Dance has always played a central role in musical activity. Our ancestors danced and made music to beg the gods for rain, or as part of farming and hunting rituals to secure enough food to survive. This is perhaps because dance has been seen as a way to communicate our desires and emotions. But why do we dance nowadays? After all, we can just go to our local supermarket and buy food or send text messages to our loved ones to express our feelings?
Researchers from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland wanted to discover the songs people dance to and explore the reasons why these songs are being listened to nowadays. In an online survey, participants were asked to name songs which made them want to move and provide reasons why.
From Michael Jackson to Metallica… Yes, we dance to them all!
Dance songs were found to be typically more energetic, happier and louder compared to music in general. Indeed, when these songs were ranked according to Spotify’s danceability score, the 1990s dance hit Macarena by Los Del Rio topped the list. This was perhaps not too surprising given the specific dance associated with this song.
More surprising, perhaps, was the range of music people actually dance to. In addition to more obvious styles such as electronic dance music (EDM) or pop, and artists like Michael Jackson, Daft Punk or Tiesto, the list included genres such as heavy metal, jazz, funk and R&B. Among the 278 separate songs named by participants that make them want to move, there were many familiar names like Frank Sinatra; Earth, Wind & Fire; Dua Lipa; Stevie Wonder; David Bowie; Madonna; Bruno Mars; Ed Sheeran; BTS; Robbie Williams; Tarkan; Radiohead; Pink Floyd and Metallica. There were also several less well-known artists from various musical genres. We argue that this is because the music we listen and dance to reflects our identity. It reflects who we are and what we like.
You can listen to all of the songs in this study through this Spotify playlist: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7hLTtnu2eJXuYTYhVxPe2m?si=2e2450cb2ac340bc
Five types of dance music, several reasons for listening
To understand the commonalities among the various songs, the researchers grouped them using an algorithm. The study reported five different types of music that people move to, based on Spotify musical features. These subgroups of dance music reflect the musical characteristics of the songs, which are named as: “happy-energy”, “sad-energy”, “sad-instrumental”, “fast-lyrical”, and “soft-acoustic”.
What is more, we tend to listen to such songs for various reasons. We listen to dance songs mainly for pleasure and entertainment: to improve mood and raise energy, sing along to, forget problems, reduce boredom and so on. Broadly speaking, dance songs help us control how we feel. We might pick the most relevant dance music depending on our needs.
“So next time you feel slightly ashamed of dancing to a particular track, don’t. It probably reflects your musical identity and your current needs and emotions. Instead, pay closer attention to what songs you listen to – they might tell you more about yourself than you think”, says Deniz Duman, doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.