
  17. I have a friend who claims he has no rhythm and refuses to dance. I don’t believe this because he has no trouble hammering a nail, etc, which all takes rhythm.

    I asked a dance therapist about his statement and she said usually a person who says this is a very controlling person. She was exactly right in the case of my friend.

    Too bad he won’t give it a shot. Dancing is one of the great joys of life.

    Sharon wrote on April 23rd, 2010
  18. My kids and I blast the radio and have “dance parties” in the kitchen after dinner/dishes. Surely, we don’t have all the moves, but we’re having fun! ;0)

    Melissa wrote on April 23rd, 2010
  19. I love dancing (when I’m not self-conscious about it). A drink or two, and I won’t be afraid to bust a move. I’m also a big-time bopper. Even as a classically-trained clarinetist, when I’m in rehearsals, I’m the one in the ensemble bopping to the music we’re rehearsing (and the director oddly doesn’t seem to mind — I actually think he finds it amusing). One of these days, I’ll talk the hubby into taking a dance class with me.

    Deanna wrote on April 23rd, 2010
  20. I was one of those people who could. not. dance. They even cut a scene from a play I was in because it involved me dancing (and wasn’t central to the plot). Then I discovered contra dancing. There’s something so non-threatening about it, everyone’s too busy dancing themselves for anyone to watch you, so if you stumble or do the wrong thing, no one cares!

    From contra, I got into other forms of folk dancing, as well as Argentine tango (which I do once a week now), and I’m considering taking up modern dance now. The thing about dancing is that practicing is a workout and you HAVE to practice at least once a week to stay on top of it, plus it’s fun, so you want to do it more often.

    Jenn wrote on April 23rd, 2010
  21. James Brown teaches you to dance. You know you are going to try this when no one is looking;)

    Debra wrote on April 23rd, 2010
  22. I LOVE to dance. I’ve been line dancing for 11 years, since I was 10! It’s a great workout and so much fun. If I had the time I would do a class every day :)

    Nikki wrote on April 23rd, 2010
  23. …take the sunscreen part with a grain of seas salt

    Hef wrote on April 23rd, 2010
  24. Since I’ve been standing at work,

    it’s been easy to break into spontaneous dancing (especially with a little too much caffeine). Check out these guys:

    Pete H wrote on April 24th, 2010
  25. Word up. Nothing’s felt more real for me ever than dancing. It was on once I got the Thriller album when I was 4 or 5. I’ve actually been reconnecting with my dancing presently and it feels so awesome and primal. I break dance / freestyle dance and it’s clear that every element of the human being aligns from the body to the emotions to the spirit and creative intelligence when you dance. Dance is so raw, such a basic vehicle to connect with your whole being.

    Mike Rapoza wrote on April 24th, 2010
  26. I’m almost 45 years old, and I’m determined to learn Pop & Lock dancing:)

    Debra wrote on April 24th, 2010
  27. Insane cardio + insane strength + lots of spontaneous fun = BREAKDANCING. IMHO one of the best fitness modalities out there (and unlike most workouts, development of courage is a huge factor).

    Interestingly, dancers seem better equipped to handle random physical challenges than Athletes of the same level. Check out this article about how some dancer beat the stuffing out of some NCAA D1 Athletes:

    Dancers vs. “Athletes”: The state of the current athlete

    This is an article by Charlie Reid, B.S., CSCS, CPT.

    Steve L wrote on April 24th, 2010
  28. I would not know what the spirit of a philosopher might wish more to be than a good dancer. -Nietzsche

    nblezy wrote on April 25th, 2010
  29. I haven’t gotten fully primal on my way of living but the more I read about it, the more I realize I have already been doing it. My husband and I lift weights, we walk around our neighborhood, hike and I’ve started with working on my sprinting when I jog.

    Dancing.. I truly believe that dancing is such a good way to get fit. I enjoy my Saturday morning, music on full blast crazy dancing. It’s a good way to let loose of all the tension from work, and to be ok with making a fool of oneself.

