“ Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence.”

 ~ Robert Fripp

No doubt you’ve heard this one: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Like so many of those age-old grade-school brain teasers, you can trouble your head for hours and get nowhere closer to an answer.

Here’s a different one that anthropologists puzzle over that just might have an answer. Which came first on our journey to becoming humanity: The ability to speak and make words and have language? Or was it the our capacity to sing and dance and make music?

The roots of speech are murky indeed, it’s the one thing that truly sets us apart from our fellow creatures, especially with the narrative storytelling capacity that allows us to create culture and civilization.

From Terrence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” theory to the arguments put forth in “The Kingdom of Speech” by Tom Wolfe, lots of smart folks have put their attention on this question.

While the cartoonish concept of a caveman suddenly saying “Me Tarzan — You Jane.” certainly satisfies some simplified scenarios about our collective past, the fact of the matter is probably quite different.

The idea that small groups of primitive people could collectively move and make sounds together that would scare away the savage beasts makes much more sense. It’s logical that out of these preliminary experiments in sound and motion more articulate forms of language would arise.

How it happened is a mystery to me, that’s why I’m grateful for professional anthropologists who make it their life’s work to follow these breadcrumbs back into a nearly unknowable past.

What leads me to ponder such a mystery is my encounter yesterday with something relatively common that you likely have near at hand in your corner of the world wherever it may be.

I’m talking about live music and people dancing to it. Last week when I was listening to KCSM, the jazz station, they offered a pair of tickets to a show in Berkeley commemorating Louis Armstrong‘s birthday, and I was caller number eight and I won!

So yesterday afternoon, we found ourselves in Berkeley at the historic Freight and Salvage venue, enjoying the music of a seasoned sextet called North Beach Rhythm comprised of six guys playing old-time Dixieland Jazz with a trio of female vocalists taking turns.

Somewhat to our surprise, there was a good-sized contingent of people there determined to dance! Some of them were obviously seasoned swing dancers who knew all the moves, and there were a number of folks basically faking it but having a good time. We found an out-of-the-way corner and joined the latter group before it was over.

Skill level aside, immersing yourself in the sound of live music with other moving bodies around has a way of waking up something ancient deep inside. The basic equation of Make Music -> Move Bodies hasn’t changed much since we humans figured out how to walk on two feet.

So if you have dancing feet that are itching to move, it’s worth figuring out where the musicians are in your community and showing your support. You can bet that any musician playing live loves it when people get on their feet and start to move, even if it’s just between tables at the coffeehouse.

Which, by the way, should you find yourself in San Francisco any given Wednesday or Sunday, you can freely enjoy the timeless tunes of North Beach Rhythm at the Café Trieste in North Beach!

Movin’ and Groovin’ till next week,

Much love!


Mark Metz
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine