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Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

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From the bestselling social commentator and cultural historian, a fascinating exploration of one of humanity's oldest traditions: the celebration of communal joy In the acclaimed "Blood Rites," Barbara Ehrenreich delved into the origins of our species' attraction to war. Here, she explores the opposite impulse, one that has been so effectively suppressed that we lack even a From the bestselling social commentator and cultural historian, a fascinating exploration of one of humanity's oldest traditions: the celebration of communal joy In the acclaimed "Blood Rites," Barbara Ehrenreich delved into the origins of our species' attraction to war. Here, she explores the opposite impulse, one that has been so effectively suppressed that we lack even a term for it: the desire for collective joy, historically expressed in ecstatic revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing. Ehrenreich uncovers the origins of communal celebration in human biology and culture. Although sixteenth-century Europeans viewed mass festivities as foreign and "savage," Ehrenreich shows that they were indigenous to the West, from the ancient Greeks' worship of Dionysus to the medieval practice of Christianity as a "danced religion." Ultimately, church officials drove the festivities into the streets, the prelude to widespread reformation: Protestants criminalized carnival, Wahhabist Muslims battled ecstatic Sufism, European colonizers wiped out native dance rites. The elites' fear that such gatherings would undermine social hierarchies was justified: the festive tradition inspired French revolutionary crowds and uprisings from the Caribbean to the American plains. Yet outbreaks of group revelry persist, as Ehrenreich shows, pointing to the 1960s rock-and-roll rebellion and the more recent "carnivalization" of sports. Original, exhilarating, and deeply optimistic, "Dancing in the Streets" concludes that we are innately social beings, impelled to share our joy and therefore able to envision, even create, a more peaceable future.


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From the bestselling social commentator and cultural historian, a fascinating exploration of one of humanity's oldest traditions: the celebration of communal joy In the acclaimed "Blood Rites," Barbara Ehrenreich delved into the origins of our species' attraction to war. Here, she explores the opposite impulse, one that has been so effectively suppressed that we lack even a From the bestselling social commentator and cultural historian, a fascinating exploration of one of humanity's oldest traditions: the celebration of communal joy In the acclaimed "Blood Rites," Barbara Ehrenreich delved into the origins of our species' attraction to war. Here, she explores the opposite impulse, one that has been so effectively suppressed that we lack even a term for it: the desire for collective joy, historically expressed in ecstatic revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing. Ehrenreich uncovers the origins of communal celebration in human biology and culture. Although sixteenth-century Europeans viewed mass festivities as foreign and "savage," Ehrenreich shows that they were indigenous to the West, from the ancient Greeks' worship of Dionysus to the medieval practice of Christianity as a "danced religion." Ultimately, church officials drove the festivities into the streets, the prelude to widespread reformation: Protestants criminalized carnival, Wahhabist Muslims battled ecstatic Sufism, European colonizers wiped out native dance rites. The elites' fear that such gatherings would undermine social hierarchies was justified: the festive tradition inspired French revolutionary crowds and uprisings from the Caribbean to the American plains. Yet outbreaks of group revelry persist, as Ehrenreich shows, pointing to the 1960s rock-and-roll rebellion and the more recent "carnivalization" of sports. Original, exhilarating, and deeply optimistic, "Dancing in the Streets" concludes that we are innately social beings, impelled to share our joy and therefore able to envision, even create, a more peaceable future.

30 review for Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

  1. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    Four out of five stars for the idea, two out of five stars for execution. Ehrenreich's introduction to Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy points out a quizzical disconnect in modern Western culture. We put an awful lot of time and effort into studying depression, malaise, the things that make us happy and the things that isolate us, but very little effort into studying the things that make us happy or which bring us together. Ehrenreich traces the history of expressions of commu Four out of five stars for the idea, two out of five stars for execution. Ehrenreich's introduction to Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy points out a quizzical disconnect in modern Western culture. We put an awful lot of time and effort into studying depression, malaise, the things that make us happy and the things that isolate us, but very little effort into studying the things that make us happy or which bring us together. Ehrenreich traces the history of expressions of communal joy and ecstatic communion—and the suppression of those celebrations—from prehistoric times through to the present day. In general, I think she makes some good points here. Why is it that modern Westerners can conceive so easily of strong bonds between individuals but less so between groups? What have we lost in the search for individual freedom? There's definitely fodder for thought and for discussion in the ideas Ehrenreich raises. However, I cannot recommend the methodology which Ehrenreich uses here. She admits at the outset that there is a bias in the sources towards the history of the West, yet makes little attempt to correct that tendency in her own writing. Moreover, what little discussion she has of non-Western cultures largely comes from Western sources. The subtitle of this book should really be A History of Collective Joy in the West. Ehrenreich may also have read broadly in order to read this book, but she does not seem to have read deeply, and much of the secondary scholarship on which she draws is shockingly dated, dating from the 50s and 60s. E.R. Dodds' work is foundational for a lot of recent scholarship, but it's also been superseded in many, many ways—the man died in the 70s! Why does she reference his work and not Peter Brown's? (Surely a more influential scholar in the field of late antique religion, whose work would, I think, be illuminating on this topic, even if he never directly addresses it!) I suspect, based on the chapters on medieval Europe (the area with which I'm most familiar) that this partly proceeds from a selective choice of/reading of the sources, and partly from the fact that she seems not to have read much secondary material not directly relevant to the topic. I think that a knowledge of Caroline Walker Bynum's work on food and the body in the Middle Ages, for instance, would have changed her characterisation of the medieval Mass and how laypeople participated in it. Similarly, greater familiarity with scholarly terminology on Ehrenreich's part would have strengthened her work—when historians or anthropologists refer to things as "liminal", that does not mean, as she seems to think, that they are dismissing something as marginal or unimportant, but rather that it gains in power or possibility because it straddles the margins of more than one sphere. It's not so easily categorised. (I listened to the audiobook version of this. I greatly enjoyed the reader's style and verve, but I really wish that she'd taken the time to clarify the pronunciation of non-English words before the recording. The French in particular made me wince.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Clara Stefanov-wagner

