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23/02/2020 The magazine by Communication Science students of the UvA

Just dance! Social interaction and communication inside a nightclub

When the beat drops and strobes lights start flashing through the dark, the way people dance functions as a primitive but universal language. It brings people from all places together through an intense form of communication. Gabby explains why dancing can function as a communicative medium and how this works.


Kingsland, Lowland, Into the Woods, or Soenda… You might have heard, been or are planning on going to any of these festivals, let alone the other electronic dance music events you may go to on a more regular basis. In rooms filled with loud music and strobes lights flashing speedily, while thousands of sweaty bodies move rhythmically, the way party-goers communicate through dance and music is truly particular.

At a dance party, interaction happens without using any spoken words. No matter your language or background, the world of partying give way to a very particular form of communication. Through dance, the way humans communicate on an everyday basis is brought down to a primitive form of communication, not verbally translatable, and transcending social boundaries. So what makes electronic music such a particular communicative medium? Why do we party and how do we communicate through dance?

you can literally feel the music

Dancing as a universal language
One of the main motivations to party is indeed opportunities for socialisation. Dancing is an integral part of a network of social event, but dance is also a part of a system of knowledge and belief, social behaviour and aesthetic norms and values. Of course, music plays the most important role into this process. Music is the connecting link between people and their movements, by being both universal and communicative. A silent disco seen from the outside is a particularly weird thing to witness as dancing can rarely be dissociated from music.

Sounds and music already act as an international language in themselves: a beat is a beat and it is felt the same way by every body, literally. Indeed, studies  have proven that above a certain volume, music is absorbed not only through our ears but through the entire musculoskeletal system (our muscles and bones), so yes, you can literally feel the music.

Physiological euphoria and dance orgasms
The particular power of electronic dance music lies in its ecstatic function, which takes the dancer out of himself, away from everyday life and transports him into a virtual world of time and space. This happens at a much deeper physiological place than most think: while dancing, and especially when exposed to repetitive beats and loops, the brain releases the hormone oxytocin — the same hormone that plunges our bodies in an ecstatic state after orgasm. That explains the euphoria and state of trance that one might feel from dancing.

So kids, don’t do drugs, go dance instead!

Is this why it feels easy to connect with friends or even strangers at parties? It would appear so. This state of euphoria is usually more associated with the use of alcohol and recreational drugs, and – let’s be honest – it does play a role since alcohol reduces inhibitions. But the way our body reacts to music and dance in a crowd can truly make an individual “high on dancing”. So kids, don’t do drugs, go dance instead!

One music, one rhythm, one group
Added to this physiological effect, the universality of music has the capacity to bring people and groups together, through a mode of communication that is both expressive and emotionally intense, while offering new codes for communication. Dancing lacks a traditional semantic meaning and therefore scales down the possibilities of miscommunication between groups. Overall, it is this sense of group that makes parties a place for enhanced interpersonal and intergroup communication. Already by being in the same club, and listening to the same kind of music, party-goers can feel a sense of belonging. A sensation enhanced through dancing, as the rhythmic and the movements of the dancers are both very similar between people but also free to be adapted to each person’s individuality. This creates a sense of socio-cultural community within a crowd of connected people, but also leave space for everybody to demonstrate their uniqueness. The experience can be incredibly liberating as much physically than mentally.

To sum this up, dancing is primarily a non-verbal medium of communication which establishes contact between humans. Dancing also has a unifying power which lies in the shared dance language. The sense of community enhances interpersonal and intergroup communication while the gesture stemming from one soul’s are able express itself in an energy force beyond words. So next time you are going to a party, remember that you are connecting with hundreds of people, getting high without drugs and relaxing both your body and your mind. Cool, right?

Cover: Unsplash / Sarthak Navjivan

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