If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance…

I suppose you could call this another ‘tale of the venturesome gene’ in which dopamine receptor DRD4-7R, renders those splendid drips of madness that impel a certain percentage of us to want to “ask the world to dance.” I’ve written in the past about its sudden appearance in the human genome about 40,000 years ago. But where did it come from? Well, amid many competing theories here’s what I think:

If you’re of Asian or European descent it’s widely accepted that your early ancestors wandered out of Africa some 50 millennia ago. Stirred by adverse conditions, this particular group of “proto modern” Homo sapiens crossed the Arab Peninsula into Persia and encountered their distant Homo neanderthalensis cousins along the way.

Contrary to popular portrayal, Neanderthals – who’d inhabited Europe and Asia for thousands of years –had larger brains than the humans. They also used advanced tools, buried their dead, painted pictures, crafted jewelry, cooked vegetables with their meat, and even created musical instruments, including a precursor to the bagpipes. What forced their displacement is unknown, but paleontologists speculate that rather than dying in battle they may simply have lost out to humankind’s superior ability to copulate-and-repopulate.

Which brings us to the key issue at hand, S-E-X. Unless you’re of pure African descent, you’ve got a spot ‘o Neanderthal DNA in ‘yer makeup. And whether it was a massive orgy between the species or, after a steamy midnight on the oasis we all share the same Neanderthal grandparent to the 250th degree, the results were like a shot of Vitamin B-12 for much of the human race.

Within a tick of the evolutionary clock the speed of cultural progress accelerated from 0 to 100 when, farther along the migration route in the steppes of Central Asia, the appearance of straight-limbed, Anatomically Modern Humans (AMH) spelled the beginning of a “great leap forward.” Taller, sturdier, and more muscular than their human forebears, with broad, upright faces and a cranial capacity greater than ours today, these amped AMH ladies and lads were by far the most adaptive, resourceful beings the world had thus far seen.

Theirs was truly modern human behavior, which included an ability to innovate and plan, and a capacity for abstract thought. With this they invented the concept of time, which they measured in lunar phases. And amidst the waxing and waning of many a moon they invented agricultural techniques, domesticated animals, engaged in religious rituals, and created various forms of art.

Galvanized by advances in technology and especially language, and with a righteous abundance of physical and mental energy, their immediate descendants displayed all the hallmarks of that venturesome gene. Beset by an urgent desire to explore, some journeyed west to populate Europe; others east to inhabit much of Asia; and still others north through Siberia and across the Bering land bridge to settle the Americas.

As geneticists will tell you, the quickest way to acquire an adaptive biological advantage is through introgression, i.e. the transfer of genetic information from one species to another. Though the best-held opinion has it that the “great leap” was fueled by just such a genetic “transfer” somewhere on the Arabian Peninsula, additional coupling in later generations is also a possibility.

Along with other hominids, Neanderthals continued to co-exist with our randy AMH ancestors for another 10 millennia, until their species finally died out in the caves of Gibraltar around 24,000 years ago. Ranging from 1 to 4 percent of our genetic makeup, how much of their DNA remains in us varies – personally I’m in the 94th percentile of 23andMe customers – as does its significance to our contemporary lives. A biological trait survives the natural selection process because it offers an adaptive strength, but not all traits are favorable at all times.

Say you’ve inherited a certain venturesome streak and the world you inhabit no longer finds it laudable to throw caution to the wind and act on a sudden flash of insight, or has little need for that restless yearning to explore new places, practices, foods, libations, ideas, opportunities, and relationships.

In that case perhaps you’ll empathize with the frenzied sentiments of Billy Idol and Tony James in a song first performed in 1979 by their band, Generation X.  Oh, and here’s to Petra, one of the best dance partners ever.  None of this “dancing with myself” stuff back when we were in high school.

Dancing With Myself

On the floors of Tokyo

A-down in London Town’s a go go

A-with the record selection,

And the mirror’s reflection,

I’m a dancin’ with myself

A-when there’s no one else in sight,

A-in crowded lonely night

Well, I wait so long for my love vibration

And I’m dancing with myself

Oh oh, Dancing with a-myself,

Oh, oh, dancing with myself

Well, there’s nothing to lose

And there’s nothing to prove, well,

Dancing a-with myself

If I looked all over the world

And there’s every type of girl

But your empty eyes seem to pass me by

And leave me dancin’ with myself.

So let’s sink another drink

Cause it’ll give me time to think

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

And I’ll be dancin’ with myself

Oh oh, Dancing with a-myself,

Oh, oh, dancing with myself

Well, there’s nothing to lose

And there’s nothing to prove, well,

Dancing a-with myself

Well if I looked all over the world

And there’s every type of girl

But your empty eyes seem to pass me by

And leave me dancin’ with myself.

So let’s sink another drink

Cause it’ll give me time to think

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

And I’ll be dancin’ with myself

Oh oh, Dancing a-with myself,

Oh, oh, dancing with myself

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

If I had the chance I’d ask the world to dance

Oh, oh, oh, oh oh

Oh, oh, oh dancin’ with myself.

Oh, oh, dancin’ with myself, oh, oh,

Sweat, sweat, etc.

 

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