Afriend from the East Coast moved to Seattle this year and won tickets to a B-52s concert. While she was dancing, several people approached her, complimented her moves, and asked if she had attended high school in the early 1980s. She did.
The story resonated with me. Maybe music from our teenage years and early 20s isn’t the only thing that can imprint onto our identities. Maybe the way we moved to music back then can also leave a subconscious tattoo — so much so that when we hit the dance floor today, we can signal how old we are just by the way we shake our hips and move our arms and legs.
Scientific research, which has confirmed the imprint left by music, has long found that what we did in our late teens and early 20s has an unusually strong impact on our memories. It's known as the Reminiscence Bump. While experts have not yet discovered if that applies to dance, they said there's good reason to think it does. "The way we dance is related to and shaped by our previous experiences, especially to the time when we 'learned' to dance by going to clubs as an adolescent and young adult," Birgitta Burger of the Finnish Center of Excellence in Interdisciplinary Music Research wrote in an e-mail.
Peter Lovatt, of the University of Hertfordshire’s Dance Psychology Lab in the United Kingdom, added that social dance is often "the place where we bond with our peer group, relax and enjoy ourselves, and sometimes find a lifelong mate, and prior to finding a potential lifelong mate it can be the place where we partner up with many different people. All of these experiences contribute to the development of the cognitive [behaviors] that we associate with social dance."
So here’s a social dance experiment for you. See if you can identify the dances shown in the following quiz. If you know a lot about dance, you might be able to guess more than most people. But if you're just a regular person, the ones you know and answer correctly may give a hint of the dance styles that influenced you in your teens and early 20s.