    I was disappointed to find that "collective joy" was narrowly defined in a very specific sense of trancelike, community-wide ritual associated with religious festivities. This is further defined (or at least described) as being characterized by a loss of individual consciousness and orientation on a level that would be considered pathological in other contexts. Working from this restrictive definition, the author takes the view that such occasions have vanished, and that we have lost an essentia I was disappointed to find that "collective joy" was narrowly defined in a very specific sense of trancelike, community-wide ritual associated with religious festivities. This is further defined (or at least described) as being characterized by a loss of individual consciousness and orientation on a level that would be considered pathological in other contexts. Working from this restrictive definition, the author takes the view that such occasions have vanished, and that we have lost an essential part of human culture in the process. In the sense of near-insanity that overtakes an entire town, perhaps this is true. But this ignores the many smaller/more-scattered communities that continue to experience collective joy and the celebration of a group identity at contra dances, church services, scout camps, sports games, and concerts throughout America and the world. The social history and raw factual information were well researched and thoroughly interesting; the attempt at drawing a conclusion was unnecessary and alienating.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Greg Talbot

    Emma Goldstein - "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution" Have we done ourselves the great diservice. Too disembodied from our minds and hearts to feel that human connection. Distancing ourselves from the grosser and sensual pleasures of collective enjoyment, we live luxirous privileged spoiled lives, but languish in feeling complete or fulfilled. There are ways we still connect as a group in sporting events, rock concerts, and online forums. But the story Ehrenreich tells i Emma Goldstein - "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution" Have we done ourselves the great diservice. Too disembodied from our minds and hearts to feel that human connection. Distancing ourselves from the grosser and sensual pleasures of collective enjoyment, we live luxirous privileged spoiled lives, but languish in feeling complete or fulfilled. There are ways we still connect as a group in sporting events, rock concerts, and online forums. But the story Ehrenreich tells is one of lost freedoms to express. Ehrenreich's storied and thought-provoking chapters give us perspective on how ecstatic rituals, dance, and communion with others promoted community. Worships found the Greek God Dionysus akin to a divine presence that wandered as a rock star. With his blessing there would be sordid dancing or saturnalia. In these pagan days, we are reminded people didn't just worship a "God", they identified with one. Boldly Ehrenreich describes how the early Church was full of low-class dancing, bawdy hymns, graveyard singing. But as the Church became a societial pillar holidays and structured events were reserved for celebration. The spontaneous joy and pagan festiveness was less tolerated, and by the time Martin Luther came around, almost any joy was seen as sinful. We chart the historical chapters on Calvinism, imperialism to the Americas, Nuremburg rallies, all to see how European dominance forced native people to abandon their indigenous ways. Religious forces are generally condemned in the book as a barrier to expression and possibly real connection. Festivity may be the cure for melancholy. May be the only way to bond and pull together to fight the existential crises of our identity and world. In the judging, self-aware world of today, some communities of the past seem impossible. Few of ourselves will lost ourselves in trance dancing, sexual orgies, or ritual hunting. But in collective action there is always power, and ability for real change, so let's find our rhythm and shuttle forward

  4. 4 out of 5

    Pinko Palest

    the basic premise of the book is excellent: carnival is subversive and collective joy teaches people how to overthrow hierarchies. Sadly, the author doesn't deal with this main point nearly enough. Instead, she goes on several tangents which not only add little but can be widely off the mark too. At the very beginning she makes a case for collective dancing being hard-wired in human genes, which is as biologically deterministic as they come. By the end, she makes a case for the carnivalization o the basic premise of the book is excellent: carnival is subversive and collective joy teaches people how to overthrow hierarchies. Sadly, the author doesn't deal with this main point nearly enough. Instead, she goes on several tangents which not only add little but can be widely off the mark too. At the very beginning she makes a case for collective dancing being hard-wired in human genes, which is as biologically deterministic as they come. By the end, she makes a case for the carnivalization of sport, citing the example of the Mexican Wave, thus proving that she only really knows american sports and has little to no idea of European fandom (I have never heard of any football supporter ever indulging in the dubious pleasure of a mexican wave, except for people who've only ever been to world cup finals games). Inbetween there's many other instances where the author is just plain worng. Still, I agree with her basic premise so much that I managed to squeeze 4 stars out of 5, but I really can't giver her the 5/5

