Why We Dance

Studies have shown that people tend to connect body motion with sound, especially when experiencing music. But why do we clap our hands, tap our toes, gyrate or “dance” with the music?

There is a so-called “motor theory of perception” that claims these similarity relationships are deeply rooted in human cognition. According to the theory, in order to “perceive” something, we must actively simulate the motion associated with the sounds.

So, when we listen to music, we mentally simulate the body movements that would produce the sound. In other words, experiencing a sound creates both a mental and physical “image” of the music through motion.

In its more “regulated” form we call it “dance”, but just tapping you toes or “grooving” with the music are just less regulated reactions to what we hear. 

Although links between musical sound and motion are obvious, some researchers, being researchers argue that a more “systematic knowledge” of them is required. To this end, they have created methods such as “sound-tracing” experiments to explore the specific gestures people make when hearing particular musical sounds.

Participants were played three-second sounds that varied in pitch and other musical “qualities”. and were asked to physically “express” the sounds they heard. Using motion capture technology those movements were “captured”. The results indicated an fair amount of similarity among the participants’ gestures, with the pitch of the sound, with rhythm and “texture” of the sounds affecting the responses the most and were strongly related to movement. Not surprisingly what “sounds” were played affected the reactions of the listeners. But we seem to know that already. Music affects others differently, which is why we have so many forms of music and so many different listeners.

Like it or not, music is an “art” everyone can create, and use.