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!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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