Dancing in the Streets by Barbara Ehrenreich

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From the bestselling social commentator and cultural historian, a fascinating exploration of one of humanity's oldest traditions: the celebration of communal joy

In the acclaimed Blood Rites, Barbara Ehrenreich delved into the origins of our species' attraction to war. Here, she explores the opposite impulse, one that has been so effectively suppressed that we lack even a term for it: the desire for collective joy, historically expressed in ecstatic revels of feasting, costuming, and dancing.

Ehrenreich uncovers the origins of communal celebration in human biology and culture. Although sixteenth-century Europeans viewed mass festivities as foreign and "savage," Ehrenreich shows that they were indigenous to the West, from the ancient Greeks' worship of Dionysus to the medieval practice of Christianity as a "danced religion." Ultimately, church officials drove the festivities into the streets, the prelude to widespread reformation: Protestants criminalized carnival, Wahhabist Muslims battled ecstatic Sufism, European colonizers wiped out native dance rites. The elites' fear that such gatherings would undermine social hierarchies was justified: the festive tradition inspired French revolutionary crowds and uprisings from the Caribbean to the American plains. Yet outbreaks of group revelry persist, as Ehrenreich shows, pointing to the 1960s rock-and-roll rebellion and the more recent "carnivalization" of sports.

Original, exhilarating, and deeply optimistic, Dancing in the Streets concludes that we are innately social beings, impelled to share our joy and therefore able to envision, even create, a more peaceable future.


About Barbara Ehrenreich

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Barbara Ehrenreich is the bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch, Bright-sided, This Land Is Their Land, Dancing in the Streets and Blood Rites, among others. A frequent contributor to Harper's and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time magazine. She is the winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize for Current Interest and ALA Notable Books for Nonfiction.  Ehrenreich was born in Butte, Montana, when it was still a bustling mining town. She studied physics at Reed College, and earned a Ph.D. in cell biology from Rockefeller University. Rather than going into laboratory work, she got involved in activism, and soon devoted herself to writing her innovative journalism. She lives and works in Florida.
Published December 26, 2007 by Metropolitan Books. 337 pages
Genres: Health, Fitness & Dieting, History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Dancing in the Streets

The New York Times

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Lynchings — or, for that matter, riots — may generate intense excitement and pleasure in their participants, but the focus here is on the kind of events witnessed by Europeans in ‘primitive’ societies and recalled in the European carnival tradition.” Quotation marks suggest the writer’s need for...

Jan 14 2007 | Read Full Review of Dancing in the Streets

The Guardian

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Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich 240pp, Granta, £16.99 For at least 10,000 years the human race has, at regular and officially sanctioned intervals, abandoned the hard diurnal grind of work and taken to the streets.

Apr 07 2007 | Read Full Review of Dancing in the Streets

The Guardian

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As it is, this is fairly close to the subject of a book I've been working on for an embarrassingly long time (apparently this book has kept her busy for a while, too - but then she's been busy writing other books, about, for instance, the experiences of the low-paid in Nickel and Dimed), and much...

Apr 26 2008 | Read Full Review of Dancing in the Streets

Publishers Weekly

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Complicating Ehrenreich's schema is her own politicized judgment, dismissing what she sees as the debased celebrations of sporting events while writing approvingly of the 1960s ""happenings"" of her own youth and the inevitable street theater that accompanies any modern mass protest, yet all but ...

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Publishers Weekly

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Ehrenreich's social history of collective joy, ranging from pagan ritual to rock concerts, comes off as an extended, rambling lecture, taking in a varied array of subjects along the way.

Mar 26 2007 | Read Full Review of Dancing in the Streets

BC Books

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Dancing needed to be stopped altogether, so Protestantism, especially the Calvinists, convinced people “that festivities were positively sinful.” Two hundred years after the Luther Reformation, Islam went through a similar attempt to purify itself as Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab reacted to the cor...

Mar 06 2007 | Read Full Review of Dancing in the Streets

USA Today

She struggles to define "collective joy" dancing, feasting and celebrating in "ecstatic rituals" or the "lost tradition of carnival."Think rock concerts or sports events, and "a rebellion against the role of the audience."She notes when the "rock rebellion" began in the 1950s, "wherever the 'new...

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Teen Reads

Even though we may have strong family ties and/or find comfort and strength in religion, Ehrenreich firmly believes that we need to create more opportunities for people to experience and express collective joy.Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 8, 2007 Dancing In the Streets: A History ...

Jan 08 2007 | Read Full Review of Dancing in the Streets


And she notes that even in the most repressed places sports celebrations (Tehran’s World Cup celebrations) let collective merriment triumph.

Jan 23 2007 | Read Full Review of Dancing in the Streets


Karen Salmansohn says it might also be time to celebrate a brand new beginning.

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In Dancing in the Streets (Metropolitan), Barbara Ehrenreich champions the life-affirming pleasures of community and the joys of collective celebration.

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