Music and Movement

Have you seen any of those “Difference-between-your-first-and-second-child” humor posts? Stuff like, your first child gets his own nursery, complete with matching bedding and hangers, while your third child sleeps in a crib underneath his sister’s poster of Ariana Grande.

I’ve been living it this week. My youngest girl has been observing her big sister work on some choreography for a homework assignment, and has now taken to asking her father, the moment he gets home from work, to, “Watch my dance, Dad!” Of course, it’s entirely typical for a 6 year-old to create a dance for her parents. But instead of dancing to Laurie Berkner, or Dan Zanes, like her older siblings, she moves to Shakira and Ellie Goulding.

But move, she does.  Just like her brother and sister before her.  And me before them (to the likes of Michael Jackson), and I’m sure my mom before me.

Dr. Daniel Levitin (I wrote about him in my last blog post, he’s a neuroscientist and musician), in the documentary The Musical Brain, performed some MRI studies on Sting, in order to understand exactly what parts of the brain fire in different musical contexts. In one of the studies, he asks Sting to simply imagine a song playing in his head. What Dr. Levitin noticed was that, despite not hearing anything musical, his body “begins to groove to the rhythms of Miles Davis.” (The Musical Brain, Christina Pochmursky, Matter of Fact Media, 2009, documentary film).

He comments: “The part of his brain that would be moving his body was very, very active, even though he was lying perfectly still. That points to an ancient, evolutionary link between music and movement and dance. . .”

According to the documentary, when we hear music, “the deepest parts of (our) brain(s), are ordering (us) to move.”


The evolution of dance goes far beyond Elvis. Egyptian paintings, dating from 1400 B.C., depict dancing, and history gives us many examples of dancing in Ancient Greece (remember Dionysus from your Greek mythology classes?) as well as in other, non-Western, tribal groups, the traditions of which many cultures continue to preserve.


Historically, there hasn’t been a distinction between music and dance, a division which we sometimes make today (like I am at this very moment, listening to the theme song of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, moving only my fingers at the keyboard, and not to any remarkable beat).  As Dr. Levitin states, “Music is movement, for most of the world’s peoples and throughout most of history.”

This is not particularly news. I mean, this video went viral ages ago.


But I am fascinated by the idea that the connection between movement and music it isn’t just cultural, nor is it simply a learned behavior. It has deep, neurological roots that serve to ensure our survival and teach us the experience of human emotion. When we’re in Kindermusik with our little our, we aren’t just having fun lifting them up in the air, we’re teaching them to feel joy. We’re engaging our primal, evolutionary instincts to create a tribe and deepen connections through music and movement

And, of course, it’s a blast for us, too!

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