Dance Dance Snowball!

It’s been hitting other media sites as well, but I first caught the news of Snowball the dancing parrot at The Atlantic:

His owner had realized that he couldn’t care for the sulfur-crested cockatoo any longer. So in August 2007, he dropped Snowball off at the Bird Lovers Only rescue center in Dyer, Indiana—along with a Backstreet Boys CD, and a tip that the bird loved to dance. Sure enough, when the center’s director, Irena Schulz, played “Everybody,” Snowball “immediately broke out into his headbanging, bad-boy dance,” she recalls. She took a grainy video, uploaded it to YouTube, and sent a link to some bird-enthusiast friends. Within a month, Snowball became a celebrity.

What’s unusual about Snowball is his choreographic development:

Snowball wasn’t copying Schulz. When she danced with him, she’d only ever sway or wave her arms. He, meanwhile, kept innovating. In 2008, Patel’s undergraduate student R. Joanne Jao Keehn filmed these moves, while Snowball danced to “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” And recently, after a long delay caused by various life events, she combed through the muted footage and cataloged 14 individual moves (plus two combinations). Snowball strikes poses. He body rolls, and swings his head through half circles, and headbangs with a raised foot. To the extent that a parrot can, he vogues.

See?

The article explains more about how his rhythmic ability was noticed and tested, but I will say this: he’s quite the talented bird, I definitely cannot lift my leg like that and still keep headbanging.

What’s interesting is the conclusions being drawn from Snowball’s dancing ability:

“Parrots are more closely related to dinosaurs than to us,” Patel says, and yet they are the only other animals known to show both spontaneous and diverse dancing to music. “This suggests to me that dancing in human cultures isn’t a purely arbitrary invention,” Patel says. Instead, he suggests that it arises when animals have a particular quintet of mental skills and predilections:

  1. They must be complex vocal learners, with the accompanying ability to connect sound and movement.
  2. They must be able to imitate movements.
  3. They must be able to learn complex sequences of actions.
  4. They must be attentive to the movements of others.
  5. They must form long-term social bonds.

A brain that checks off all five traits is “the kind of brain that has the impulse to move to music,” Patel says. “In our own evolution, when these five things came together, we were primed to become dancers.” If he’s right, that settles the eternal question posed by The KillersAre we human, or are we dancer? We’re both.

Parrots also tick off all five traits, as do elephants and dolphins. But outside of trained performances, “do you ever see a dolphin do anything to music spontaneously, creatively, and diversely?” Patel asks. “I don’t know if it’s been studied.” He wonders whether animals need not only five traits that create an impulse to dance, but also a lot of exposure to humans and our music. Captive dolphins don’t get much musical experience, and even though they interact with trainers, their main social bonds are still with other dolphins. But Snowball, from an early age, lived with humans. He seemingly dances for attention, rather than for food or other rewards. And he appears to dance more continuously when Schulz dances with him—something that Patel will formally analyze in a future study.

More fascinating information in the article, also here’s the CBC link.

I say, keep dancing, Snowball! And here’s two dancing songs for the rest of us:

 

This Is Just to Say…

Hello!

First of all, I am honoured to become a co-author together with voyager, Giliell and Charly, and most especially honoured to be doing it from this platform, Affinity. I know Caine asked me a couple of times to join the team and I dithered, and I am sad that I didn’t take the opportunity then. In any case, I hope to continue a fine tradition of diversity and random interesting stuff.

Most of you are familiar with my comments and probably have some idea of where I’m coming from, but just to recap: I am an ex-patriated Canadian re-patriated to Latvia (long story which will come out in bits and pieces), I work in the forensics field (nothing particularly gross), I have three kids, two cats, one dog and a husband, and all the assorted issues that come with co-ordinating life with several people. I am a martial arts practitioner – which sounds fancy until I tell you that I’ve only been doing tae kwon do for a year and a half or so, and also an amateur musician (classically trained in piano and violin, but a returning chorister as well). Most of these things, in some combination or another, will be my chosen topics. I hope to focus on the culture that I know (so expect a lot of Latvian music and arts), music (suggestions welcome) and, if I feel brave enough, bad poetry.

I’m glad to be here, and as much as I miss Caine and her distinctive voice, I’m happy we’re all here to carry on, because what else is there?

So, to start things off on a suitably impressive note, here’s a shortened video of a grand event that occurs once every five years – the final concert of the Latvian Song and Dance Festival, specifically the folk dancing concert. In July 2018, more than 18 000 (not a typo, so about 1% of the Latvian population) got together and performed in the soccer arena, making shapes and dancing their hearts out. If anyone wants to watch the extended version, I’m sure you can find a link, but the camera work was atrocious – the whole point is to view things from above. Seeing it in under a minute – wonderful. Here’s the high note to kick things off:

Slavic Saturday

OK, I’ll bite. Last week Rob Grigjanis mentioned Antonín Dvořák and he indeed is one of Czech composers whose work is dear to my heart. I particularly like his Slavonic Dances, Opus 46. I was looking for a video that I like and unfortunately the only one that I do cannot be embedded, so you would have to head over to Czech TV Website. I hope it works for out-of state too. Other recordings that I have found on YouTube I did not like – right at the first dance “Furiant” seemed either too fast or too bland.