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richard Reese

    I was intrigued when our book group selected Dancing in the Streets by Barbara Ehrenreich. It’s a history of collective joy and ecstatic ritual — stuff that’s pretty rare in the land of the glowing screen people. Studying humankind’s long transition from wild and free to robo-consumers, it’s easy to perceive gradually advancing emotional decay. Cultures slid further away from intimate connections to the family of life, and human societies grew from small clans of friends and family into sprawlin I was intrigued when our book group selected Dancing in the Streets by Barbara Ehrenreich. It’s a history of collective joy and ecstatic ritual — stuff that’s pretty rare in the land of the glowing screen people. Studying humankind’s long transition from wild and free to robo-consumers, it’s easy to perceive gradually advancing emotional decay. Cultures slid further away from intimate connections to the family of life, and human societies grew from small clans of friends and family into sprawling megalopolises inhabited by millions of strangers. In Colin Turnbull’s lovely book, The Forest People, the Mbuti Pygmies were beautiful people who thrived in a Congo rainforest. They did not worship invisible deities, because that required a vivid imagination. Instead, they had profound reverence and respect for their forest, which was not invisible, and gave them everything they needed. This love often inspired song, dance, and jubilation. Paradise was where their feet were standing. Turnbull wrote that the Pygmy “likes to laugh until tears come to his eyes and he is too weak to stand. He then sits down or lies on the ground and laughs still louder.” In The Mbuti Pygmies, Turnbull spoke fondly of Father Longo, a Catholic missionary. Pygmies had no word for evil. “In order to convert them, then, he would first have to teach them the concept of evil, and that he was not prepared to do.” He left them unmolested. I had great hopes for Ehrenreich’s book, because it was a very neat idea. I imagined a book to help us remember how essential it was, for health and sanity, to spend our lives in intimate daily contact with the family of life, in a thriving undefiled ecosystem — the mode of living for which we evolved. The book didn’t quite do this. Its time window was the era of civilization, beginning with brief glimpses of Canaanite orgies, and the lusty Dionysian cults of Greece. The main focus was on Europe in the last 500 years. For most, life in medieval times majored in backbreaking drudgery and poverty. Folks avoided insanity by taking breaks for festive gatherings — carnivals where people wore costumes and masks. There was singing, dancing, drinking, and good-natured mockery of their superiors. The struggles of daily life were left behind, as peasants and nobles joined together, rolled down their socks, and dissolved into a sweet whirlwind of joyful noise and ecstatic celebration. There were big cultural changes when puritanical cults appeared on the stage, with their fanatical intolerance. Calvinism descended like a hard frost on fun. Pleasure was of the devil. Festivities were banned. The music stopped. Get back to work! Naturally, this led to an epidemic of morbid melancholy (depression). Over time, multinational salvation-oriented religions drove wedges into cohesive social relationships. Believers were encouraged to regularly contemplate their shortcomings, and worry about where their souls would reside in the afterlife. There was increased focus on “me,” the individual, and less on “us,” our community. With the rise of individualism came “isolation, loneliness, a sense of disengagement, loss of vitality, and a feeling of burden because reality had no clear meaning.” Then came the age of colonization, when this injured mindset spread to distant lands, forced its beliefs on others, and destroyed their cultures. Missionaries were rigid, racist, domineering, and intolerant — dour and cheerless people who never laughed. Savages were no longer allowed to practice their traditional ecstatic rituals, because they were devil worship. Joy became a mental illness. Ehrenreich wrote in 2007, but her chapter on the rise of fascist nationalism could have been written this morning. Following their defeat in 1918, Germans were down and out. Hitler revived their spirits with mysticism, color, and pageantry. Hitler was a masterful performer and bullshit artist who entranced vast crowds with his highly animated oratory, repeatedly shouting slogan after slogan. Thousands roared back, “Sieg heil!” [LOOK] The Nazis built an enormous stadium at Nuremberg, and held annual gatherings in it. Around the perimeter, 130 antiaircraft searchlights were aimed straight up into the night, creating an awe-inspiring circular colonnade of light beams. Folks were spellbound by the sight of thousands of soldiers, in crisp new uniforms, goose-stepping with astonishing precision, to the thundering drumbeats. Like the Pied Piper, Hitler tried to unify and lead all good Germans to a heroic racially pure Teutonic utopia. On the streets, gangs of roughneck brown shirts with swastika armbands aggressively harassed the socialists, Jews, and other undesirables. The swing music of racially inferior Negroes was banned. Radio and cinema reinforced the Third Reich’s message — make the Fatherland great again. Military spectacles were a powerful way to manipulate crowds. The barrage of high energy nationalism whipped them up. But being orderly spectators was far less interesting than enthusiastically participating in singing, dancing, and merrymaking. Nazi events were heavily policed. Eventually, the parades and speeches got boring. After the Hitler show was reduced to rubble, Ehrenreich discussed two new fads that seemed like modern attempts to revive ecstatic rituals — rock music, and sporting events. In the ’60s, the Western world seemed to snap out of its brittle Puritan trance, get up, and dance. White kids discovered what black folks had known for a long time — tune into the beat and shake those hips. Letting yourself go led to ecstatic experiences. At Beatles concerts, the music was often drowned out by the intense screaming and shrieking of thousands of girls. At football and soccer games, crowds quit being passive spectators. Events took on carnival characteristics. They put on costumes with their team colors, and painted their faces. There were synchronized crowd movements, chants, dancing, feasting, and singing. Eventually, the crowds got so loud and distracting that the players on the field complained. Over time, games began to increasingly take on aspects of nationalistic military spectacles. There were marching bands, precision drill teams, celebrities, loud music, flag waving, national anthems, and fireworks. Modern psychology is focused on self-control, being a dependable human resource in an industrial society. Old fashioned communal festivities were focused on escape from routines, losing the self, and becoming one with the soaring ecstasy of big joy. I wish that Ehrenreich had invited Jacob Grimm into her story. Long, long before the plague of Puritans, Europeans had deep roots in their ancestral lands, places that were spiritually alive with sacred groves, streams, mountains, animals, and fairies. In Teutonic Mythology, Grimm described annual German bonfires: “At all the cities, towns, and villages of a country, towards evening on the first (or third) day of Easter, there is lighted every year on mountain and hill a great fire of straw, turf, and wood, amidst a concourse and jubilation, not only of the young, but of many grown up peoples. …Men and maids, and all who come, dance exulting and singing, hats are waved, handkerchiefs thrown into the fire. The mountains all round are lighted up, and it is an elevating spectacle, scarcely paralleled by anything else, to survey the country for many miles round from one of the higher points, and in every direction at once to see a vast number of these bonfires, brighter or fainter, blazing up to heaven.” At Midsummer, there were wheels of fire rituals. “A huge wheel is wrapt around with straw, so that none of the wood is left in sight, a strong pole is passed through the middle, and is grasped by the guiders of the wheel. At a signal… the wheel is lighted with a torch, and set rapidly in motion, a shout of joy is raised, and all wave their torches on high, part of the men stay on the hill, part follow the rolling globe of fire as it is guided downhill to the Moselle. …Whilst the wheel is rushing past the women and girls, they break out into cries of joy, answered by the men on the hill; and inhabitants of neighboring villages, who have flocked to the river side, mingle their voices in the universal rejoicing.” In the old days, white folks still knew how to party like Pygmies.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tabitha

