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Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy Paperback – December 26, 2007

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 1st edition (December 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805057242
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805057249
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 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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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Tim Warneka on November 22, 2009
Format: Audio CD
I listened to the audio version of this book.

I found this book to be fascinating and stimulating. As a life-long Roman Catholic, I thought the earlier reviews that decry the author for her 'church bashing' and 'Stalin'-like approaches were rather unfair and unnecessarily ad hominem. The author clearly put a great deal of time and effort into this book (either that, or she has an amazing team of researchers working for her! ;-D). It was fascinating for me to listen as she wove disparate pieces of information into a beautiful tapestry about the history of collective ecstatic dance in the Western world. (These kinds of books are very difficult to write. If you haven't tried to write a book such as this, I would strongly invite you to do so ... you'll gain a new appreciation for authors such as Ehrenreich who make it look so easy.)

I picked this book up because I very appreciated the author's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. I appreciate the author because she is focusing on issues that, in my opinion, should deeply concern today's Christians, such as the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer.

As a mental health professional, I also found her discussion on depression and mental health issues to be very insightful.

The person who read the audio book did a wonderful job. I found her voice very easy to listen to.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia Roses-Thema, Ph.D. on July 8, 2008
Format: Paperback
Good research comes from good questions. Barbara Ehrenreich's book is the result of two excellent questions that she writes are prompted by a sense of loss: "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?"
Going chronologically from the stone age cave drawings where the collective experience of dancing and feasting was felt so important as to record it, Ehrenreich sweeps through to present times, to what she calls an age of spectacle and sports. Along the way, Ehrenreich tells you about anthropologists who in the beginning neglected dance altogether and psychologists who are still too busy studying only the depressed individual to take any notice of those of us who experience joy. She takes a long hard look at Calvinism through the immensely troubled life of John Bunyan and tracks the dance mania in the 13-15th century Europe that ended in a crackdown on bodily movement from both Church and State in the 16th century. Ehrenreich cleverly posits this crackdown could very well be linked to the European Depression in the 17th century and she cites evidence in the novels, poetry, and autobiographies of the times. She finds only sporadic outbreaks of collective joy in present times, one such episode emanating from the sixties culture.
Coming to this book as a dancer and knowing the joy of dance I interpret Ehrenreich's work as demonstrating the struggle that exists in the physical body when you dance. In other words, to move or not to move.
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10 of 10 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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