All The Single Babies! Baby Beyonces Beg the Question: How Does Dance Develop?

You may have noticed a recent meme on YouTube: babies dancing to Beyonce‘s hit song “Single Ladies.”

Here’s a couple examples:

(1) Baby Cory (ostensibly the original video that started the meme),

(2) and Baby Ava, who really knows how to cut a rug:

What this got me thinking about is how we learn to dance. Specifically, I’m wondering about the psychology underlying the development of dance and rhythm. I mean, did you see Baby Ava gettin’ her groove on? How can someone so young have such incredible moves? One can’t help but think that something about dance is built into us – or that dance evolved from a group of skills and abilities innate to us as humans. With regard to difference in ability, perhaps some individuals have an inherently higher kinetic intelligence; perhaps some individuals – like Beyonce – are naturally very good dancers. Of course, as with every talent, the time spent practicing is just as important as any natural ability (if not more s0) – but I’m pretty sure Cory and Ava haven’t made it to Julliard yet!

This is all too speculative, though. We need something more empirical. To the research journals!

One of the first studies I came across is not just fascinating, it has an amazing Web site too. (You got to love research scientists that know how to take full advantage of the Internet). The 2008 study, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, comes from István Winkler and his colleagues in Hungary, Budapest and Amsterdam. Its findings are, essentially, as follows: as demonstrated by measuring electrical activity in the brain, infants not only have the ability to learn and follow a rhythm – they know exactly when a beat is missing; every time a beat was absent from a familiar tune, the babies’ brains produced an electrical response indicating their recognition of the unexpected event.

This study suggests infants do in fact have some innate sense of rhythm. And if newborns come into the world eager for beats, then babies bouncing to Beyonce are just doing what comes naturally. Maybe Cory and Ava don’t quite have the polished style – or quite the same level of motor control – as their favorite musical artist, but their 15 minutes of YouTube fame are definitely testament to the incredible human desire and talent for dance.

Others are studying the psychology of dance, I found, like researchers at the University of Birmingham – who held an entire symposium on the subject in May of this year – and Peter Lovatt at the University of Hertfordshire, who is looking into which kinds of dance moves women prefer in men. Smaller, more controlled moves are far preferred to large, chaotic, random motions.

I personally love psychology research that takes on something as universal, something as elemental to human culture, as dance. So often it seems psychology is reduced to a list of disorders and the quest to find the right combination of drugs and therapy to combat them; in the eyes of Hollywood and TV – in the eyes of the public – psychiatrists and psychologists are often perceived as clueless, pretentious and completely useless when it comes to actually helping anyone; psychology is often picked on as one of the “softest” sciences, as more philosophy and mumbo jumbo than actual data and empirical truth.

But psychology isn’t just about understanding what goes wrong with the mind; psychology is about Understanding the Mind. Psychology is – like our sense of rhythm – innate to us; we are all natural born psychologists, curious about human nature and behavior, about what’s going on inside that head of ours and what’s going on in other people’s minds. And all the shortcomings psychology faces as a “true science” are due to an especially intriguing fact: psychology is the only science in which the primary object of study and the primary tool to study that object are one and the same. After all, psychology is the attempt to study the human mind using the human mind. So, yeah, difficulties are going to arise, which makes psychology’s successes all the more amazing.


3 responses to “All The Single Babies! Baby Beyonces Beg the Question: How Does Dance Develop?

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