    Its been a few weeks since I actually finished this book, and I am still telling people about it. Ehrenreich takes social theories that I've read about over the years, the works of Weber, Durkheim, Foucault, and ties them all together to examine the history of collective dance and ectasy. This latter term she defines using the word's root meaning--to be filled with a spirit or divine presence. Over time, this root of ectasy, planted in religion and spirituality, has been cleaved from the divine. Its been a few weeks since I actually finished this book, and I am still telling people about it. Ehrenreich takes social theories that I've read about over the years, the works of Weber, Durkheim, Foucault, and ties them all together to examine the history of collective dance and ectasy. This latter term she defines using the word's root meaning--to be filled with a spirit or divine presence. Over time, this root of ectasy, planted in religion and spirituality, has been cleaved from the divine. It is this separation, occurring over centuries, and the subsequent vacuum of collective joy that Ehrenreich examines. I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone and everyone. It was truly a fasinating look at the evolving human experience.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sami Eerola

    Great history book that not just tells the history of street dancing, but also the history of Western culture, imperialism and capitalism. This book starts as a regular anthropological study, but after 100 pages it turns in a quasi anarchist "peoples history" book, that argues that to create a centralized state and capitalism the cracking down of street dancing and collective spontaneity was "necessary". In the end this book argues that all the mental illnesses and depression that people suffer Great history book that not just tells the history of street dancing, but also the history of Western culture, imperialism and capitalism. This book starts as a regular anthropological study, but after 100 pages it turns in a quasi anarchist "peoples history" book, that argues that to create a centralized state and capitalism the cracking down of street dancing and collective spontaneity was "necessary". In the end this book argues that all the mental illnesses and depression that people suffer in society today is caused by lacking of organic spontaneous collective joy. But everything is sourced and cited so this is a great source book on how came to be that white Europeans are so poor dancers compared to Africans.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Glauber Ribeiro

    In this book, Barbara Ehrenreich traces the evolution and repression of collective celebration through history and in doing so, not only proves that we are happiest when doing joyful things together, but shows that despite the many ways society has repressed collective joy, it can't be kept down but keeps finding new ways. In fact, our survival depends on it. I especially liked the image of churches without pews, where people stood and mingled. Let's have less spectacle and more celebration! In this book, Barbara Ehrenreich traces the evolution and repression of collective celebration through history and in doing so, not only proves that we are happiest when doing joyful things together, but shows that despite the many ways society has repressed collective joy, it can't be kept down but keeps finding new ways. In fact, our survival depends on it. I especially liked the image of churches without pews, where people stood and mingled. Let's have less spectacle and more celebration!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Eli

    I chose not to finish this book; being a fan of both joy and dance, this made me sad. As an investigative reporter, Ehrenreich might be quite skilled. But I am not impressed with her grasp of religious history nor her style of psychological conjecture to support her points. There are better sources than this book for cultural theories. If I'm going to spend time on the history of an event, I want more hard facts. I chose not to finish this book; being a fan of both joy and dance, this made me sad. As an investigative reporter, Ehrenreich might be quite skilled. But I am not impressed with her grasp of religious history nor her style of psychological conjecture to support her points. There are better sources than this book for cultural theories. If I'm going to spend time on the history of an event, I want more hard facts.

  10. 5 out of 5

    James Henry

    Excellent and very thought provoking. The more I read of her works the more I love Barbara Ehrenreich. This book looks at everything from the cult of Dionysus and it's parallels with the myths of Jesus, the suppression of dance by authoritarian regimes,to the subversion of sport and festival by the masses, etc. It goes all over the place and spans 2,000 years of history. I'll go back and read it again. A pure delight! Excellent and very thought provoking. The more I read of her works the more I love Barbara Ehrenreich. This book looks at everything from the cult of Dionysus and it's parallels with the myths of Jesus, the suppression of dance by authoritarian regimes,to the subversion of sport and festival by the masses, etc. It goes all over the place and spans 2,000 years of history. I'll go back and read it again. A pure delight!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Thom

