Dancers Are Genetically Different Than The Rest Of Us
    By Administrator | February 1st 2006 02:00 AM | 13 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    What makes dancers different than the rest of us? Genetic variants, says a researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

    In a study published in PLoS Genetics, Prof. Richard P. Ebstein of the Department of Psychology and his research associates have shown, through DNA examination, that dancers show consistent differences in two key genes from the general population. Ebstein is the head of the Scheinfeld Center for Human Genetics in the Social Sciences in the Department of Psychology.

    This finding is not surprising, says Ebstein, in view of other studies of musicians and athletes, which also have shown genetic differences.

    Ebstein and his colleagues found in an examination of 85 dancers and advanced dancing students in Israel variants of two genes that provide the code for the serotonin transporter and arginine vasopressin receptor 1a.

    Both genes are involved in the transmission of information between nerve cells. The serotonin transporter regulates the level of serotonin, a brain transmitter that contributes to spiritual experience, among many other behavioral traits. The vasopressin receptor has been shown in many animal studies to modulate social communication and affiliative bonding behaviors. Both are elements involved in the age-old human social expression of dancing.

    The genetic evidence was corroborated by two questionnaires distributed by the researchers to the dancers. One is the Tellegen Absorption Scale (TAS), that correlates aspects of spirituality and altered states of consciousness, and the other is the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire (TPQ), a measure of the need for social contact and openness to communication.

    Distribution of Tellegen Absorption Scale (TAS) in Female Dancers and Nondancers/Nonathletes.  doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0010042.g001
    The genetic and questionnaire results of the dancers were compared with those of two other groups examined – athletes as well as those who were both non-dancers and non-athletes. (Athletes were chosen for comparison since they require a good deal of physical stamina like dancers.)

    When the results were combined and analyzed, it was clearly shown that the dancers exhibited particular genetic and personality characteristics that were not found in the other two groups.

    The dancer “type,” says Ebstein, clearly demonstrates qualities that are not necessarily lacking but are not expressed as strongly in other people: a heightened sense of communication, often of a symbolic and ceremonial nature, and a strong spiritual personality trait.

    Others involved in the research with Ebstein were his Ph.D. student Rachel Bachner-Melman, as well as additional researchers from Israel and France.

    Citation: Citation: Bachner-Melman R, Dina C, Zohar AH, Constantini N, Lerer E, et al. (2005) AVPR1a and SLC6A4 Gene Polymorphisms Are Associated with Creative Dance Performance. PLoS Genet 1(3): e42. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0010042



    I wonder how much of this is genetic, as inherited, or altered, as in epigenetics, where
    genetic predispositions are altered by behavior? It isn't clear to me if this data prove that
    certain people have a genetic difference as dancers, or if by DANCING, they have altered their own
    genetic code. Would it be possible, for instance, for someone without this genetic sequence
    to dance, dance, dance and alter him or herself?

    That's Lamarckian evolution ( will a blacksmith have sons with big arms?) but that sort of behavior won't alter genes.  It may be that gifted dancers who were always with other dancers and married them gave birth to children more likely to be dancers and so on, but the dancing itself didn't alter genes.    Likewise, a blacksmith might have sons with big arms because they worked in a forge with him from an early age, and if they married giant women they were more likely to have big kids, but the blacksmithing itself doesn't determine their genetics.
    Lamarckian evolution and epigenetics are actually very different. In epigenesis we look at traits that may have become unlocked in the span of one organism's life. It's not a question of whether a trait was inherited or will be passed along, but rather of the possibility of DNA being altered within one's own life cycle by factors like behavior, neurological changes and nutrition. It is likened to looking at a book with several pages stapled shut and people studying epigenesis are investigating whether or not these pages can be unstuck to read differently. It's fun to read about :)

    Amen John, my thoughts exactly.

    So everyone benefits from dancing!
    Genes have been shown to change as a result of life experiences.
    See Deepak Chopra's work.
    The conclusion above seems like another misinterpretation of genetics as being stable and causal, instilling a victim mentality of "oh it's my genes".
    Take some responsability and dance like no-one's watching.

    To have my own personal experience validated in data-grounded research is phenomenally exciting!

    There is that unknowable element that truly does occur when I and my fellow dancers hear the music and take to the floor as unique artists and as one community, energy pulsating.

    Your data also brings empathy for those who sometimes confound us with their difficulty in likewise connecting and expressing their inner dance.

    Lovely and fascinating!

    Interesting research. The sample is very small, however, and the ethnicity and gender of the sample are not provided. Psychologists often believe there is something called a "human being" (following the traditional western biomedical research model/belief) that can be studied, and generalized regarding, without attention to ethnicity or gender of a subject. All humans are gendered and cultured, with experiences related to both of these factors interracting with the DNA and biological components in their bodies. Also, "spirituality" is not defined by the researchers. The category, "dancers," presumes a culture in which this kind of specialization occurs whereas in most tribal societies there would not be this classification. In many societies, religions are danced phenomena, and anyone can engage in ritualistic dance, summoning spirits to enter the one dancing (entering trance-like states, or altered states of consciousness). Are the latter "dancers" different than other people? Anyone in such societies can feel called to "dance" (it's a cultural norm and general religious expectation). And, are they "dancing" (a western, English word) or "praying via their active bodies"? Likewise, there are thousands of younger people in the U.S., England and elsewhere who engage on weekend Rave dances. Many self-report the sensory overload of loud music, flashing lights, and heavy drum beat as giving them a "spiritual" feeling (a sense of unity, peace, transcendence) that they don't find in organized religions. There is perhaps something worth continuing to study regarding biological aspects of "dancing" but how should cause and effect be identified in any correlations discovered, and how to control for cultural variation in expected behaviors vis-a-vis sacred dance and dancing as entertainment? I write from an anthropological perspective.

    Well, prompted by Helen's request for Kilted Cheerleaders in another article, here's something in a similar vein, but relevant to this article, I think, as these dancers appear genetically different to me ;-)

    I found the "heightened sense of communication, often of a symbolic and ceremonial nature, and a strong spiritual personality trait" of dancers particulary intestesting because Ive been a professionald dancer & spiritual counselor my whole life.

    am registering to receive...

    There is the question brought up as to "can things evolve?", and if so, is this study a decent or appropriate place-point for determination via the study of that?

    For all of the people wondering about the possibility of transformation through "dancing". I'm 46 years old and began my evolution through dance 3 years ago. I invite you into your authentic movement/dance through a journey of music at Ecstatic Dance. Experience what dance brings to your human-ness, returning you home from your human-mess. Our world is a better place when there are more people with "a heightened sense of communication... a symbolic and ceremonial nature, and a strong spiritual personality trait." Join the global movement and find yourself dancing! - Wendy Marie, Ecstatic Dance Silicon Valley & A Shamanic Disco