Certain animals express themselves in dance. This behavior might be intended for mating or communicating, or it might be rhythmic release.
For example, sand hill cranes perform dancing displays during mating rituals. These might include wing flapping, bowing, jumping and sometimes throwing sticks and plants in the air. Dancing also is observed outside of the breeding season.
Wild turkeys also dance for courtship. A male enticingly fans his tail feathers and raises his body feathers during a dancing display. If the ritual is successful, the male and female circle each other in dance. (Domestic turkeys are artificially inseminated.)
Honeybees dance to communicate. The waggle dance is performed by one bee to inform others where to locate nectar, water and new nest sites. Aristotle allegedly observed this activity centuries ago.
Sea lions dance — at least one of them appeared to do so. At the University of California, researchers trained Ronan, a sea lion, to dance (bob her head) in tune to familiar rhythmic sounds. Remarkably, she also bobbed to unfamiliar music.
Parrots seemingly dance. A cockatoo named Snowball possibly did not practice mimicry. He basically danced, adjusting to the tempo of a song. Apparently, he danced to interact with caregivers and not to obtain food or to mate. A Harvard scientist surmised that 14 parrot species could dance.
According to the same scientist, four Asian elephants presumably danced. However, some argue that elephants do not dance; such movements might simply be exhibiting the frustration of captivity. Also, since Asian elephants are easier to train, they might have been manipulated.
Evidently, movements of animals intrigue humans. Such gestures influenced the animal dances of ragtime in the early 1900s. Social turmoil followed the craze, which included frantic dances such as the turkey trot, grizzly bear, crab step, chicken flip and bunny hug. Some religious leaders claimed that these dances encouraged barnyard morality.
Indeed, the turkey trot was controversial. The United States Naval Academy banned cadets from participating. President-elect Woodrow Wilson canceled the inaugural ball supposedly to exclude the turkey trot and other ragtime dances. He later banned the turkey trot and the horse trot (along with the provocative tango) from the East Room.
Of course, not everyone deplored animal dances. The president’s three daughters eagerly danced the turkey trot at Washington venues. John Philip Sousa declared the turkey trot "a positive aid to longevity." An eminent psychiatrist proclaimed that modern dances were as soothing to the populace as rocking was to the infant.
Eventually, animal dances lost their popularity. However, the 1950s featured the bunny hop and the chicken dance, and they continue to be harmless social mixers at events. The foxtrot of ragtime has evolved into a ballroom dance. And the notorious turkey trot is now a Thanksgiving footrace, which often benefits charities.