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. dancing relieves so much stress!

    Usman wrote on April 29th, 2010
  2. Dancing is my passion and always has been! I do it because I love it, and the fact that it is great exercise is a plus! It is fun. I believe some people are born with natural rhythm, but everyone can learn to dance. I’m 38 yrs. old and take jazz dance classes at the local community college. They have amazing instructors, teach sound technique and it is an excellent stress reducer for me. It’s my “me time”. Even though I’m 20 yrs. older than most of the kids in the class, I don’t really care. Try dance. If you’ve never tried it, you will learn something new and broaden your horizon. If you used to dance as a child, why not look into taking adult classes at the local parks and rec, community college or dance studio. (Although I find that dance studios don’t generally offer much in the way of adult classes.)

    Tracey wrote on April 29th, 2010
  3. I love this post! And I believe in dance as a spontaneous, freeing form of exercise. So much so that I started my own weekly dance session called Dance It Off! Here’s my website. If you live in Chicago, please come check it out – it’s a blast.

    dana joy wrote on May 1st, 2010
  4. bellydance! it’s the best!

    I loooove swing dancing with my hubby. I’m sending this to him, hopefully it will help get him up & dancing with me more! 😀

    Ely wrote on May 7th, 2010
  5. Everybody can dance. Just because you can’t dance *well* doesn’t mean you can’t dance. And anything worth doing is worth doing badly. (Unless you’re getting paid, and then you have a responsibility to do it well. Other than that? Who gives a damn?)

    If you ask any class of kindergartners “Who here can dance?” “Who here can sing?” “Who here can draw?” every hand in the class will go up. Of course we can dance! Of course we can sing! Of course we can draw!

    But somewhere on the path to middle school they learn all the things they “can’t” do. It’s sad.

    You can dance, you can sing (great for your wind, totally primal), you can draw, you can do all sorts of things. Just because you don’t do them well enough to make ’em your profession doesn’t mean you can’t do them.

    Just have fun, and when you’re afraid someone might be laughing, laugh at them for being so constricted.

    Dana Carpender wrote on May 27th, 2010
  6. I danced my way through the “Disco” years & thoroughly enjoyed it! worked-up a great sweat too! Glad you posted this Mark, it gives me a great excuse to have fun like I did in the mid 70’s!

    DavidB wrote on June 2nd, 2010
  7. Dance has always inspired me. I’m a student of “belly dance”.
    I feel most free when I dance.
    Great blog.

    Eve wrote on October 14th, 2010
  8. I have always loved to dance. I hear a beat, and my body starts moving to the rythmn. I just can’t help it. I taught group fitness classes for years, and the music motivated me. There were definitely instructors who did not “feel” the beat, and they had to work harder to be able to stay “on” the beat. I am one of the lucky ones where my body naturally feels the beat, and wants to move. So, at 46yo, I go out with my girlfriends to dance, I dance in the car, I dance in the house while I am cleaning or cooking, I have dance parties at my house, complete with DJ’s, I dance at any and all events that have dancing. When I dance, I feel free and feel like I am doing what comes so naturally for me. There was a time when I tried to inhibit myself because it was not “appropriate” to behave that way as a wife and a mother. Now, in my 40’s, I allow myself to enjoy the expression of my body to the beat of the music, and I feel like that has helped me be a sexier wife for my husband of 22 years.

    Michelle wrote on December 27th, 2010
  9. I was about to come clean about how I really don’t dance too often unless I have had some beers or whatever, but then I realized that I do dance, I dance hard. Two words: mosh pit. If you’re ever looking for a good work out get into the circle pit at a thrash metal show. There’s something so primal to running around in a circle while roaring along with a killer band, what a rush!

    Mark, I stumbled on to your blog and have found it to be very inspirational, you can count me as frequent visitor.

    Phresh wrote on February 9th, 2011
  10. I love dancing more than anything else… I guess I am somehow trying to get back to my primal roots by dancing in the great outdoors (it’s just not the same in a dark club), but there’s something about going to an outdoor party or festival in the trees, by the ocean, with a bunch of crazy humans and dancing my face off… this is when I definitely, with out a doubt, feel the most alive!

    Tracy wrote on February 24th, 2011
  11. I am far from what you call coordinated, and I’ve never been a dancer, but I swallowed my pride and joined a Christian/Messianic dance troupe. We do a lot of Israeli folk dance which KICKS your hiney. If you can grapevine/maiam, you can dance:), trust me.

    Jenny wrote on March 7th, 2011
  12. I teach Blues and Swing dance and have enjoyed watching people progress from awkward and uncertain about how to move their limbs, to confident, smooth and rhythmic.

    Dance is a wonderful thing for your mind, body, heat and your social life! Thank for promoting this wonderful activity Mark!

    Ruby wrote on April 5th, 2011
  13. My husband and I started ballroom dancing lessons about five years ago! Yikes…we then found friends who also took lessons and we would practice together. In no time we were having a GREAT time, but it takes alot of patience, persistence, and motivation to become confident. It is NOT something you are born being able to do. My philosophy is, if you can walk, you can dance. We have branched out to other dances which we actually like better, like Hustle, Nightclub two-step, Country two-step, Country Waltz etc. We dance once or twice a week with lessons and once or twice a week with friends…it has been great for our marriage and great for me, because it is the only physical activity that I enjoy!!!! Who knew it would come into my life in my fifties. I had been exposed to ballroom as a child and took some modern dance as an adult but what we are doing now beats it all and I will do it until I can’t walk! Which hopefully will never occur! Sorry this is a year late on your dance blog, but I’m just discovering PB and your emails…Great timing for me!

