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25 April 2014

What makes you human?

It all started on 16 September 2013. I took a tentative first step and was instantly hooked; besotted even. In the space of a couple of hours, my life was transformed, flooded with joy and laughter - and my poor, long-suffering friends have had to put up with me going on about it ever since.

I had discovered dance.

Specifically, I had discovered Ceroc, a mix of modern jive, salsa and lots of other kinds of partner-dancing. I've learned and participated in several other forms of dance before, from ceilidhs to line dancing and Filipino bamboo dancing to Jewish dance, and have enjoyed it all, but Ceroc has been by far the most fun - and perhaps the best exercise!

In the seven months since that first, nervous foray I have made new friends, learned new skills, lost some old weight, and laughed a lot. What's not to love?

Vince Cable, writing for the New Statesman's series in conjunction with Radio 2 this week, goes a step further: a love of dance, he says, is what makes him human. "On the dance floor," he explains, "age, colour, nationality, status and education are of no consequence, only a shared ability to respond to the rhythms of music."

Is dancing a purely human instinct? I don't know. Bees perform a complex 'dance' to communicate the location of food. Birds often appear to be flying in a playful yet co-ordinated manner that perhaps owes more to pleasure than efficiency, and I'm sure those with more than my tiny grasp of the natural world can give more examples of birds, beasts and bugs performing dance-type movements. Perhaps moving your body in time to music isn't a solely human pursuit after all.

Yet if to be human is to be 'in the image' of God, then dancing, though it may tell us little about ourselves, must tell us something about our creator.

He is a God who, contrary to many people's belief, enjoys pleasure. He enjoys self-expression. He enjoys community (dancing – although it can be done alone, is much better in a group), and he enjoys the different roles that different members of the group take on. In order to make the whole thing work – for each person moving forwards, there needs to be an equal and opposite person willing to move backwards, or you end up with a lot of bruised toes. In Ceroc in particular, each couple comprises a leader and a follower and, as the teacher of my class often points out, each is equally important.

You may have been born with a tin ear, two left feet, and no sense of rhythm. If that's you, don't worry; contra Vince Cable, dancing isn't what makes you human, or even what makes you valuable to a God who created dance, created music and delights in those who worship him with these talents.

What makes you human is that you are created in God's image, and nothing can add to or detract from that essential truth. Your abilities, aptitudes and attitudes don't change it. Your tastes, temperament and theological stance don't affect it. In Vince Cable's words, "age, colour, nationality, status and education are of no consequence". You are the pinnacle of God's creation from the moment your DNA fused and formed that unmistakeable homo sapiens pattern, and you will remain so until the last breath leaves your body.

And that's worth dancing about, surely?

Jennie Pollock is a freelance writer and editor