“DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” Richard Dawkins.
There ain’t a better quote to start today’s post.
Dance is a form of expression. How many times have you been in a club and understood or misunderstood someone else’s dance moves ? How many times, in times of intense emotion have you just started jumping around ? Dance is an established activity in our society that reflects a lot about who we are and where we are from as it is highly culturally influenced. It has been around since prehistoric times and has been part of sacred rituals, communication and courtship.
Now we clearly know that the more you dance, the better you will get at it. And the younger you are the smoother your moves will be. But is there something else that explains why some of us who shake our booties at night will never become Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake ?
Today I’m gonna tell you how genetics, dancing and music are related.
Paper Title: AVPR1a and SLC6A4 Gene Polymorphisms Are Associated with Creative Dance Performance
What it really means : Tiny modifications in two genes influence our dance moves.
In this work, the authors set up the framework of this study by saying that dance is a phenotype that combines music and athletic performance. In this setup, they compared the DNA of professional dancers, competitive athletes and non dancers/non athletes in order to establish the connection between dancing and genetics. All of these genetic tests were combined with multiple psychological tests such as the Tridimensional Personality questionnaire and the Tellegen Absorption Scale, which measures aspects of social communication, reward dependence and spirituality, personality facets important in the dance phenotype.
Surprisingly two polymorphic genes (mutations) appeared to be highly shared among these dancers; one in the arginine vasopressin 1a receptor (AVPR1a) and one in the serotonin transporter (SLC6A4).
Vasopressin and Serotonin are highly studied hormones:
Vasopressin : It’s mainly known for water retention and blood vessels constriction. New findings also show that vasopressin can be released in the brain affecting social behavior, sexual motivation and pair bonding.
Serotonin: It’s mostly known for it’s contribution to well-being and happiness.
Interestingly, serotonin and vasopressin interact in the brain to control communicative behavior.
Now, it’s quite a challenge to unravel how the brain processes these polymorphisms and associate them to dancing which is an extremely complex behavior.
However, the authors try to explain the effect of these mutations as such :
In the presence of polymorphic variants of AVPR1a and SLC6A4, the levels of vasopressin and serotonin are predicted to change, affecting the psychological trait of reward dependence and spirituality.
“We therefore hypothesize that the association between AVPR1a and SLC6A4 reflects the social communication, courtship and spiritual facets of the dancing phenotype rather than the other aspects of this complex phenotype, such as sensorimotor integration.”
I end with an apt quote from Martha Graham :
Every dance is a kind of fever chart, a graph of the heart.
Bachner-Melman R1, Dina C, Zohar AH, Constantini N, Lerer E, Hoch S, Sella S, Nemanov L, Gritsenko I, Lichtenberg P, Granot R, Ebstein RP. AVPR1a and SLC6A4 gene polymorphisms are associated with creative dance performance. PLoS Genet. 2005 Sep;1(3):e42. PMID: 16205790.