    Kyle Hausrath wrote on April 11th, 2011
  14. To say that anyone can dance is absolutely wrong. Sure anyone can get up and make movements to the beat of the music, but moving does not equal dancing. I am 54 years old and this has been a frustrating issue all my life. I have tried may lessons in various style by different instructors, and I cannot get beyond 2 or 3 steps without getting completely lost. Sure the instructors are happy to continue to take my $ and let me step on their feet, but there comes a point where you just have to cut your losses and accept reality.

    I would love to be able to dance. It would have saved me much embarrassment over the years. I write this because by this article you propagate the myth that anyone can dance and encourage the rude behavior of people that try to pressure you to dance in social situations and act offended when you politely refuse. I can accept the fact that I do not possess this particular ability. We ARE NOT all capable of everything and we should be accepting of everyone according to their abilities or lack thereof.

    Please do not encourage this attitude towards those of us who seem to have no natural talent for moving our bodies in coordination with music. It is at the least rude if not mean spirited.

    Ray wrote on April 18th, 2011
    • Gee whiz, cat…how can you take a post encouraging people to do something as fun (and good exercise besides) as dancing and turn it into such a diatribe and accusation of mean-spiritedness as you just did? I got news for you, brudda, you CAN dance. Maybe not well, maybe not in time with the music, but you CAN dance. People get so wrapped up in thinking they have to do something as close to perfectly as possible that they don’t allow themselves to experience the sheer joy of doing something half-assed because it’s fun. Nobody’s keeping score and you don’t get voted off the show if you aren’t as good as anyone else at it. Some of the “best” dancers I’ve ever seen aren’t all that “good” but are having a blast because they don’t care about doing it “right.”

      Now if you don’t want to dance, that’s your perfect right. But surely you have interests that you’ve invited people to participate in and they haven’t cared to. It’s not being mean spirited to invite folks to do something you like…you just want to give them a chance to share in something you like.

      manny wrote on April 18th, 2011
      • You do not have to dance in time with a partner to be able to dance. I used to be “able” to dance before I had three children. Since then I have two left feet. But that does not stop me from putting the music on at home and dancing with my two left feet on my own when nobody else is watching. Dancing is fun and it is good exercise. It lifts the spirits. I don’t care that I am no longer any “good at dancing”, I still dance anyway. If you really want to dance, and it sounds like you do, then dance on your own, in your home, with your favourite music. It does not matter what you look like and you won’t step on anyone’ toes. I also met a group once that used to do what they called traditional American Indian totem animal dancing, where you danced like your totem animal. I never joined but I watched them and they were having a great time. None of them were necessarily dancing in time to the music, there were no special dance moves, they just made it up as they went along. But they were all having a GREAT TIME!!!!

        Kitty wrote on April 18th, 2011
  15. Great post! Even if you’re not that Asian guy on Glee, you should take every opportunity to dance. In his novel Refiner’s Fire, Mark Helprin writes about how the the early settlers of modern Israel were always dancing because “dancing, like nothing else, says I am still alive.”

    tglahn17 wrote on April 26th, 2011
  16. Someone posted this earlier but I just want to share it again in case someone hasn’t seen it:
    I seem to watch it every month or two and every time it brings me to tears (I’m not usually much of a teary person). It is beautiful and is amazing how his jig started as a joke because he ‘couldn’t dance’ and evolved into a video that’s been viewed over 36 million times–and I highly doubt anyone watching would make fun of him! Like Mark said above, it’s definitely envy people have while watching him dance.
    ANYONE can dance….especially alone around your house!

    Charlie wrote on April 26th, 2011
  17. I’ve been belly dancing for five and a half years and wouldn’t give it up for anything! It’s incredible exercise, it’s great for making friends, and it turns uncoordinated gals like me into strong and elegant dancers. I think all women should try it, and interested men too! :)

    liz wrote on June 7th, 2011
  18. Dancing is my favoutrite movement practice – besides martial arts and everything with flow quality.
    I love swing dancing. In 2012 I will start hip hop and parkour. Somewhat the natural progression/next step IMO. :-)

    Swing Kids:
    Geek Swing at Stanford.

    Richard Powers (Stanford Dance Department)

    Andrea wrote on December 27th, 2011
  19. Primal POLE! I’ve been doing vertical fitness (some call it pole dance?) for about a year now, and I think it’s the perfect Primal Workout. Short bursts of energy, heavy lifting, and an amazing high afterwards. I think Grok would approve. :)

    Primal Feline wrote on July 15th, 2012
  20. a good dancer is someone who has fun while they’re dancing. it doesn’t matter what it looks like to others. it’s what it feels like to you. go for it. dancing can rock your world. it does mine:)

    sandra wrote on July 29th, 2012
  21. Ohh cool! I was reading your newest article and commented on how I use dance as adult play and then found this post. Fantastic musings. So excited to see adult play being broadcasted!

    Jenna Bonnichsen (JBonn) wrote on July 25th, 2013
  22. Cool post! As a Psychotherapist, one thing I notice in my counselling practice is that people with anxiety, more specifically social anxiety are inhibited to do the things that draws attention to them. Whether it’s walking through a mall, socializing at a party, dancing…

    however, we are human! Which means, we are social creatures. Some times we have to do the things that make us uncomfortable, and leave the feeling of being judged at the door.

    For many of my clients, suggesting a dance like, Nia, which is a sensory based movement, helps loosen the restrictiveness that anxiety brings, and heck, many clients have loved it!

    So, get out there and dance!

    Ashley Kreze wrote on February 3rd, 2015
  23. I wonder, 3 hours of dancing a week could take care of the Primal recommended low level aerobic weekly activity?

    Silvestre Navarro wrote on September 24th, 2015

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