    This type of book is an unexpected pleasure, because its perspective is very Big Picture. So much historical record is described, and yet the subject is always the human being, so it's immediate and relevant, but seen through a kaleidoscope of cultures through the centuries. The effect is of lifting a veil to show a reality that's always been there, but not consciously acknowledged. Now I expect I need to read her "Blood Rites" book which is the flip side of this one. This type of book is an unexpected pleasure, because its perspective is very Big Picture. So much historical record is described, and yet the subject is always the human being, so it's immediate and relevant, but seen through a kaleidoscope of cultures through the centuries. The effect is of lifting a veil to show a reality that's always been there, but not consciously acknowledged. Now I expect I need to read her "Blood Rites" book which is the flip side of this one.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Ordered this on a whim, then heard it mentioned in Brian Eno's John Peel lecture so had to finally pick it up and read it! Wonderful readable history of dance - from Dionysus to Woodstock - especially good on the links between the Puritan suppression of dance and movement and the way in which colonialism and the early missionaries worked to together to stamp out collective expressions of carnival. A writer I'd not come across before, there's more of her stuff to discover too.. Ordered this on a whim, then heard it mentioned in Brian Eno's John Peel lecture so had to finally pick it up and read it! Wonderful readable history of dance - from Dionysus to Woodstock - especially good on the links between the Puritan suppression of dance and movement and the way in which colonialism and the early missionaries worked to together to stamp out collective expressions of carnival. A writer I'd not come across before, there's more of her stuff to discover too..

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gavin

    Ehrenreich leads the reader through ecstatic rituals' persistent effervescence in spite of authoritarian campaigns against collective joy, and the solidarity it can inspire. As a white American, I have always felt an important part of myself locked down, and tied up. Ehrenreich identifies it as a practice of social movement that's been stripped from me over long generations of Orwellian memory-holes. Ehrenreich leads the reader through ecstatic rituals' persistent effervescence in spite of authoritarian campaigns against collective joy, and the solidarity it can inspire. As a white American, I have always felt an important part of myself locked down, and tied up. Ehrenreich identifies it as a practice of social movement that's been stripped from me over long generations of Orwellian memory-holes.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ana Ulin

    My notes: https://anaulin.org/blog/book-notes-d... My notes: https://anaulin.org/blog/book-notes-d...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    Barbara Ehrenreich is one of my hero authors because of her books Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. She has written a number of other books but these two address social issues that I find particularly compelling. They are also books where her writing is quite personal and succinct. On the other hand Dancing in the Streets hammers home its points by excessive repetition. For example, in the Introduction Ehrenreich writes a twenty page thesis on ceremonies that she considers celebratory in som Barbara Ehrenreich is one of my hero authors because of her books Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. She has written a number of other books but these two address social issues that I find particularly compelling. They are also books where her writing is quite personal and succinct. On the other hand Dancing in the Streets hammers home its points by excessive repetition. For example, in the Introduction Ehrenreich writes a twenty page thesis on ceremonies that she considers celebratory in some way. Hardly any of these examples, and there are many, are unique. Most are of the same nature but in different cultural settings. She calls these ecstatic rituals. This point is made and made, then made again. Enough, Barbara, I get the point. She concludes “If we possess this capacity for collective ecstasy, why do we so seldom put it to use?” In Blood Rites she explores the negative collective action of war. In Dancing in the Streets she looks in the other direction for positive examples. This takes the form of an academic thesis, like Blood Rites, with fifty pages of notes, bibliography and index. I am tempted to put both these books in the reference section of the library and only go to it when I am interested in seriously exploring the topics. These are not for bedside reading tables. I cannot celebrate Dancing in the Streets although from the catchy title I expect an enjoyable experience. But it is more represented by the serious subtitle A History of Collective Joy. And since so much of the book is devoted to the loss or absence of festivals, we might subtitle it The Loss of Collective Joy. So, I guess, my reaction to the book really had to do with expectations. I was looking for something catchy and readable and I got a deep, serious viewpoint. I was hoping for the happy personal celebration of a sports victory of my home team but got the formal experience of the choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus. “Go back ten thousand years . . .” Ehrenreich likes to start at the beginning with the prehistoric times. “We can infer these scenes from prehistoric rock art depicting dancing figures, which has been discovered at sites in Africa, India, Australia, Italy, Turkey, Israel, Iran, and Egypt, among other places.” With the help of modern anthropologists she can “infer” quite a bit and sometimes I wonder what came first, the conclusion or the inference. She sees “marching, chanting, dancing” everywhere she looks. She spends many pages delving into Dionysian worship asserting that it wasn’t “fundamentally sexual in nature” challenging a common modern day assumption. On the other hand “With his long hair, his hints of violence, and his promise of