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Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  662 Ratings  ·  131 Reviews
"Fascinating . . . An admirably lucid, level-headed history of outbreaks of joy from Dionysus to the Grateful Dead."--Terry Eagleton, The Nation
Widely praised as "impressive" (The Washington Post Book World), "ambitious" (The Wall Street Journal), and "alluring" (The Los Angeles Times), Dancing in the Streets explores a human impulse that has been so effectively sup
Paperback, 336 pages
Published December 26th 2007 by Holt Paperbacks (first published January 1st 2006)
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(showing 1-30)
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Larry Bassett
Barbara Ehrenreich is one of my hero authors because of her books Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. She has written a number of other books but these two address social issues that I find particularly compelling. They are also books where her writing is quite personal and succinct. On the other hand Dancing in the Streets hammers home its points by excessive repetition. For example, in the Introduction Ehrenreich writes a twenty page thesis on ceremonies that she considers celebratory in som ...more
Four out of five stars for the idea, two out of five stars for execution. Ehrenreich's introduction to Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy points out a quizzical disconnect in modern Western culture. We put an awful lot of time and effort into studying depression, malaise, the things that make us happy and the things that isolate us, but very little effort into studying the things that make us happy or which bring us together. Ehrenreich traces the history of expressions of commu ...more
Cynthia Haggard
Mar 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Barbara Ehrenreich’s DANCING IN THE STREETS is both a celebration of dancing and a condemnation of the authorities who are trying to prevent large groups of people from running amok in the interests of law and order.

This wonderful book is a potted history of dance, from its roots back in the misty past, through various ancient civilizations and up through the present day. Ms. Ehrenreich conveys how natural it was to dance and how this is a knack that many of us have lost today. People who either
Clara Stefanov-wagner
I was disappointed to find that "collective joy" was narrowly defined in a very specific sense of trancelike, community-wide ritual associated with religious festivities. This is further defined (or at least described) as being characterized by a loss of individual consciousness and orientation on a level that would be considered pathological in other contexts. Working from this restrictive definition, the author takes the view that such occasions have vanished, and that we have lost an essentia ...more
Pinko Palest
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
the basic premise of the book is excellent: carnival is subversive and collective joy teaches people how to overthrow hierarchies. Sadly, the author doesn't deal with this main point nearly enough. Instead, she goes on several tangents which not only add little but can be widely off the mark too. At the very beginning she makes a case for collective dancing being hard-wired in human genes, which is as biologically deterministic as they come. By the end, she makes a case for the carnivalization o ...more
Jeremy Preacher
Jun 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociology
I liked this and found it an interesting read. Ehrenreich presented some historical events in an unusual light - the rise of Protestantism as a reaction against the increasing disapproval by the Catholic Church of public celebration being the main example. I was also fascinated by the idea, provocative although not well-supported, that the early Christians were shaped by Dionysian cults, because the Roman Jews were also followers of Dionysus. I'd love to see some more evidence along those lines ...more
Jun 29, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who are too cool to dance
i liked the concept, i agreed with many of her argumentsbut could not deal with it's half-assed research and academic posturing. there were all kinds of research problems, logical fallacies, and an almost gratuitous use of the word "masking", but my one major bugaboo, which completely drove me up a wall through the entire book was her frequently bashing of anthropologists for using words she felt were derogatory, without actually bothering to *understand the definitions of the words*.

Aug 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-history
This was more of a history of the *suppression* of collective joy rather than the rituals of joy themselves. None the less, full of fascinating information, including the fact that before Yahweh became the one god of the Jews, they worshiped the middle eastern version of Dionysus. The author also comes to some interesting conclusions about how our culture went from first hand experience of divinity through ecstatic ritual, to "faith", which, if you look at it honestly is an act of the imaginatio ...more
Feb 11, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
I chose not to finish this book; being a fan of both joy and dance, this made me sad. As an investigative reporter, Ehrenreich might be quite skilled. But I am not impressed with her grasp of religious history nor her style of psychological conjecture to support her points. There are better sources than this book for cultural theories. If I'm going to spend time on the history of an event, I want more hard facts.
Dec 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is not Barbara Ehrenreich's best writing - it lacks the elan of her first-person narrative style - but she really impressed me with her argument that humans need festival. It turns out my interests in dancing and community are closely related, which finally makes sense to me. Bottom line: more dance parties. Can't argue with that.
Collective Joy! Lets get there, but not in a scary LSD way. Just go dance about with your neighbors.

I wish the author focused more on the history of this in other areas of the world than northern europe.

It is amazing, and a bit frightening to think about the boundaries...where does collective joy become a riot? Interesting book
Feb 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the discussion of the physical component of Spiritual expression. I have personally struggled to find opportunities to share this "collective effervescence" that are not frustrated by weird dogma. Maybe that is why I have found so much satisfaction in singing in a choir and in practicing yoga. They are both physical/spiritual expressions w/o unnecessary conflicts of dogma.
May 11, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was less about collective joy than the repression of collective joy, and heavily focused on the Christian tradition, although not exclusively so. An interesting book, and a good resource for a writing wanting to get ideas for a repressive government.
Aug 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm delighted to finally read a book that describes dancing and social exuberance in a positive light! While this book is not perfect (in its research, in its coverage and perception of non-western dance forms), it's the first and only of its kind.
Apr 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Barbara Ehrenreich is an engaging, enlightened and incisive critic of western culture, particularly in the company of writers on the New York Times Best Sellers List. Her best known book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America provided a significant swath of middle-class Americans with a personally experienced account of just how hard it is to get by on a variety of minimum wage jobs in this country, for example. When I read about Barbara's most recent book, "Dancing in the Streets," s ...more
Andrew Chandler
Very disappointed in this book. I have learned a lot about the value of music and dance on society from my wife, who has a degree in music and is a music teacher. I expected this book to be an extension of what she had taught me in passing: The role of group music and dance (or collective joy as Ehrenreich calls it) in other cultures, the benefits it has to society, and the history of music and dance in the US. But as I questioned my wife about conclusions of the book, on multiple occasions she ...more
Jan 26, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

