Why Do Humans Dance?

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Monday night's premiere of "Dancing with the Stars" has celebrities – among them Pamela Anderson, Buzz Aldrin and Kate Gosselin – showcasing their dance moves for the world and driving a point home for those sitting at home: For some people, dancing is a natural form of expression. For others with two left feet, dancing can be more of a spectacle.

The answer to why we dance – and even why some people are better dancers than others – can be found in evolution. A study published in the Public Library of Science’s genetics journal in 2006 suggested that long ago the ability to dance was actually connected to the ability to survive.

According to the study, dancing was a way for our prehistoric ancestors to bond and communicate, particularly during tough times. As a result, scientists believe that early humans who were coordinated and rhythmic could have had an evolutionary advantage.

The researchers examined the DNA of a group of dancers and non-dancers and found that the dancers shared two genes associated with a predisposition for being good social communicators. In addition, the dancers were found to have higher levels of serotonin, known to boost moods in humans and mice.

Early humans might have danced to attract a mate, as far back as 1.5 million years ago, according to Steven J. Mithen, an archaeologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

A more recent study suggests babies are born to dance, with the ability to bop to the beat as young as 5 months old. The scientists aren't sure why humans might have this innate ability. Of course, not everyone is born with as much ability as the best dancers. One difference: body symmetry. Dancers are more symmetrical, research has shown.

So, while dancing is no longer a factor in our everyday survival, this season's contestants on "Dancing with the Stars" will be dancing for their survival on the show. And which of the celebrities will earn bragging rights and the coveted disco ball trophy? Only time (and fan votes) will tell.

Denise Chow
Live Science Contributor

Denise Chow was the assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. Before joining the Live Science team in 2013, she spent two years as a staff writer for Space.com, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University.