Subject: Study: Some People are Born to Dance
Feb. 21, 2006 – Professional dancers are born with at least two special genes that give them a leg up on the rest of us, according to a new study.
Recent research also has suggested that intelligence, athletic ability and musical talent are linked to our genes and brain hard-wiring.
With dancing added to the list, the evidence indicates that certain individuals are born with a predisposition to specific behaviors and talents, and that at least some of these qualities may represent evolved attributes.
“I think that dancing is an evolved trait,” said Richard Ebstein, who led the recent study, published in a recent Public Library of Science Genetics journal. “Animals have courtship dances and I think that human dancing represents the further development of a very ancient animal trait.”
Ebstein, a psychology professor at Hebrew University’s Scheinfeld Center for Genetic Studies, said, “Also the fact that dancing is universal and existed in all human societies, even those communities of man separated geographically by tens of thousands of years (native Australians, native Americans, Africans, Eurasians) attests to the very early origin of dance in our evolution as a species.”
Ebstein, doctoral student Rachel Bachner-Melman and their colleagues examined the DNA of 85 currently performing dancers and their parents. They then did the same thing for 91 competitive athletes and 872 people who neither regularly dance nor often participate in sports.
The scientists discovered that dancers tend to possess variants of two genes that are involved in the transmission of information between nerve cells.
One of the identified genes is a transporter of serotonin, a brain transmitter that contributes to spiritual experience. The second is a receptor of the hormone vasopressin, which many studies suggest modulates social communication and human bonding.
“People are born to dance,” Ebstein told Discovery News. “They have (other) genes that partially contribute to musical talent, such as coordination, sense of rhythm. However, the genes we studied are more related to the emotional side of dancing – the need and ability to communicate with other people and a spiritual side to their natures that not only enable them to feel the music, but to communicate that feeling to others via dance.”
Ebstein believes some adults may possess the special gene variants, but they perhaps never nurtured the related skills or recognized their hidden talent.
He said, “Many of us surely have the ability, but for a hundred reasons never exploited that particular talent.”
Ebstein explained that the identified genes seem to be linked to every form of dancing, from tap to hula, since all usually involve social communication and connecting to music or rhythms.
Irving Gottesman, a senior fellow in psychology at the University of Minnesota and an emeritus professor from the University of Virginia, is one of the world’s leading experts on genes as they relate to human behavior and psychology.
Through prior research papers sent to Discovery News, Gottesman emphasized that genes are only one part of “complex causality” systems that make us who we are. For example, Gottesman confirmed that intelligence can be in our genes, but that socioeconomic considerations, such as a quality education, can have a greater influence on a person’s intellect.
Ebstein agreed that genes were not the whole story. He said those of us without a twinkle-toed predisposition can still become good dancers, since “it’s not only a question of having the right genes, but also training and motivation, that make professional dancers.”