Dancing in the Streets: A history of collective joy, By Barbara Ehrenreich

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The Independent Culture

Here is a chronologically ordered history of communal celebration and ecstatic ritual, from Dionysus to tribal and voodoo rites to carnival to rock 'n' roll. The extent to which it seems an eccentric object of study for Barbara Ehrenreich, a prolific writer of approachable books about heavyweight issues, is partly a measure of how little time we seem to have for it these days. Western culture's bias toward individualism, and society's inbuilt drive to maintain social hierarchies, she says, have resulted in the space in which people can experience the ecstasy of communion with one another narrowing to churches and "the darkened clubs frequented by the young".

It's tempting to suggest that Ehrenreich just needs to get out more, but the breadth of her study demonstrates how innate the human need for this communion is. She suggests that the lack of it could account for that "feeling that something is missing" often used to explain the modern triumph of both religion and consumerism. If so, it's time that more of us joined the dance.