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Dance (written July 27, 2009)

 

I have been reading Dacher Keltner's Born to be Good, on our hard-wiring for pro-social emotions and behaviors, and in the chapter on Love, I have found another important clue to community-building: dance.

 

In his chapter on Love, Dacher describes four important, different kinds of love:

  • Parent-child
  • Sexual desire
  • Romantic Love (pair-bonding, typically in a pattern of serial monogamy), and
  • Love for non-kin: humanity, all beings, all-that-is

 

He references Barbara Ehrenreich's Dancing in the Streets, in which she "details humans' irrepressible tendency to dance, to move in rhythm toward collective joy and a love of one another."

 

To continue: "Our conceptual mistake, Ehrenreich observes, and it is a common one, is to assume that dance is sexual. ... Instead, dance creates a love for fellow group members; it coordinates evolved patterns of touch, chant, smiling, laughing, and head shakes to spread collective joy in the sweat and delirium of collective movement. Dance is the most reliable and quickest route to a mysterious feeling that has gone by many names over the generations: sympathy, agape, ecstasy, jen; here I'll call it trust. ..."

 

Dacher hypothesizes on very good grounds that the neural correlates of the love of fellow group members that arises after a great bout of dancing, are greatly increased oxytocin levels. Paul Zak has shown that "oxytocin is the biological underpinning of trust".

 

The kind of love he is describing as trust is love toward non-kin, love of humanity -- and beyond that, love of all beings.

 

Empirical studies are finding that the health of communities depends upon trust and the love of humanity.

 

"In the small groups in which we evolved, there were few walls that separated kin from non-kin. All were likely engaged in the sharing of caretaking behavior, cooperation in gathering resources, defense against predation. Our success at these tasks hinged critically upon a sense of trust in others, on the emergence of a love of humanity. Evolution responded with a deeply rooted set of behaviors related to love and trust -- feelings of devotion, the urge to sacrifice, a sense of the beauty and goodness of others, affectionate touch, oxytocin, activation in the reward circuitry of the brain, the shutting down of the threat circuitry of the brain (the amygdala), mutual smiles and head tilts, open-handed gestures and posture, a soft, affectionate tone in the voice. These in their earliest forms were most evident in the early attachment dynamics of parent and child and in the quiet, isolated moments of intimacy between reproductive partners. These patterns of behavior were readily spread to non-kin, in rituals like dance and feast, serving as the basis for friendships. Passing a young, bundled-up baby from mother to friend, in a common exchange of caretaking, might bring about shared coos, smiles, and cradling of the child and so much more -- a sense of community."

 

 

So, to our efforts at community-building at Haven, which so far include raising food together, let us add communal dance, ritual, and feasting.

 

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