Rhythm, Dance, and a Neurological Disorder

a complex musican score

Finding the beat can be daunting for many a would-be dancer.

Can’t find the beat?

I’ve written before about people who can’t find the beat to dance to, and I’ve given my best guesses as to the cause.  But today I heard about a new study of a rare neurological disorder that actually causes White Man’s Clapping Syndrome.  The disorder was discovered so recently that it’s only just now being talked about.  Hundreds of people, apparently, lined up to be tested.  They all were sure they were victims of this malady.  Only one of them actually qualified.

So common is this inability to find the beat in music that people who have it think they were born with something missing.  If you’ve read my previous posts on the subject, you know that I believe they were born with their sense of rhythm intact.  They lost it somewhere along the way.

Clapping offbeat in Germany

What I thought was so interesting about this interview, which I heard on public radio, with the scientist who found the disorder, was that they spoke about it as the inability to clap to music.  Jon Carroll coined the phrase “White Man’s Clapping Syndrome” and I fell in love with it and have been using it ever since although I try to remember to give him credit when I do.  A musician on the show pointed out that clapping offbeat can be cultural, using Austrians an example. At a concert in Austria he noticed (how could he not) that the entire audience was clapping on the wrong beat.  The scientist clarified that while they were on the wrong beat, they were at least on a consistent beat in the music, hence not suffering from her new found malady.

I’ve never danced in Austria, but I certainly have noticed that Germans, as a society as a whole, do clap on the downbeat to jazz, to which everyone else claps on the upbeat.  I used to spend the month of July at a four week  international dance camp in Sweden where about fifty different countries were represented and you couldn’t miss that interesting cultural difference.

But the scientist is right.  If you can clap on the downbeat you can hear the beat in music even if it feels “wrong” to the ears of others.  It’s a totally different issue than that of not being able to find a consistent beat at all.

If this topic interests you, check out my previous posts on the subject:

Can You Dance with White Man’s Clapping Syndrome?

Deaf Dancers: Can You Dance if You Can’t Hear the Music?

Rhythm and Dance in Nature

Is Rhythm Innate?

Rhythm: Our Birthright

by LaurieAnn Lepoff

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