The science of dance: “At the disco we synchronize like a flock of starlings” | Health & Wellness | EUROtoday

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Many songs have been written about dancing shut collectively, dancing alone, tight, dancing as if nobody was watching… The subject has been analyzed from a poetic perspective, however not a lot from a scientific perspective. Until now. A research has analyzed interpersonal synchrony in human dancing. At the disco we synchronize like a flock of starlings or a college of fish. Partly as a result of we take heed to the identical music, which works as a metronome and units the tempo; however there may be additionally a social element. The dance is imitated, the dance sticks like a virus, it spreads and spreads all through the dance flooring. “It's something we all know,” explains Giacomo Novembre, neuroscientist and director of The Neuroscience of Perception and Action Laboratory (NPA Lab), chargeable for the research. “But we don't perceive why it occurs, how this synchronization course of works at an nearly unconscious degree. That's what we needed to search out out.”

To do so, the team converted one of their laboratories in Rome into a dance floor. They put colored paper on the cold LEDs, to give it a disco atmosphere, they invited 70 people and gave them headphones. On the playlist, groundbreaking songs by Rihanna, Dua Lipa, Whitney Houston, Gala and Michael Jackson. “Some people danced as if it were Friday night, they were crazy,” explains Felix Thomas Bigand, Novembre's colleague at the NPA Lab and lead author of the study, with amusement. A camera recorded the dancers' movements in four possible combinations: one in which the dancer sees others and hears the same music; another situation in which he does not see his partner, but does hear the same music as him; a third in which he does see him, but does not hear the same song, and finally, a scenario in which he neither sees his partner nor hears the same music.

“With this we got a large database,” explains Bigand, “We used an algorithm to reduce complex dance movements to very simple ones. We saw that only 15 are enough to explain what happens on the track.” It was the skeleton of the dance, the rhythm fragmented, chopped up and reduced to its essence. “That's when we discovered that one cluster of movements synchronized with the music, and another cluster of movements synchronized with the partner. And these two processes did not overlap, which was something we did not expect. They are totally independent and do not interact.” Thus, moving sideways or turning your hands are dance steps that arise from imitation, while raising your hands or moving your head back and forth (as in a rock concert) are movements that arise from music.

Representation of the main movements recorded during the study
Representation of the main movements recorded during the study

There was only one type of movement that proved to have a hybrid nature, halfway between the social and the musical: the boat. The dancers start bouncing to the music, but when they see others doing it, they increase the energy with which they bounce, they increase the intensity. “It's like we have a built-in metronome,” says Novembre. “The boat makes social interactions very powerful, it is as if you were trying to find a common space.” This is something that does not happen with the rest of the movements, which remain stable in the presence of other dancers. The interesting thing is that this conclusion was reached without a prior premise, without a hypothesis to prove: it was the data that explained an intuitive result, of which there are many examples in everyday life.

The boats have a tribal component and serve to unite a group. And this is seen in collective dancing, in discos and concerts, but also in demonstrations, with chants that explain this gregarious idea such as “one boat, two boats.” [inserte aquí un nombre para la ocasión] “he who doesn't bounce.” Or at soccer games, where fans jump in unison to cheer on their team. “As a kid, I went to the stadium a lot to see Fiorentina,” remembers Novembre, “and we all synchronized singing and jumping at the same time. I am convinced that this behavior responds to this mechanism. Just like pogo at concerts.”

Sascha Frühholz, professor at the Neuroscience Unit at the University of Zurich, has been studying how emotion is transmitted through sound for years. And he praises the present study because it confirms with data what was suspected with ideas. ”More and more studies point to the notion that interpersonal synchrony is essential for human behavior and important for social interaction in various contexts,” he explains. “And more interestingly, this interpersonal synchrony between humans usually occurs at an implicit level, so that humans are usually not aware that they are synchronizing their behavior.” This process, which occurs without the need for an external factor, is enhanced when common music is shared. As the musical psychologist Rosana Corbacho said, “When you see the audience dancing in a club to a DJ session, their heart rhythm is synchronized in some way. It is as if our neurons dance to the same rhythm.”

Synchronization of movements is by no means something exclusive to humans. We have ritualized it, in dances with specific rules and standardized steps. Even in military marches, but these only enhance something that was already there, in our genetic base: the need to synchronize, to imitate, to coordinate movements to feel part of the group. It is something that is seen in nature. Monkeys are not particularly good, but there are studies that analyze how they synchronize when walking. Insects do this especially effectively to organize life in the colony or hive. Fish and birds synchronize hypnotically to scare or mislead predators.

Damien R. Farine, a researcher at the University of Zurich, has been studying this delicate choreography in flocks of birds for years. “Timing means a lot of different things. For example, all birds may respond to a predator's stimulus and fly at the same time, but they are not likely to flap their wings at the same time. Flocks of starlings will maintain a large spatial structure, synchronizing their movements, but not the beating of their wings. Some vee-flying birds synchronize their wings to match the elevations generated by birds in front, but this is more of a response to the environment and airflow, rather than synchronization. for himself”.

The best cases of synchronization in birds, the expert points out, are mating rituals. “In some cases, like in great crested grebes or the clicking of beaks in albatrosses, they are like a dance, but with a fairly specific purpose.” That underlying purpose may also be present in human dancing, the author concedes. “It is likely that this initially led to the ritualization of the dance.” From the debutante balls, to the present nightclubs; from the game of attraction and repulsion of Mozart's operas to the twerking of Latin music. Dance has always been related to seduction and courtship. The study Music Dance and the Art of Seduction delves into this anthropological and cultural part of dance, but always starting from a biological basis, which is what this study analyzes.

“Interpersonal synchrony is a transversal concept,” summarizes Novembre. “In all societies studied so far, music and dance are used to connect, in many animal species it is used. “It's one thing common.” His study has shown it with data, but deep down it is something that everyone suspects because it is something that everyone is programmed to do. And that is easily verified in a nightclub or a concert. You may, in this context, think that this brand new dance show was born from motu proprio, but if you look around you're likely to see someone else doing it. And it will be difficult to prove who did it first, because this imitation works at a deep, subconscious level. It is engraved in our genes.

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