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Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy Hardcover – 2 Apr 2007
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"'Dancing in the Streets' interweaves sources from historical
anthropology, philosophy, sociology, psychology, neuroscience and popular
-- Financial Times Magazine
"...an oddly gripping book... Ehrenreich is on to something
here." -- Observer
"An admirably lucid, level-headed history of outbreaks of
collective joy from Dionysus to the Grateful Dead" -- Terry Eagleton
"Barbara Erenreich wants to affirm the value of ecstatic group
celebration...(a)reporter's nose for subject and information" -- Scotland on Sunday
"Ehrenreich's analysis is fascinating, and seems intuitively
right... This is a good book, mostly because it makes you think"
-- Sunday Telegraph
"The title of the book alone did my weary heart good... a message
to be welcomed, pondered - and enjoyed." -- The Times
"This is a passionate argument in favour of communal
celebration... (It) opens an important subject to the general reader."
-- The Sunday Times
"This is a thought-provoking and sober look at a delightfully
unsober topic." -- London Review of Books
About the Author
Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of fourteen books, including the bestselling Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. She lives in New York State.
Top customer reviews
The earlier section of the book which deal with the pre-historic times are necessarily speculative, one activity that appears frequently in cave paintings would appear to be groups of early men and women dancing. Moving onto the ancient world of the Greeks and Romans Ehrenreich has a greater amount of evidence available and looks at the differences between Roman and Greek (and others) attitudes to collective joy. Her reading of Euripides Bacchae reveals an early example of the tension between the rulers and the ruled with regard to over exuberant festivities. In this case the King is torn to pieces during the annual festival in the Greek world where women ran riot, danced, hunted animals with their bare hands and ate them raw. The King was mistaken for a lion.
The book progresses through time, including speculation on how much of Dionysus practices were taken assimilated by the early Christians, and moves on to later accounts of ecstatic, communal dancing in Churches and the conflicts that emerged between the religious hierarchy who frowned upon this from the late middle ages onwards, and those who fought to maintain the practice. Ehrenreich also ponders a number of questions, whether the function of communal ecstatic rituals was to strengthen community solidarity; how Calvinism and Industrial Capitalism hardened rulers attitudes to the carnivals, fairs and festivals of the lower orders; the increasing albeit anecdotal emergence of depression (or melancholy) as a phenomena as these influences take hold and the opportunities for a community to get together and let it all go gradually disappear. As we move on to more recent times the material becomes increasingly familiar (free rock festivals, etc) though still of interest.
As in all Ehrenreich's writing the prose is energetic, clear, frequently funny and aptly playful, and holds a wealth of (often quite unexpected) information about the apparent human need for ecstatic rituals and festivities involving feasting, masking and dancing that can generate intense pleasure without the need for organized entertainment or the intervention of authorities. A fascinating and rewarding book that I would heartily recommend to all but the most dedicated of kill-joys.
The descriptions of the changes in church culture and the place of organised religion as part of communal ecstacy is interesting as is the parallels with older pagan customs and modern night club culture.
A good read but the well researched but simple idea runs out of steam a bit at the end and depression has many more sociocultural roots than the lack of communal ecstacy - eg the breakdown of the family and the increasing divide between rich and poor
This review sounds quite critical, but I do recommend the book.
Little things you say and do
Make them quite afraid of you
Dance is a crazy feelin'
Now you know it's got them reelin'
When you dance then they fear you, rave on
Ehrenreich puts the feeling into context. Collective joy has a great tradition, until the politicians and the clergy got involved and declared the pastime sinful and corrupting. I can now understand why dance brings me so much satisfaction. I renounced politics and the church for dance, and I'm delighted that Ehrenreich would thoroughly approve of my choices. In fact, judging what it says in the book, God probably would, too.
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