Good Rhythms and the Origins of Dance

Idea: A good rhythm is one that gets you moving (from the waist up or down).

From the Waist Down

Just as songs are a development and exploration of talking, dancing — from the waist down — is a development and exploration of walking.

A good rhythm is one that gets you dancing — even if the closest you get to dancing is the urge to walk.
Listen to the normal rock beat (a.k.a., the “back beat”). Notice how it walks.

One foot lands with the kick, the other lands with the snare. It’s even more obvious if you subtract all the hihat hits that coincide with the kick or snare, and leave only the hihat hits in between. Listen:

Don’t believe me? Here’s a song where that very beat is used (on the verses). Notice the walking/dancing:

Not all songs use a rock beat, of course. But the insistence on movement is common to all good rhythms. For example, M.I.A. frequently uses a much more Eastern rhythm (though notice how this song eventually adds a second drum, and — with that second drum — a rock feel).

And even the rock beat can be improved upon. Listen to the way this song lets the rock beat fall apart in a way that actually makes the groove cooler. (On this concept, see Groove, by Tiger Roholt).

That’s one of my favorite recent songs. And something similar happens in this one, with the way the horns fall behind the beat on the choruses. (Again, see Groove, by Tiger Roholt.)

From the Waist Up

Now, I can’t dance (this is a cultural problem — most “white” cultures have ceased to encourage dance for some reason) but I can walk. And anyone who can walk can move.

And even people who can’t walk can still move. Not all dancing is Irish, after all. In addition to being an exploration and development of walking from the waist down, dance is an exploration and development of the gestural aspect of talking from the waist up.

And then, of course, there’s the headbanging thing we rockers do. It’s an exploration and development of the “signaling assent by bowing or nodding” aspect of conversation.

So, there you have it. Good rhythms are the ones that get you dancing by giving you to urge to explore and develop the movements involved in walking and talking.

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Featured image by Andre Hunter.

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