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So You Think You Can Dance: Animal Edition
Even those people who are tone deaf and so lacking in rhythm as to be unable to find the beat in a Katy Perry song have taken comfort that in a planet-wide dance-off, they'd outlast most other species on earth.
That admittedly and pitiably small consolation just went "Oh! Oh! Oh!" and shot across the sky-y-y-y. This was made clear in an article on the research of neurobiologists Aniruddh Patel and John Iversen in the Brain special issue of Discover magazine. Patel explains to Discover that our sense of rhythm may have evolved from the brain development that allowed us to learn to speak. Therefore, Patel says, the only other animals that can boogie to a beat would be those that are advanced in "vocal learning," or the ability to mimic the sounds of others: parrots, an Asian elephant and Snowball the sulfur-crested cockatoo, a YouTube phenom whose dance moves and habits were studied by Patel and his team.
In their experiments with Snowball, the bird was videotaped reacting to music that was sped up and slowed down under a variety of circumstances (in isolation, with verbal encouragement, with another person). The videos showed that Snowball can not only synchronize his moves to different tempos, but can do it when no one else is in the room (although he danced the most when he had a human partner). This cockatoo loves mainstream pop like Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga, and he's a huge fan of the Backstreet Boys (wonder if he knows they're on tour this summer? I'd love to see him get pulled up on stage to lead the crowd in a dance to "Everybody").
What about the salsa-dancing retriever, you are undoubtedly wondering? When I shared this video with my husband, an enthusiastic freestyle dancer, he dropped the phone. Patel tells Discover that he suspects booty-shaking pets like this are reacting to cues from their human trainers, instead of innately responding to the beat. So for now, in this species-wide dance-off, the cockatoo is the true champion—at least from a scientific perspective.
But the story isn't over yet! Patel and Discover are looking for other examples of animals that can dance to a beat. If you have a video of an animal grooving in time to music, please send it to them at firstname.lastname@example.org.