ecstasy, Dionysus was the first rock star.” There is some conflict about sexuality in this statement given our current stereotype of rock stars! Furthermore, she explores the collapse of paganism beginning with the rise of Christianity. “In a world without Dionysus/Pan/Bacchus/Sabazios, nature would be dead, joy would be postponed to an afterlife, and the forests would no longer ring with the sound of pipes and flutes.” Far from that state, Ehrenreich sees Jesus as taking on many of the characteristics of Dionysus as one way to explain his rise to prominence and the effort of his followers to fit him into the world as he found it. The parallels between Jesus and Dionysus are striking as Ehrenreich lists them. She also observes that Jesus “was born into a Jewish culture that had embraced, to a certain extent, the pagan gods, especially Zeus and Dionysus.” The phrase “to some extent” may be a key to understanding the view Ehrenreich takes. It is fair to say that first- and second-century Christianity offered an experience in some ways similar to that provided by the Greek mystery cults, and the “oriental” religions in Rome – one of great emotional intensity, sometimes culminating in ecstatic states. Christians . . . sang and chanted, leaped up to prophesy either in tongues or in normal speech, drank wine, and probably danced and tossed their hair about. Having said all that and more, Ehrenreich is bold enough to say that “Generalization is unwise here . . .”! She goes on to explain the current Christianity as “diminished” from its Dionysian origins. The current conflict in the Church between speaking in tongues and patient listening, between ecstatic dancing and sedate sitting was in the front of my mind as I read this section. To accept the course of evolution (if I may use that word!) of the church as expounded by Ehrenreich requires an open mind and rather flexible beliefs. It mostly does not work if one is dogmatic. Ehrenreich explores the reasons carnivals, large public parties, declined in frequency. One conclusion is that “Without question, industrial capitalism and Protestantism played a central role in motivating the destruction of carnival and other festivities.” Although there is no answer to “the question of whether carnival functioned as a school for revolution or as a means of social control,” the book provides some gruel for thought. Ehrenreich does occasionally drift off course. Sometimes the drift is interesting but only tangentially related to collective joy! And it should be emphasized that the new concern to separate eating from excreting, and one human body from another, had nothing to do with hygiene. Bathing was still an infrequent, even – if indulged in too often – eccentric, practice, the knowledge that contact with others and their excreta can spread disease was still at least two centuries away. In what seems to me to be another excursion into the barely related, Ehrenreich devotes a twenty page chapter to melancholy in the 1600s ascribing it as the 17th century version of our depression. What does this have to do with Dancing in the Streets? If the destruction of festivals did not actually cause depression, it may still be that, in abandoning their traditional festivities, people lost a potentially effective cure for it. What was the cure for melancholia in the late 16th and early 17th century? Eat, drink and be merry. Go to a festival! What, you say the festivals have been excluded from the churches and banished from the countryside? Oh my! So what should we do in today’s modern or post-carnival era about depression? I know of no attempts in our time to use festive behavior as treatment for depression, as if such an experiment is even thinkable in a modern clinical setting. There is, however, an abundance of evidence that communal pleasures – ranging from simple festivities to ecstatic rituals – have served, in a variety of cultures, as a way of alleviating and even curing depression. And she goes on to give a number of examples suggesting in conclusion that we should not reject “one of the most ancient sources of help – the mind-preserving, lifesaving techniques of ecstasy.” Actually sounds like a prescription for a party is called for! But the years of European expansionism sent somber folk out to conquer the world and end the festivities wherever they were encountered. We are still talking about loss of Dancing in the Streets. And then – Sieg Heil! – back come the massive crowds to adulate their fascist leaders. But are they experiencing joy or crowd psychology? And then we are brought to the present time when Dancing in the Streets is brought to you by rock concerts indoors and then outdoors. And the thrill of the home run or goal or basket or great play or political victory can bring a crowd to their feet in collective celebration. We have lived this part of celebration and it brings the book to an ending where Ehrenreich ponders whether the days of carnivals will ever return with its ecstatic joy. The book has mostly related the extinction of carnival-like events over the centuries. Ehrenreich closes by saying that we need more chances “on this crowded planet, to acknowledge the miracle of our simultaneous existence with some sort of celebration.” I didn’t find very much to jump up and dance to in this book. It is full of academic speculation and recollection. It seems to go back to the beginning of human life in a well researched canvas of vanishing planned and spontaneous collective joy. It is too much like a book that the professor might assign parts of for a sociology class. Dancing in the Streets is similar to Blood Rites in its academic approach to the topic. And since I had already read Blood Rites, I was not crushed with disappointment to find the drone of an academic thesis. I just did not find excitement in either book. Lots of information, that’s for sure, but not much excitement. It wouldn’t make a very good movie either. I just was not ready for so much more academia in Dancing in the Streets so I am giving it two stars: “It was OK.” I was hoping for something a little more user friendly. I also would have appreciated a few portions about how to find the path to more collective joy.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lot

