“Whoever does not dance is out of reality”, said Nietzsche. In another of his famous phrases, he confessed that he “would only believe in a god who knew how to dance.” And he also said that a day without dancing, at least once, is a day wasted.

And if the philosopher and thinker who probably had the greatest impact on the thought of the 20th century said it, the matter should not be taken lightly. This celebration of the dance by the father of nihilism surprises, upsets and directly connects him with another great figure of ancient thought, Socrates, whom we imagine more conversing in squares than dancing. Although, he did not miss the opportunity to gloss the benefits of this exercise for the mind and body, placing dance as one of the most harmonious activities that the citizen can carry out. Even more than sport or wrestling. For both of us, dancing brings us happiness. The Athenian, who got involved in dance matters when he was already an old man, equated music and dance as arts that unite strength and beauty, essential attributes of happiness. For Nietzsche, this is found through individual dance, in the free will that is implicit when we do it alone and freely; thus connecting with the natural rhythm of life. Mens sana in corpore sano. And this expression of the free will of the body, subject to our most primitive instincts and passions, is part of a constant and ancient flow of dance that continues to flow through cultures and societies. he equated music and dance as arts that unite strength and beauty, essential attributes of happiness. For Nietzsche, this is found through individual dance, in the free will that is implicit when we do it alone and freely; thus connecting with the natural rhythm of life. Mens sana in corpore sano. And this expression of the free will of the body, subject to our most primitive instincts and passions, is part of a constant and ancient flow of dance that continues to flow through cultures and societies. he equated music and dance as arts that unite strength and beauty, essential attributes of happiness. For Nietzsche, this is found through individual dance, in the free will that is implicit when we do it alone and freely; thus connecting with the natural rhythm of life. Mens sana in corpore sano. And this expression of the free will of the body, subject to our most primitive instincts and passions, is part of a constant and ancient flow of dance that continues to flow through cultures and societies.

Already in the 21st century, Lucy Vincent, a doctor in neurobiology, tells us about all this, and from her experience as a scientist and as an amateur dancer, in her book Make your brain dance! The physical, emotional and cognitive benefits of dancing (Gedisa, 2020). Brilliant essay where she collects studies and reflections after starting to dance “a few years ago” and “noting fundamental changes both in [her] body and in [her] brain”. According to her studies, Vincent reveals to us that dancing creates brain matter, exercises our memory and releases endorphins and oxytocin, hence its extraordinary euphoric and antidepressant power. Yes, dancing makes us happier.

And in this exercise of free will, individuality and happiness for the dance, lies a natural drive for dissidence and subversion. Maybe, at times, even uncontrollable. A rebellion against the system and control, from the pleasurable exercise of dancing, which in the sixties would join the sexual revolution, the one that the hippies would practice, as Don Antonio Escohotado once told me, “from bed to bed.” 

One of those first known individual and modern public dances —alien to the waltz and other couples court dances—, the cakewalk, arose from that rebellious impulse, when the slaves of the cotton plantations of the southern United States mocked their masters in a grotesque individual dance, exaggeratedly raising elbows and knees, to the sound of jigs.

A few decades later, when youth began to be defined by their own codes, tastes, and habits, when it was configured as a new class —at the beginning of the 20th century—, dancing became a natural space for escape from parental control, the system and to the social order. And in the Roaring Twenties, those of The Great Gatsby, jazz and the Cotton Club, youth danced wildly the Charleston, while they raised their elbows in joyful violation of the Volstead Law, known as dry law.

But it would be in full Nazi world domination when the dance would appear for the first time as an element of dissidence and subversion, when the swingjugend (youth of the swing) would challenge the party, breaking, first, the law that forced them to join the Hitler Youth and, later , the order that prohibited dancing and playing swing music. Meanwhile, the Nazi media apparatus was doing its sinister work, and a Stettin newspaper headline read: “Swing and Black Music Must Go Away”.

The dance floor as the final space for expression and enjoyment of freedom from oppression, segregation, control and horror, has always been there. When, on the night of June 21, 1969, the New York police force stormed the Stonewall Inn—the popular Greenwich Village gay bar—to raid and spend, as it were, another day at the office, he did not imagine, not even remotely, what was coming to him. The parishioners were at that moment mourning the death of their beloved Judy Garland, when the agents entered to deploy their operation. That would be the trigger for what later became known as the Stonewall riot, when the gay and trans community took to the streets of the city to fight for their rights; the same one that had taken over the dance floors of the underground club scene.

That 1969 would mark the end of a happy decade, the sixties, marked by peace and economic prosperity. The hippy dream was dashed at a free Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, with the tragic death of a young African-American man at the hands of concert security, the Hell’s Angels. The agonizing war in Vietnam intensified, coming to an end in 1973 with the withdrawal of American troops, opening a traumatic wound that would not stop festering. Meanwhile, in New York clubbing, a cultural and sexual revolution was simmering. In gay clubs like the Continental Baths and others like Salvation Too or Gallery, the disco scene arose, with dance music as the soundtrack of that atmosphere of dissidence and tolerance that shook consciences and buttocks.

The last major subversion, for the moment, we witnessed in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the UK, when acid house and rave culture emerged, with its illegal parties in hangars and in rural areas of the english countryside. A movement that was persecuted and crushed by Margareth Thatcher and her relentless police arm. However, his message of freedom, tolerance and sexual equality has remained as a legacy of a club culture that we all enjoy today. Dance you!