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Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy Hardcover – January 9, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; First Edition edition (January 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805057234
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805057232
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.6 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #143,766 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. It is a truism that everyone seeks happiness, but public manifestations of it have not always been free of recrimination. Colonial regimes have defined spectacles as an inherently "primitive" act and elders harrumph at youthful exultation. Social critic and bestselling author Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed) teases out the many incarnations of sanctioned public revelry, starting with the protofeminist oreibasia, or Dionysian winter dance, in antiquity, and from there covering trance, ancient mystery cults and carnival, right up to the rock and roll and sports-related mass celebrations of our own day. "Why is so little left" of such rituals, she asks, bemoaning the "loss of ecstatic pleasure." Ehrenreich necessarily delineates the repressive reactions to such ecstasy by the forces of so-called "civilization," reasonably positing that rituals of joy are nearly as innate as the quest for food and shelter. Complicating Ehrenreich's schema is her own politicized judgment, dismissing what she sees as the debased celebrations of sporting events while writing approvingly of the 1960s "happenings" of her own youth and the inevitable street theater that accompanies any modern mass protest, yet all but ignoring the Burning Man festival in Nevada and tut-tutting ravers' reliance on artificial ecstasy. That aside, Ehrenreich writes with grace and clarity in a fascinating, wide-ranging and generous account. (Jan. 10)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

At a time when social scientists are lamenting the loss of a sense of community, Ehrenreich offers an absorbing look at the joy of life expressed in communal rituals of dance and celebration. From cave drawings through the celebrations of weddings, religious rites, healing, and war preparations of various cultures to modern "carnivalization" of sports celebrations, she traces the appeal of synchronizing individual movements to a group. Western culture, with little understanding of the ecstasy of love expressed in group celebrations, has looked on such celebrations as primitive hysterics and banned them among African slaves, Native Americans, and other cultures. But Ehrenreich details a long history of such celebrations in European cultures, from the festivals of Dionysus to those of medieval Christians. She also explores other cultures' reactions to dance celebrations they viewed as somehow socially or spiritually subversive, whether it's Protestants banning carnivals or Wahhabist Muslims frowning on ecstatic Sufism. Given the social nature of humans, Ehrenreich is optimistic that the drive to "civilize" will never fully eliminate the impulse for group celebration. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

BARBARA EHRENREICH is the author of fourteen books, including the bestselling Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. She lives in Virginia, USA.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 23 customer reviews
This is an interesting and compelling book to read.
Paul Moskowitz
For those of you who have often wondered about dancing, and its various social incarnations, this book is for you.
Cynthia S. Haggard
Barbara Ehrenreich laments the fact that we are very lonely people who lead separate and individual lives.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Pierulla on January 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you have ever wondered why you dance, when we and where dancing started,why has there always been dancing, why have some tried to stop it and most of all why does our heart beat faster, a glow come over our body, and our soul seems to rise to a place of unknown joy.

Well my friend this beautifully written work will give you a lot of ideas.

From the savannas of Africa to fiords of Norway you will have new insights into why we dance everywhere and why we will never stop until the last heart stops "beating."

I have always known dance has eternal powers but until I read this I never thought how these powers had been copted in the pursuit of bellicose motives that turned brother against brother.

Thanks to an NPR interview, that did not come close to doing this book justice, and the omnipresence of Amazon I was able to order, receive, read, digest and recommend this joy of a book in a matter of days. A Dionyesian feast that will dance in your mind for a lifetime. Thank you so much Ms. Ehrenreich.
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56 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty on January 16, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Barbara Ehrenreich's "Dancing in the Streets" is a rather unique approach to the subject of a human behavior which has roots going back to, probably, prehistoric days. And her discussion of the topic will, I suspect, be controversial and criticized from some viewpoints, particularly those who may be bothered by the subtitle: "A History of Collective Joy." However, the fact is that this is one of humankind's oldest traditions, the communal celebration of whatever it was that was important to the community -- fertility, security, the annual harvest, or whatever. Promoters of an "autonomous" individualism take note: this is not a book you will happily read. On the other hand, those who think that the individual person doesn't really count -- only the group matters -- may not like it either.

Her purpose for writing this book is clearly stated in the introduction: "If ecstatic rituals and festivities were once so widespread, why is so little left of them today? If the 'techniques' of ecstasy represent an important part of the human cultural heritage, why have we forgotten them, if indeed we have?" Well, I, personally, am not so sure that her initial assumptions are, in fact, true. I think it might be argued that the ecstatic rituals and festivities are still present with us, but they have simply taken on a different "form" consonant with the requirements of a "mass civilization" which has evolved over the past few centuries. I am not as pessimistic as she appears to be about the "collective joy" phenomenon. I do have friends who regularly participate in such behavior, although not for the benefit of the media, and their "rituals," if that be the appropriate word, are not for public consumption.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Gordon on June 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Barbara Ehrrenreich is a writer and thinker involved in the exploration of social phenomenon. She is certainly a political thinker and definitely has a point of view about social phenomena as they impact modern life. She is not an historian or an anthropologist. I'm at a loss to understand the criticism of this book based on what it never pretends itself to be, a history of dance or an anthropological study of the ecstatic phenomenon.
Several people have found it necessary to point out that Barbara Ehrenreich is on the left politically and a product of the 1960s with an "ah hah" mentality that seems to indicate she has has somehow tried to hide this, or that it inherently shameful. Social thinkers who propose changes in the way we currently conduct our lives or our society ALWAYS have ideas which they promote (pejoratively described as biases) because they actively advocate for change. It would be dishonest to attempt to hide them behind a false "objectivity."
This kind of false "objectivity" has sapped the life, not only from much that passes for social commentary, but also from investigative journalism, in which the collection of a quote or two from "authorities" on each side of a conflict has replaced the search for the truth about a given situation. It has also lead to the false notion that the truth is always located in the middle of the road.
Bravo to Barbara Ehrenreich who never hides behind this sort of fakery in her search for the truth as she sees it. She invites readers to join the dance of two mindes, the writer's and the reader's, in thinking about topics that engage her own thoughts.
Some critics seem to be attacking the fact that her writing is interesting and fun to read. Never fear!
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Throughout history, mankind has participated in a variety of rituals and celebrations. Some are somber and fairly simple (a wake, a funeral procession), while others are quite festive and elaborate (Mardi Gras in New Orleans, carnaval in Brazil).

DANCING IN THE STREETS, by prolific author and historian Barbara Ehrenreich, explains in great detail how and why human beings have come together to mark special occasions, the process by which these rituals have been passed down through the centuries, and what the events mean to participants.

Many of the rituals were planned and/or timed to celebrate a particular happening, such as a wedding, the bounty of the harvest, a funeral, or the rite of passage into adulthood. They often included many of the following components: a certain type of costume or dress, special foods and beverages, music and dancing, masks, body painting, headgear, etc. Certainly these celebrations frequently centered on a procession, a parade or athletic contests.

One only need to think about current-day Olympic games to realize just how much of the pageantry, ritual and symbolism has remained and been expanded upon. The special costumes (all team members of an individual nation are dressed alike), the opening ceremony (which includes the Parade of the Nations and proud flag waving), the lighting of the Olympic torch (which officially begins the competition) and music (the playing of the various national anthems at the medals ceremonies) tend to draw the observer in, making him or her feel like an integral part of the activities. When watching the Olympics on television, one is briefly transported to another time and place, where the similarities and successes (not the differences) of various cultures are being celebrated.
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