    Points were made

  17. 5 out of 5

    Simon Wood

    ON COLLECTIVE ECSTACY Starting back at the dawn of time and bringing the reader up to the present, Barbara Ehrenreich charts the history of collective joy in her recently published book "Dancing in the Streets". The book itself isn't one that's easy to pigeon-hole, in part a work of synthesis, it brings into close focus those fragments of information we have from the past that relate to her subject matter. It also reflects, and speculates on, the expressions of collective joy and ecstatic ritual ON COLLECTIVE ECSTACY Starting back at the dawn of time and bringing the reader up to the present, Barbara Ehrenreich charts the history of collective joy in her recently published book "Dancing in the Streets". The book itself isn't one that's easy to pigeon-hole, in part a work of synthesis, it brings into close focus those fragments of information we have from the past that relate to her subject matter. It also reflects, and speculates on, the expressions of collective joy and ecstatic rituals which are broadly defined as festivals, carnivals, holidays and fairs in which the participants actually participate, as opposed to spectacles of where one just gawps and which reached their hellish epitome with the Nazi rallies of the 1930's. 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.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dale Rosenberg

    This history and exposition of ecstatic rituals and festivity by Barbara Ehrenreich is fascinating, disturbing, and ultimately uplifting. Ehrenreich posits that we as humans are hard-wired to experience collective joy, to use human community for positive rituals and activities that connect us with one another and with the divine, however we understand that. Full of examples, Ehrenreich starts with ancient civilizations and their rites and moves forward through medieval festivals to the repressio This history and exposition of ecstatic rituals and festivity by Barbara Ehrenreich is fascinating, disturbing, and ultimately uplifting. Ehrenreich posits that we as humans are hard-wired to experience collective joy, to use human community for positive rituals and activities that connect us with one another and with the divine, however we understand that. Full of examples, Ehrenreich starts with ancient civilizations and their rites and moves forward through medieval festivals to the repression of festivity that came along with Calvinist religion and market based economies in Europe in the early modern period. This repression not only wiped out much of the rites of collective joy in Europe but also through European domination of much of the world suppressed festivity in colonized countries . Ehrenreich - by training a scientist - reviews the neurological causes and effects of trance, collective dancing and chanting, and other manifestations of collective joy. She distinguishes between festivity - in which everyone participates - and spectacle - where there is a strong distinction between active performers and a passive audience whose only role is to applaud, cheer, or engage in prescribed rituals. In her later chapters, she talks about how some contemporary spectacles became "festivalized." In particular she discusses rock concerts including dancing, singing along, and in the case of "Beatlemania" and related phenomena - crying, screaming, and trance-like states. She also talks about the festivalization of sport, where onlookers get up and shout, wear costumes and face paint, perform rhythmic motions (like the Wave), and sing and clap along to musical interludes. These are all actvities that were absent from concerts and sports in the first half of the twentieth century and Ehrenreich makes a good argument that they were inserted because of our collective need for festivity. The book made me think a lot about what is and has been spectacle and what festivity in my own life as well as the soul-nourishing effects on me personally of collective joy, both religious and secular. It helped me distinguish between events like Trump rallies (like Hitler's Nuremburg rallies, they are tightly controlled spectacle) and Gay Pride parades and festivals (where we all festively participated and the distinction between marchers and observers was blurred). A thought provoking and ultimately optimistic book. One caveat: I "read" this on audio book. The reader mispronounced a bunch of foreign words in languages I do know, so I assume she mispronounced others as well. For example, she pronounced the Hebrew word for holiday like the English word "hag" and when talking about the Breslov Hasidim on their march to their rebbe's grave referred to the city of Uman as "You-mon" and the rebbe as their "reb-uh."

  19. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Three and a half stars. This is not a topic about which I would have deliberately sought out information, but Ehrenreich is one of those authors who can lead me willingly into uncharted waters. The joy of which the subtitle speaks is the ecstatic variety, most familiar to modern Western readers as a relic of a bygone age, in which there might be speaking in tongues, dancing to the point of exhaustion, and other expressions in which the individual seems to lose him or herself to some greater collec Three and a half stars. This is not a topic about which I would have deliberately sought out information, but Ehrenreich is one of those authors who can lead me willingly into uncharted waters. The joy of which the subtitle speaks is the ecstatic variety, most familiar to modern Western readers as a relic of a bygone age, in which there might be speaking in tongues, dancing to the point of exhaustion, and other expressions in which the individual seems to lose him or herself to some greater collective force of the group. Her examination begins in ancient Greece, moves to ancient Rome, then becomes closely tied to the history of Christianity, which, until around the 12th or 13th century, appears to have been a danced religion, much like the other religions of the day. The eventual exclusion of dancing from religious ritual was a gradual process, which involved not only a clergy eager to maintain tight control of their followers, but surprisingly (at least to me), the invention of capitalism and Calvinism, both of which required the poorer classes to be a sober, hard-working, reliable source of labor who would be meekly grateful for whatever meager wages were provided to them. Once the church stamped out public celebrations related to worship, the urge to gather and have fun in large groups found other means of expression-- first in the carnivals of the Middle Ages, and later in nationalist gatherings (favored by both Hitler and Mussolini), rock concerts, and sporting events. While primarily a book of history, the book also touches on psychology, sociology, and the politics of race.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chris Dotson

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. AMAZING BARBARA! This is one of the greatest reads i've had in a while, Barbara decided to explore the history of Joy, specifically group joy in the form she sees as weaving itself throughout history from early religious sects around Jesus and Dionysus, through carnival, and continuing into the modern phenomenon of the wave, She reaches into religion, Pop culture, and leaves no other cultural stone unturned in an effort to find "the supression of these experiences". Early on she reveals while em AMAZING BARBARA! This is one of the greatest reads i've had in a while, Barbara decided to explore the history of Joy, specifically group joy in the form she sees as weaving itself throughout history from early religious sects around Jesus and Dionysus, through carnival, and continuing into the modern phenomenon of the wave, She reaches into religion, Pop culture, and leaves no other cultural stone unturned in an effort to find "the supression of these experiences". Early on she reveals while emotions are being studied scientifically, we have overwhlemingly studied grief, despair, sadness, depressions, while virtually ignoring this flip-side to the dark emotions. Her compelling conclusions are that power has always feared the masses gaining this type of group empowerment, whether in the practice of speaking in tongues, the menads who worshiped Dionysus, or the modern practice of moshing at a concert, she talks about how "Order" kills the spontaneity of collective joy for example Now the giant screen at sports stadiums tells you when to do the wave, essentially eliminating this ecstasy from the group. This thesis is worth becoming an entire field unto itself, I would love to hear what other scholars might say looking at history through this fascinating filter.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anie

