Contra is the New Kale: Dancing as Superfood for the Brain

Dancing makes us happy; there’s pretty much no other reason to do it. And if you’ve ever suspected that contra dancing generates more emotional lift than other forms of dance, science is now on your side. According to NPR social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam, “dancing in synchrony with others” has such a powerful feel-good effect on the brain that dancers experience a higher threshold of pain. Free-form dancing, even in a group, yields no such benefit. Vedantam says that’s probably not by accident:

When experiences feel good, that’s usually a signal that they have served some kind of evolutionary purpose. … As a social species, being part of a group has survival value. Evolution … may have adapted the brain to experience a sense of reward when we did things with and for other people. Dancing together, especially in the synchrony, can signal that you are actually simpatico with lots of other people. The researchers think this is why so many cultures have synchronized dancing and why it might have health benefits.

You can read the transcript or listen to the audio story here.