The evolution of dance

Kevin Laland, Clive Wilkins, Nicky Clayton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Summary Evidence from multiple sources reveals a surprising link between imitation and dance. As in the classical correspondence problem central to imitation research, dance requires mapping across sensory modalities and the integration of visual and auditory inputs with motor outputs. Recent research in comparative psychology supports this association, in that entrainment to a musical beat is almost exclusively observed in animals capable of vocal or motor imitation. Dance has representational properties that rely on the dancers' ability to imitate particular people, animals or events, as well as the audience's ability to recognize these correspondences. Imitation also plays a central role in learning to dance and the acquisition of the long sequences of choreographed movements are dependent on social learning. These and other lines of evidence suggest that dancing may only be possible for humans because its performance exploits existing neural circuitry employed in imitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R5-R9
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2016


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