    I have a deep, deep appreciation for the combination of music and dance - it's led me to impromptu dance parties, raves, drum circles, and hippie music festivals among other events. There's nothing like a beat to make you move, and nothing like losing yourself in a large group to make you feel totally and truly human. This book is about that: large-scale celebrations of music, dance, and general carnival. The author has some really interesting ideas - from the idea of collective joy as an adapta I have a deep, deep appreciation for the combination of music and dance - it's led me to impromptu dance parties, raves, drum circles, and hippie music festivals among other events. There's nothing like a beat to make you move, and nothing like losing yourself in a large group to make you feel totally and truly human. This book is about that: large-scale celebrations of music, dance, and general carnival. The author has some really interesting ideas - from the idea of collective joy as an adaptation for survival to the possibility that the depression of our age is really just us bereft of that connection that's only possible through festivals and group dance. Although certainly a lot of the book is speculation on things no one has studied or proven, there's a lot of interesting ideas and also a lot of historical fact and research. A thoroughly enjoyable book. Read it, if only because you'll want to start a dance party afterwards.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    In one of the most unique books I've read in a long time, Ehrenreich departs from her usually focused gender-analysis to engage in a study of collective joy throughout human history. Clearly, today's society offers few opportunities akin to the participatory festivals of the pre-modern world and non-industrial societies, and how this happened is carefully traced by Ehrenreich. This book is both enlivening, because of the ebullient topic and events described, but equally depressing, because it is In one of the most unique books I've read in a long time, Ehrenreich departs from her usually focused gender-analysis to engage in a study of collective joy throughout human history. Clearly, today's society offers few opportunities akin to the participatory festivals of the pre-modern world and non-industrial societies, and how this happened is carefully traced by Ehrenreich. This book is both enlivening, because of the ebullient topic and events described, but equally depressing, because it is starkly clear how absent in and incompatible with today's late-capitalism ecstasy-producing dancing in the streets is. A good read for just about anyone that I might never cite in my work but will always have in the back of my mind.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lorraine

    Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the bestseller "Nickel and Dimed", has written another outstanding book! This one explores the role of dancing through the ages as an expression of community, and looks at the ebb and flow of various forms of dance and such other group experiences as festivals, religious practices, and rock concerts, their rise and fall through the ages, and what we have lost as a society as entertainment has become more a matter of being an spectator than a participant. Her writing Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the bestseller "Nickel and Dimed", has written another outstanding book! This one explores the role of dancing through the ages as an expression of community, and looks at the ebb and flow of various forms of dance and such other group experiences as festivals, religious practices, and rock concerts, their rise and fall through the ages, and what we have lost as a society as entertainment has become more a matter of being an spectator than a participant. Her writing/thinking have expanded some ideas of my own about canned forms of "fun" versus the more risky but potentially more satisfying and certainly more creative possibilities of making our own fun.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    A very fascinating history of collective joy (expressed though revelry, celebration, dancing, imitating those in power through costuming,and religious ecstasy to name a few) and how that very strong and, as some would argue, vital human impulse has been suppressed. I was thoroughly interested in this book. Everything from Dionysian rites through Greatful Dead concerts. I was particularly troubled by the suppression and disappearance of signs of collective joy in our culture to be replaced by cap A very fascinating history of collective joy (expressed though revelry, celebration, dancing, imitating those in power through costuming,and religious ecstasy to name a few) and how that very strong and, as some would argue, vital human impulse has been suppressed. I was thoroughly interested in this book. Everything from Dionysian rites through Greatful Dead concerts. I was particularly troubled by the suppression and disappearance of signs of collective joy in our culture to be replaced by capitalist individualism. However, I was moved by the author's suggestion that it is still possible to regain what we have lost.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Ties together history, anthropology, sociology, and psychology, physiology, and biology. Compelling explanation about imperialism and the destruction of joyful communion in the name of hierarchy creation. Call to action for creative possible solutions to the isolation and lack of community now- when we need to join together to face humanity’s greatest threat. (I always enjoy her wry humor as well.)

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joy

    This is not Barbara Ehrenreich's best writing - it lacks the elan of her first-person narrative style - but she really impressed me with her argument that humans need festival. It turns out my interests in dancing and community are closely related, which finally makes sense to me. Bottom line: more dance parties. Can't argue with that. This is not Barbara Ehrenreich's best writing - it lacks the elan of her first-person narrative style - but she really impressed me with her argument that humans need festival. It turns out my interests in dancing and community are closely related, which finally makes sense to me. Bottom line: more dance parties. Can't argue with that.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lyubov

    This is fascinating! Both from the ciclovia history perspective, and from the angle of folk dancing (such as contra and Morris dancing), this gives an entirely new angle to how our society has embraced and discarded traditions of communal festivities and dancing in the streets over the centuries.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    As someone whom in recent years has lived a solitary existence, due to health and the toll my job takes from me, I think this is a wonderful history and exploration. The basic human need for joy, community, and celebration cannot be denied and as a society we've all but lost it. It is a potent force. I want this natural transcendent experience in my life. As someone whom in recent years has lived a solitary existence, due to health and the toll my job takes from me, I think this is a wonderful history and exploration. The basic human need for joy, community, and celebration cannot be denied and as a society we've all but lost it. It is a potent force. I want this natural transcendent experience in my life.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    I loved the discussion of the physical component of Spiritual expression. I have personally struggled to find opportunities to share this "collective effervescence" that are not frustrated by weird dogma. Maybe that is why I have found so much satisfaction in singing in a choir and in practicing yoga. They are both physical/spiritual expressions w/o unnecessary conflicts of dogma. I loved the discussion of the physical component of Spiritual expression. I have personally struggled to find opportunities to share this "collective effervescence" that are not frustrated by weird dogma. Maybe that is why I have found so much satisfaction in singing in a choir and in practicing yoga. They are both physical/spiritual expressions w/o unnecessary conflicts of dogma.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Daeryl Holzer

    This delightful book explained for me my love of communal dancing, ritual, and ecstatic states as a natural, if not totally necessary, aspect of being alive! It puts into context how we gather in shared experience, to equal out any competition or social status, and how invaluable those activities are to any culture.

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