Collective Effervescence through Dance

Richard (aka “The Husband”) spends hours on the internets looking for interesting articles about the many MANY interests he has: nuclear energy, US politics, Cats that Look Like Hitler (yes, this is real), India news services, and movement studies. Today he found this:

From the video: “Collective effervescence is a flow–a sense that the group is melding together as a whole…”  I’ve been interested in the concept of synchrony for a few years, partly because I was once asked to help devise a study about how dancers synchronize in comparison to how robots synchronize (many observations on this ensued but the research never happened) and partly from watching dancers synchronize temporally, spatially, and expressively, or not.

When and why do people come together in these ways? Following the published research by the woman the video cites, Dr. Bronwyn Tarr, I found a paper with this quote: “Here, we propose that synchrony might act as direct means to encourage group cohesion by causing the release of neurohormones that influence social bonding.” (Synchrony as an Adaptive Mechanism for Large-Scale Human Social Bonding by Jacques Launay, Bronwyn Tarr & Robin I. M. Dunbar, International Journal of Behavioural Biology, doi: 10.1111/eth.12528 ).

The details of what neurobiology aspects are most responsible for social bonding are dizzying (endorphins, oxytocin, vasopressin, dopamine, seratonin, endocannabinoids, the endogenous opioid system (EOS), and probably more) but the implications of the ways social bonding happens are important.  Studies have shown that laughter is an important and useful way to raise pain thresholds but most significantly, when laughing together with others, the effects are better.

Even simply marching together in time offers a sense of belonging and well-being:

“Marching aimlessly about on the drill field, swaggering in conformity with prescribed military postures, conscious only of keeping in step so as to make the next move correctly and in time somehow felt good. Words are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in collective ritual.” (p.2) William McNeill Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History

In many communities, urban, suburban, and rural, social isolation is both rampant and hidden, and a sense of emotional and physical pain and discomfort easily takes over.  Isolation can easily lead to depression, concerns about aches and general health, anomie, etc. in a feedback loop that can result in serious drug and alcohol abuse and a rapid decline.

One way that social service agencies have dealt with isolation is through a visiting nurse or social worker schedule, but individual visits are not enough, if the research cited above is to be understood. In the Launay article, the authors point out that the connections are “likely to be felt towards the group as a whole rather than experienced as individual social relationships.”  Connection to a group or a community, sharing rhythm, activating movement, expressing together, and attuning to the whole is critical, it appears, and has a more significant impact on mental and physical health than check-ins.

Plus who would turn down an opportunity to experience collective effervescence?  Get out there and dance!  (We just did, on New Year’s Eve! It was awesome!)


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