In my last column, I talked about when dance is unsafe. In this one, I would like to carry forward the same thread of argument and talk about some of the cruelty around dance. This is about animals that are made to dance for human sustenance. And we have seen plenty of them on the streets and fairs of India - dancing bears, monkeys and snakes to name a few obvious ones.
Any animal biologist or vet will tell you that animals do not enjoy acting like humans—that, in fact, they have to be forced to do so, usually through cruel means. Yet, animal performances have a long history stretching back to ancient times. Today, animal performances are banned or happen under strict regulation and rules.
Few animals other than humans can move in a synchronised fashion to movement. Yet YouTube is flooded with videos of animals moving rhythmically. They include dogs, bears, cats, ferrets, horses, pigeons, squirrels, dolphins, parrots and even fish. From fish experts however, I have heard that when fish appear to be dancing in home tanks, they may in effect be ill! So, the question I ask is whether the stomping, bobbing, wagging, nodding, swaying and jerking that these animals do, is it truly dancing?
Dr. Aniruddh (Ani) Patel is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Tufts University. His interests include the neural bases of rhythmic processing, and it was his theory that few animals can move to music like humans can, although given the fact that the universe of biology is marked by rhythms and "so it is a reasonable intuition that they would be deeply ingrained in behaviour". Thus a rhythmic pulse is felt in the croaking of frogs, in the flashing of fireflies, in the beating of a hummingbird's wings, in the jumping display of the Bengal Florican. Many animals use rhythmic patterns to frighten predators, to attract mates or mark territory.
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