Dance choreography is coordinated with song repertoire in a complex avian display

Curr Biol. 2013 Jun 17;23(12):1132-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.05.018. Epub 2013 Jun 6.


All human cultures have music and dance, and the two activities are so closely integrated that many languages use just one word to describe both. Recent research points to a deep cognitive connection between music and dance-like movements in humans, fueling speculation that music and dance have coevolved and prompting the need for studies of audiovisual displays in other animals. However, little is known about how nonhuman animals integrate acoustic and movement display components. One striking property of human displays is that performers coordinate dance with music by matching types of dance movements with types of music, as when dancers waltz to waltz music. Here, we show that a bird also temporally coordinates a repertoire of song types with a repertoire of dance-like movements. During displays, male superb lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) sing four different song types, matching each with a unique set of movements and delivering song and dance types in a predictable sequence. Crucially, display movements are both unnecessary for the production of sound and voluntary, because males sometimes sing without dancing. Thus, the coordination of independently produced repertoires of acoustic and movement signals is not a uniquely human trait.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Cognition
  • Dancing*
  • Humans
  • Locomotion*
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Music*
  • Pattern Recognition, Physiological
  • Singing*