That I make such judgement is slightly ironic and possibly unfair to the musicians. I do not dance at all and I hate it, particularly polka. Surely everyone knows polka, although not everyone knows that it is originally Czech dance. My experience with it is however rather unpleasant – I was always a bad dancer, but it was seen as somewhat required to take dance lessons in highschool, so I did, being awkward and clumsy all the time despite my best effort. And polka was for me the last straw in this string of tortures – at the end of the lesson my disgruntled dance partner has lifted her skirt and has shown me her feet that were kicked and stomped bloody. That put a final crimp in my (non-existent as it was) desire to dance that dance ever again, since I try not to hurt people on principle.

It is not that I do not have a sense of rhythm, but everyone tells me polka has two and a half step (hence the name půlka(half)-polka), however I simply hear three steps and that daft little half-skip just tangles both my brain and my feet. Not that other dances are much better with their inane jumping and turning and all that nonsense. I do not see the point of dancing, really.

But the music can be beautiful and can move me to tap my feet or nod my head a little. That much I admit.

The Amazing Egg Dance: Peasants to Politics.

Contrast between Carnival and Fasting (ca. 1550–99), artist unknown — Source.

Contrast between Carnival and Fasting (ca. 1550–99), artist unknown — Source. Click for full size.

Whoever the artist of the above piece was, I’d say they had been most impressed with Hieronymus Bosch. The Egg Dance, from village revelry to romance to politics. This is a wonderful piece of history, which demonstrates several cultural shifts throughout the centuries.

The egg dance was a traditional Easter game involving the laying down of eggs on the ground and dancing among them whilst trying to break as few as possible. Another variation (depicted in many of the images featured here) involved tipping an egg from a bowl, and then trying to flip the bowl over on top of it, all with only using one’s feet and staying within a chalk circle drawn on the ground. Although, as shown in many of its depictions in art, the pastime is associated with peasant villages of the 16th and 17th century, one of the earliest references to egg-dancing relates to the marriage of Margaret of Austria and Philibert of Savoy on Easter Monday in 1498.

[…]

This blindfolded version of the egg dance features in Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795). … According to some scholars Goethe’s mention gave birth to the phrase “einen wahren Eiertanz aufführen” (to perform a true egg dance) which refers to moving carefully in a difficult situation. This particularly association of the egg dance with navigating danger was expressed time and time again in political cartoons of the 19th-century: various political figures, from Bismarck to Disraeli, precariously trying to make there way about a floor strewn with potential upsets.

Democracy’s Disastrous Egg-dance, (1884), Joseph Keppler. A woman labeled “Democracy” wearing a blindfold labeled “Stupidity” is pushed by Samuel J. Randall toward a chair labeled “Presidenti[al] Chair”, with several eggs in the way on the ground, they are labeled “Honest Naval Appropriation, Civil Service Reform, Honest River – Harbor Appropriation, Economy, Anti-Silver Coinage, National Banking System, Tariff Reform, [and] Prompt Legislation”, two of the eggs are broken; among a group of men laughing, in the background on the right, are John Logan, John Sherman, and William D. Kelley. — Source.

Democracy’s Disastrous Egg-dance, (1884), Joseph Keppler. A woman labeled “Democracy” wearing a blindfold labeled “Stupidity” is pushed by Samuel J. Randall toward a chair labeled “Presidenti[al] Chair”, with several eggs in the way on the ground, they are labeled “Honest Naval Appropriation, Civil Service Reform, Honest River – Harbor Appropriation, Economy, Anti-Silver Coinage, National Banking System, Tariff Reform, [and] Prompt Legislation”, two of the eggs are broken; among a group of men laughing, in the background on the right, are John Logan, John Sherman, and William D. Kelley. — Source.

The Journalistic Egg Dance (ca. 1840), Andreas Geiger. A caricature of press censorship before the 1848 revolution in Austria. During the Restoration after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the European powers, led by Austrian Chancellor Clemens von Metternich (1773-1859), restricted the freedom of speech and expression to contain any kind of critical, nationalist or anti-authoritarian movement — Source.

The Journalistic Egg Dance (ca. 1840), Andreas Geiger. A caricature of press censorship before the 1848 revolution in Austria. During the Restoration after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the European powers, led by Austrian Chancellor Clemens von Metternich (1773-1859), restricted the freedom of speech and expression to contain any kind of critical, nationalist or anti-authoritarian movement — Source.

You read and see much more at The Public Domain Review.

Ballet Rotoscope.

Created by the Japanese collaborative of artists, researchers and designers Masahiko Sato + EUPHRATES, their project named Ballet Rotoscope is an experimental short film that mesmerizingly follows the movement of a ballerina using a rotoscope animation method. A ballerina dances while the joints on her body are traced with a computer-generated rotoscope animation technique, an algorithm that brings a mathematical layer to her natural movements.

You can read more at iGNANT.