    Tanya wrote on April 26th, 2010
  30. Dancing is a beautiful thing and a great workout. I love dancing on my own I feel so creative and in the moment. Still gotta get over nervousness of dancing in public though.

    Richard, Personal Development Author wrote on April 28th, 2010
  31. I teach a dance class at a local club. Members come to me constantly saying they can’t dance. I tell them by the end of the hour, you Will be dancing. Doesn’t have to be perfect, just feel the rythem and move! We burn upwords of 500 calories an hour, and have so much fun we forget that we are excersising. Dance like no one is watching and watch the pounds fade away!!! Excellent Post!

    GAYLYNN wrote on April 28th, 2010
  32. There is a reason that Michael Jackson was such a phenomenal success…his dance moves were mesmerizing…yeah, he was talented and could sing..but..THOSE MOVES! Oh, Yeah! We all love dance…all of us…admit it.

    Cj wrote on April 28th, 2010
  33. Woo! so glad to see this finally come into the picture. Dancing is totally thrown in my big of tricks:P. I may not be the best dancer, but I do like to move!

    I belly dance and I also HOOP DANCE! it is so fun and meditative. dancing with a hoop is also a great workout for the arms especially if you are using a heavy one. I like to use the lighter/smaller hoops for tricks and speed. Check it out, this video is a pretty good example of the joy that can flow from movement to movement.

    I suggest hooping to EVERYONE and ANYONE.

    Oxyjenn wrote on April 28th, 2010
  34. Great post, and quite a number of impassioned replies! I mentioned to Mark in an email a while back that I sometimes use Shiva Rea’s Yoga Trance Dance DVD as a means of getting down like Grok around the campfire. I don’t worry about any particular moves or rhythm, I just let the music take my body where it wants to go. I took ballroom dance my last semester of undergrad, thinking it would be a good social skill to have. It is. I followed that with Cajun dance, a useful skill here in South Louisiana. I put both to good use this past weekend at our annual Festival International de Louisiane, dancing to music from around the world. Between walking and dancing with a number of lovely ladies, I put in around 24,000 steps a day in my Vibrams. Great fun and great exercise! And a good way to combine primal laws #3 &7.

    Manny wrote on April 28th, 2010
  35. I have always been attracted to African rhythms and have been dancing afro-cuban folkloric and samba – great workouts because of all the isolation! Zumba is also a lot of fun and of course, salsa! Thanks for the great posts

    cheryl wrote on April 28th, 2010
  36. I totally love to dance. My husband totally loves to watch me dance. All my babies (5) have loved to sit on my hip and dance with me, which is no small feat when they get to about twenty pounds or so–great for losing post baby poundage. My 12 year old is slightly embarrassed now when his forty year old mama starts grooving to the techno, but I’ll bet he’ll be glad when I’m dancing with HIS kids on my still intact, limber hip!

    mere wrote on April 29th, 2010
  37. GO MARK! LOVE it when a Primal HE-Man sez Dance is GOOD for you & promotes my first Art-form & first LOVE. As a ballet dancer in my teens–I was asked to SECRETLY work with my jr high and high school football teams–after all the New York Jets were doing ballet to be better athletes! DANCERS are the PEAK PERFORMERS of the Art world. In ’98–when I was told I’d be permanently blind, brain-damaged & disabled–MD’s pushing for a board & care–it was my early ingrained training & habits that had become not just second nature but NATURE–including HOW to take care of myself “lifestyle”-wise–what I ate, massage, SELF-care–as well as my daily Dance practice that SAVED my life & let me GET WELL AGAIN despite the MD’s prognoses and all the odds! Still DANCE daily. An intergral part of Zeeva’s Art of Wellness For my fitness, the Health & Wellness of my Body-Mind & Spirit–and the pure JOY of it!

    ZwhocanSEE wrote on April 29th, 2010

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