May 5, 2009

Dancing skills and ability to mimic sounds

Here's a cool ScienceDaily report on how dancing ability and vocal mimicry may share a mechanism. The data are on species, not individuals, but I think it holds at the individual level too. Girls tell me I'm a great dancer, and I can imitate voices pretty easily and develop a decently native accent in a foreign language without too much trouble. I can't think of counter-examples off the top of my head, just more confirming points, like this adorable 10 year-old girl at the tutoring center I worked at. She had an amazing knack for accents and kept a pretty good beat while dancing. One of those natural actress types (and of course that's what she wanted to be when she grows up).

You see this among human "species" or racial groups too. Blacks are great at vocal mimicry -- beat-boxing and Michael Winslow-esque sound effects, in addition to dancing skills. East Asians can never find the beat (which is why they stick to easy marching music like techno), and they don't dominate in beat-boxing or doing impressions as stand-up comedians, etc. Ashkenazi Jews are great at vocal mimicry, but I'm not sure about dancing skill. The stereotype is that they're goofy and klutzy, but that may be just their self-deprecating humor and neuroses showing. Anyone looked at how over or under-represented they are among professional dancers? Again, hard to think of counter-examples here.

This relates to what I said about group differences in cognitive profile and musical styles. (Goddamn, was that really three years ago?) If you're good at verbal things, you'll be good with melody and rhythm, while if you're good at visual-spatial things, you'll be good with harmony. These tend to go together, so most skilled musicians are good at both. But there are interesting dissociations too.



  2. perhaps u'd like to clarify what types of dance east asians are poor at. i have no idea how well they do in ballroom situations, but perhaps ice skating would be an acceptable substitute? skaters don't need to execute on beat, but they do need precision timing and execution. there at least, east asians hold their own on the medal stand. blacks aren't much of a force. this may be more of a class/culture issue, but at least few ppl blink when an east asian wins.

    it might be worth investigating ballet, but i know very little about the racial angle (or any angle for that matter).

    but for sure east asians aren't cursed w/ two left feet in hiphop related dance styles.

    i looked into the racial makeup of the contestants on america's best dance crew. asians are heavily overrepresented as contestants, and the winners for the past 3 seasons have been crews composed primarily or wholly of asians. not all of these asians are east asian, but the east asian presence is undeniable.

    also, the battle of the year contest is a worldwide bboy competition held every year. since japan's entrance in 1998, east asians have been winning awards like best of show. since 2000, an east asian team has won either 1st, 2nd or both in the competition.

    hiphop internationals, is another international competition where asians place regularly. filipinos and trinidadians have been winning this recently, but the american representative (kaba modern) is almost entirely asian w/ significant east asian component.

    youtube some of the vids of jabbawockeez, quest and kaba modern and see if they change your mind at all about how asians are bad at dancing.

  3. "adorable 10 year-old girl"

    Having created a blog that is almost exclusively about how hot you are for teenagers you should really not gush over pre-pubescent children. It looks and sounds extremely gross.

  4. Chill dude. I'll note who's adorable and who isn't.

    Assuming you aren't socially retarded, you'll be able to tell when I actually do vs. do not lust after them.

  5. Ok I love this--as dance/singing/music is one of my things.

    I am of Eastern Euro and Middle Eastern Jewish descent and have the ability to do vocal mimicry easily (its natural but also growing up having Hungarian grandparents and an Israeli father helped) and its always been a treat to use faux accents especially French...

    And while I LOVE to dance still and was a "dancer" when I was younger...everyone in my immediate family has the beat and the rhythm.

    Dance and music is heavily part of Jewish culture (especially Israelis, so I guess it depends on whether you are watching Israeli or American Jews. I've seen those who can dance well and ones who can't dance at all.

    Seems that many "Pizza bagels" girls as we call them around here--Jewish and Italian (a huge part of the TriState area) tend to be good dancers and have the "rhythm".

    Also picking up on what pzed said:

    For SYTYCD one of the only dance shows where the contestants are actually gifted dancers...the top 3 males consisted of 2 black guys and one half asian guy.

    The top 3 girls consisted of a gorgeous white blonde (who is now a partner on Dancing with the Stars), a gorgeous Italian girl, and a half Asian girl who's face was cute but could really, really dance.

    And they had to do EVERY kind of dance from modern to hip hop to crunk to lyrical to ballet to salsa.

    Better way to see who is really a pro dancer.

  6. PS--jb is spot on.

    I have quite a few Jewish friends who currently dance (or have danced) professionally.

    for example:

    One was in musical theater (broadway) but stopped after she got married and had 2 kids.

    The other is currently in a well respected modern dance troupe.

    The last is a ballet dancer who went to one of the most prestigious ballet academies in the world.


    Also a lot of my Russian friends can dance Salsa & Ballroom extremely well as its become a big part of the culture of kids growing up.


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