The “Why we do what we do” TED Talk by Tony Robbins has more than 20 million views on the TED website. In the talk, he discusses six human needs that he posits drive and determine our behavior.
I listened to an episode of his podcast that went into more detail on the subject and the whole time I was listening I kept thinking, “Social dancing meets EVERY one of these needs in some way.” And according to Tony Robbins, the more needs that are met with an activity or behavior, the more likely you are to engage and even become addicted to it. So here are the six needs and some examples of how social dance meets all of them.
Need 1: Certainty
Certainty is part of our survival mechanism—we want to know where the next meal is coming from, where we will sleep at night, that we have clean water to drink. Beyond our basic living needs, we also crave certainty and a sense of comfort in other aspects of our lives, whether it’s eating at the same restaurant because you know you like the food or hanging out with your friends because you know you get along.
Social dancing has a certain element of certainty to it. The format doesn’t really change. Music is playing and people are dancing. Yes, there are lots of possible variations to the format, but you know when you go to a social dance event or even a class more or less what you’re going to get. So at it’s core, social dance meets our need for certainty because it doesn’t change too much.
Need 2: Uncertainty and Variety
If you knew everything that was going to happen every day of your life, it would be immensely boring. We need a certain element of surprise, of novelty, of change and variety to keep things interesting.
Social dancing meets this need of uncertainty. Although the format is certain, there are so many other variations—different venues, different songs, different people to dance with, different styles of dance— that it is always slightly different. No two social dance events are ever exactly the same, and that’s what keeps us coming back—you never know exactly how it’s going to turn out.
Need 3: Significance
Everyone wants to stand out in some way, to feel important or special or necessary. We don’t want to be just like everybody else—we want to distinguish ourselves in some way.
Social dance can meet this need by giving you a culture to identify with that is interesting, and by extension, makes you interesting. Yes, many people all over the world social dance, but it’s still a subculture. At the office, you may be the only one who dances Tango or Blues or Salsa, and it sets you apart (in a good way!).
Need 4: Love and Connection
This one speaks for itself. Social dance is based on connection and on creating interactions between people. It meets this need to be loved, accepted, and not alone.
Need 5: Growth
According to Tony Robbins, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” He says that the path to a truly fulfilling life is a sense of constant progress. It’s less about actually obtaining the thing you want—whether it’s the job, the relationship, the car or mastering that dance move—and more about the process of getting it. And who you become in the process.
This is the part of dance that is the most addicting, invigorating, and at times, frustrating—there is always something new to learn. You will never get to a point where you know it all. Sometimes, it feels like you’ve plateaued and aren’t growing any, but there is always a new step to master, a new combo to try out, someone better than you to dance with, and some way to grow and improve.
The feeling of progressing, of learning and getting better, creates its own kind of high and increases enjoyment of social dancing, which motivates you to keep progressing and creates a positive upward spiral.
Need 6: Contribution
Tony Robbins’s pithy statement, “Life’s not about me; it’s about we,” sums up this idea of contribution. We don’t live in a vacuum. Giving and sharing are paths to a meaningful life.
Social dance is all about creating communities. These communities are places where people can come together and share their passion, their time and their experiences.
Since social dancing seems to meet all of our six basics needs (according to Tony Robbins anyways), it makes sense that it’s easy to keep going back again and again. Dance is an easy habit to form because it’s rewarding on many different levels. Whether you subscribe to Tony Robbins self-help philosophy or not, it’s at least interesting to look at social dance through his lens. Next up: let’s see how Tony Robbins “power postures” apply to dance. (Just kidding).