Dance Yourself Sane
Music creates mood. We may think of this as recent knowledge; for instance, I came of age singing En Vogue’s “Free your mind… and the rest will follow.” Later, when I moved from gateway genres like hip-hop and R&B straight into the hard stuff (disco, funk, h-h-h-h-house), I learned this was actually a riff on Funkadelic’s more iconic line, “Free your mind and your ass will follow.”
It is likely that as long as there has been music, there have been moral judgements about a given musical genre’s fitness (or lackthereof) for inspiring good conduct. An excavated manuscript from about 300 BCE found in a tombsite at Guodian, China, states that “music stirs the mind” ( yue zhi dong xin ye 樂之動心也 ) and goes on to describe how “beneficial music” ( yi yue 益樂 ) can be used to “instruct” people ( jiao 教) (all quotes from Xing zi ming chu, line 127 or therabouts).
Even in 300 B.C., such ideas were likely nothing new. Famed moralist Confucius is quoted several times in the Analects as differentiating “good,” or morally instructive, from “bad,” or morally corrupting, music. To Yan Yuan he said that a good government would “Banish the songs of Zheng, and keep far from specious talkers. The songs of Zheng are licentious; specious talkers are dangerous.” 顏淵問為邦。子曰：「行夏之時，乘殷之輅，服周之冕，樂則韶舞。放鄭聲，遠佞人。鄭聲淫，佞人殆。 」(Analects 15.11, translated by James Legge). In the book of Yang Huo he is recorded even more vehemently stating that, “I hate the manner in which purple takes away the luster of vermilion. I hate the way in which the songs of Zheng confound the music of the Ya [the Elegantiae, formal/ceremonial songs]. I hate those who with their sharp mouths overthrow kingdoms and families.” 子曰：「惡紫之奪朱也，惡鄭聲之亂雅樂也，惡利口之覆邦家者。」 (Analects 17.18, translated by James Legge) Doesn’t Confucius seem like a total hater in these? Righteouness and judgement combined to form the haters of bygone eras – but sometimes their criticisms are on point, even when their tone is a bit much (looking at you, Bernie). But I digress.
Unlike Confucius, I’m here neither to judge your preferred tunes nor harsh your mellow, man. And unlike George Clinton, I’m of the mind that when you can’t free your mind, the best thing to do is to free that ass so your mind can follow. Shake it or smash it, either way the Kingdom of Heaven is definitely within.
What’s more, I can rationalize all this from a CM point of view. Different situations (lack of movement, overthinking, overeating, sustained mental stress) can lead to what I colloquially call “fuzzy head syndrome.” Dancing, beyond providing a necessary posture and movement break, repeatedly stimulates the soles of the feet. Sitting in the heart of each sole is an acupoint known as “gushing spring” (yongquan 湧泉, Kid-1). A primary clinical usage of this point is to descend excess from the head – and what funner way to stimulate it than by dancing?
And so, dear readers, I present you this sample playlist that I use to dance my deadline stresses away, allowing me to get back to work with a clear mind and a calm spirit. Your playlist probably looks different – feel free to share it with me sometime!
- Canned Heat, Jamiroquai
- Everyday Struggle, Biggie
- Time Running, Tegan and Sara
- Out of Touch (Out of Time), Hall and Oates
- Relax (Take it Easy), Mika
- Under Pressure, Queen + Bowie
- Love Get Out of My Way, Monarchy
- This Time Baby, Jackie Moore
- Paddling Out, Miike Snow
- D.A.N.C.E., Justice
- Tightrope, Janelle Monae
- Any Which Way, Scissor Sisters
- Move On Up, Curtis Mayfield
- I Follow Rivers, Lykke Li remixed by Magician
- Juice, Lizzo
- Life is Life, Opus
- Stayin’ Alive, Bee-Gees
- One More Time, Daft Punk
Typically I’ll listen to 3-8 songs like these, and then transition into a work flow with one of the following:
If still feeling aggro, but short of time for a full-on RATM or varied metal mosh fest, then all of the album Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division (I listened to this album, a lot of this album, while in the homestretches of my MA thesis)
If still feeling pumped and want to wail on some editing, then the album Classics by Ratatat