Dec 12, 2007

Chapter 6

Dancing in Africa, 50,000 year ago
Before language, before mud huts, before agriculture, we danced.

How Jimi Hendrix defeated the sabre-tooth tigers

Seen any sabre-tooth tigers recently? No? I didn’t think so. Jimi Hendrix scared them away.

We used to be cat food. The caves of the tigers are littered with human bones, chewed on by the big cats. For thousands of years, we were easy pickings. A sabre-tooth tiger would wake up, stretch, look around, and then grab one of your children to drag away and eat. And as soon as the tiger was hungry again, it would be back.

This was before we had language, before we had names for each other, before we knew how to build shelter, before we planted seeds to grow crops. Predators found us to be an excellent food supply, tender and juicy, and we did not have weapons or fangs or claws or exceptional speed or exceptional strength to defend ourselves.

We were cat food

And then somehow, some of us began to observe the patterns of behaviour of our predators. We were good at perceiving and comparing and finding the patterns. And some of us developed a strategy, and soon whole groups of people learned to bang sticks together, then bang on drums, then chant and yell and scream, and as a group, hop forward and stamp our feet to the beat of the drums, and then hop around in circles chanting, banging drums, stomping our feet, moving forward in a line, yelling, hopping backwards in a line…

And the sabre-tooth tigers said, “To hell with this.” And our species survived and the sabre-tooth tiger became extinct.

Because we danced. And chanted and banged the drums. Our species survived and prospered because of art.

And our brains remember that. Our DNA remembers that. The circuits in our brains, and from our brains to our muscles, that handle music and rhythm and dance are solid and re-enforced, ancient and well-protected. Those are the circuits that allow Parkinson’s patients to dance. We need some re-wiring so they can also be used to walk.

Art, music, dance. They are not luxuries, or unimportant frills. They are an essential part of what it is to be human, part of our genetic code.

We had art and music and dance before we had language and villages and agriculture. Playing drums to survive came 20,000 years before agriculture. So our DNA rates music as Number One With A Bullet. Music preceded civilization and allowed us to survive to be able to start a civilization. Our brains remember that. Our brains remember how we stopped the sabre-tooth tigers from eating our children. Our brains found that to be very impressive. So our brains give top level service and protection for music and dance. MRI scans confirm that music and dance light up the brain like nothing else.

The drawings on the caves in France are 35,000 years old. In Africa and Australia there are artworks that are 50,000 years old. There are reports of some artwork that may be 75,000 or 100,000 years old. Whereas, the idea that plants come from seeds, the idea of agriculture, is only 12,000 years old. Dance and music may in fact be as old as walking and running, which date back 2 to 5 million years. (Ward, 2002; Bramble and Lieberman, 2004).

We recognize the drums right away, we want to stomp our feet to the beat, we want to dance together, we want to chant and sing from our hearts, we want to drive away the beast and dance with joy and a lust for life.

It would have all been done faster if we could have sent Jimi Hendrix back in time to play a guitar solo. That would have scared the tigers away a lot faster.

The same brain circuits can be called into action to kill another beast: Parkinson’s. We should do it. We owe it to John Lee Hooker. He knew what he was talking about.

Woman dancing
50,000 years ago. Bradshaw African Collection

Above: Cave painting, France, 20,000 years before agriculture
Below: art from 25,000 to 50,000 years ago.

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