“The Dancer Gene”

This isn’t new science, but I just read about it. The original article was published in 2005.

Some geneticists did a study comparing dancers to athletes and nondancers/nonathletes to see if there was any specific genetic activity more prevalent in dancers than in the other groups. They found two. The ultimate understanding of their research is that there is a dancer phenotype, which “clearly demonstrates qualities that are not necessarily lacking but are not expressed as strongly in other people: a heightened sense of communication, often of a symbolic and ceremonial nature, and a strong spiritual personality trait.”

For one thing, given my experience with dancers, I totally buy this. The dancers I have known have been, on the whole, extremely more spiritual than the other groups I have known (aside from, of course, my social contacts in spiritual settings). But I have found dancers more likely to be spiritual, and more likely to say things like that they do not find reason to be the ultimate arbiter of truth.

On the other hand, this research leaves me with a few questions.

1. Where does that leave my twin sister? We’re identical, so presumably we have identical genes. So why am I both a dancer and very spiritual while she is neither?

I saw a documentary once, and posted about it that talked about how the latest genetic research shows that inheritance does not necessarily explain everything about genes. Some genes can be “turned off” or “turned on” by specific experiences. So my guess is that somehow my dance training “turned on” my dancey genes. And I also happen to think that my dancy genes turned on my spirituality. The study shows that the genes associated with dancing are also associated with a higher level of spirituality, which makes sense, given how closely related dance has been to religion for all of human history–the study authors suggest that the relationship has been there since the earliest exodus from Africa.

I have often said before that my dancing really took off at the same time I became quite religious. And I don’t think it was an accident that they were at the same time. Perhaps this was the point in time when that gene was “turned on”?

2. The original study keeps talking about how dance has always been related to music, and discusses how dancers have a better relationship to and understanding of music than the other two groups studied. I really wish that this study also compared dancers to musicians.

Musicians also tend to be quite spiritual in my experience, and I really feel that musicians and dancers have a lot more in common in terms of goals and ideas than dancers and athletes. I know that the study authors were trying to find out if dancers are different from athletes because both groups are highly in tune with their bodies. But there is something just so different about the point of athletes and dance. Dance is expressive, while athletics is competitive. I understand why they chose athletes, but I would very much like to see a similar study comparing dancers and musicians.

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