The Reason Some of Us Can’t Dance

30 Nov 2014

Everyone knows someone who just doesn’t seem to “get” music,  They have no rhythm, they can’t carry a tune—and maybe they just don’t even care about music.  Why?

It could be they have a condition that some scientists called “dysmusia,” which is just like dyslexia, except that it describes a music condition.

Just like dyslexic people have a hard time comprehending written words and text, dysmusic people have a very hard time comprehending music—and this inability to appreciate music can run very, very deep.


In one study, severely dysmusic people were played “Happy Birthday to You.”  As expected, they couldn’t identify the song.  They couldn’t sing along with it.  In fact, they had no idea what they were hearing.  But the moment they were given the lyrics written out on a piece of paper, everything fell into place.

No one can say how many people have dysmusia because it’s just so hard to diagnose.  The closest anyone has come is Professor Richard Einstein who works in human genetics at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  His examination of the human genome has turned up dancing genes.

He says that good dancers have two genes that are consistently different from people who can’t dance.  To be blunt, some people possess a tiny genetic mutation that makes them better dancers than most. The more pronounced the mutation, the better dancers they are.

This sort of thing is rarely diagnosed.  How many people would take their kid to the doctor just because he or she didn’t seem to “get” music?  Or couldn’t sing? Or can’t dance?  There’s nothing wrong with their hearing or their motor skills.  It’s just they don’t seem interested in music.  Hardly a medical condition, right?  Well….

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