In African American culture, we are known for our dancing. We know this. We nae-nae and whip, and the whole world absorbs it as pop culture. But there is a deeper magic to behold in our dancing.
In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Pan African Studies, psychologists Nicole Monteiro, Ph.D., and Diana J. Wall, Psy.D., explain how dance has been used as an individual and community healing tool throughout the African diaspora. In Senegal, some communities have long practiced a therapeutic ritual of dance known as Ndeup. Drums, rhythmic movement, and songs are used to encourage a sick member of the community to enter a healing trance in a ceremony that lasts from four to 10 days.
“Dance is a physical behavior that embodies many curative properties that are released through movement, rhythms, self-expression, communion, as well as the mechanisms of cathartic release. These properties allow individuals to shift emotional states, oftentimes creating an experience of wholeness,” Monteiro and Wall write. “The rapid motion in dance is stated to be especially intoxicating, oftentimes leading to alterations in states of consciousness while facilitating feelings of internal bliss and elation.”
We continue this heritage every single time we dance. When we fast-forward to hip-hop’s break-dancing and krumping, we see how the Black community channels their pain into the dance. And as Monteiro and Wall point out, many dancers in hip-hop culture have never been formally taught these movements in school or classes. Instead, they often describe it as something that’s seemingly “been implanted in them from birth.”
“Descendants of the African diaspora have carried with them deeply rooted cultural inclinations and unconscious memory of their ancestral traditions,” the psychologists write. “Many urban, marginalized, or otherwise disenfranchised youth have instinctively and consciously tapped into the artistic healing and movement traditions of the diaspora. Dance forms such as hip-hop, break-dancing, pop-locking, and krumping have acted as vessels of intergenerational cultural transmission, as well as modes of community and individual healing.”
How powerful is it that we have an unconscious connection to the movement in our bodies?
When we dance, the synergy of who we are becomes alive. When we dance, we release. When we move our bodies, it can create joy. When we’re hearing the bass in a jazz run or even the beats in R&B, remember the magic it’s releasing in your body. We are not alone, and the force of us is strong. We repeat this magic when we chant our “ayes” after snaps in dance circles at clubs. We do this when we start our chants to hype each other up.