A lament for the disappearance of communal celebrations, this work is an analysis of the role that 'festivals' have played in uniting people, in creating community. The author believes it has been significant - indeed, believes it is one of the major reasons for human success. Believes that the ability to form groups larger than a nuclear family was essential for human survival - essential for gathering food, hunting, fending off predators. And believes that the means of binding together people,
May 22, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was very disappointed in this book. Reading the title I expected description of different forms of collective joy in cultures all over the world. I grew more and more irritated when she stayed with Western culture, and when she mentioned cultures on other continents she quoted very archaic and usually negative sources. it felt almost racist to me.
The writing style was boring and the content repetitive. I have read several other books by Barbara Ehrenreich, but this one in the worst.
Melissa Luna
Feb 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My only regret is not taking notes while reading this well-researched and well-articulated human history. I'd just go back and reread it, except that she has written so many other books that I now want to read. Thought provoking and engaging, it started out a little bit dry but picked up speed.
Heather Mathie
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this. A history about joy - that was not too serious, not too flippant. An interesting read.
Martin Willoughby
Interesting and fascinating book about how communal festivals have been pushed aside since the middle the spreadsheet creating killjoys.
Heather Sprouse
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book inspired my thesis. It will always have a space on my shelves.
This is a summary of the research on ecstatic celebration - particularly costuming, singing, dancing, and feasting. The chapters move more or less forward in time, beginning with what we know of ancient celebration, moving into the middle ages in Europe and their carnivals and festivals, then the customary celebrations of tribes and cultures all over the world that the newly puritanical Europeans worked to squash during colonization. The book ends with the rock concerts and hippies of the 1960s ...more
Simon Wood
Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Starting back at the dawn of time and bringing the reader up to the present, Barbara Ehrenreich charts the history of collective joy in her recently published book "Dancing in the Streets". The book itself isn't one that's easy to pigeon-hole, in part a work of synthesis, it brings into close focus those fragments of information we have from the past that relate to her subject matter. It also reflects, and speculates on, the expressions of collective joy and ecstatic ritual
Jean Perry
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
i loved this book. However, if you are not a devotee of historical tidbits or esoteric historical trivia, it may not be your cup of tea. Barbara Ehrenrich gives us a quick summary (just 260 pages) of public festivals throughout history. For me, a history teacher, it was a little slow in the beginning because the info was not new, but it got more interesting as she got to the Reformation and the French Revolution and fascism. Ehrenrich combines real historical knowledge and quotes with humor and ...more
Georgia Roybal
Dancing in the Streets is a history of communal celebrations particularly which involve dances. It discusses the eras when the dancing and celebrating were joyous, how the celebrations evolved and were subverted in various ways. My personal experience closest to this type of dancing was in college. I lived in predominantly white state (Idaho) but had the privilege of being friendly with the few black students on my private college campus. As a result of the friendships, I was often the only whit ...more
Lauren Sheil
I don’t dance.

It just feels strange to get up and let my body move with music. When I really stop and listen to the music I’m dancing too it feels even stranger. Most popular music is narcissistic at best, much of it bordering on downright violence, cruelty and misogyny, why would anyone want to dance to that? This might sound odd coming from a guy who spent nineteen years in the music business but I really don’t like popular music, never have. So I very rarely dance.

I do like philosophy though
Mar 01, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Barbara Ehrenreich's Dancing in the Streets is less a history of collective joy, as the subtitle states, than it is a history of the restriction, suppression and de-legitimization of collective joy. It speaks to the increasing isolation many people across the globe, and particularly in the first world, experience.

Collective joy is a term, and an experience, that is fairly foreign to most of us today. Dr. Ehrenreich describes ecstatic rituals, bacchanalias, festivities, and group dancing from cul
Greg Talbot
Jan 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Emma Goldstein - "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution"

Have we done ourselves the great diservice. Too disembodied from our minds and hearts to feel that human connection. Distancing ourselves from the grosser and sensual pleasures of collective enjoyment, we live luxirous privileged spoiled lives, but languish in feeling complete or fulfilled. There are ways we still connect as a group in sporting events, rock concerts, and online forums. But the story Ehrenreich tells i
Dec 28, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This lady's a lot cooler than I was expecting her to be. Having listened to a few minutes of an interview with her before starting the book, I knew it wouldn't be as upbeat as the title and cover might lead people to believe but I didn't really expect this to turn into a critique of modernity, complex societies, capitalism, empire, hierarchy and even civilization to a certain extent. Rather than just praise humanity's ingenious ability to come together and feel good she actually asks the right q ...more
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Barbara Ehrenreich is an American journalist and the bestselling author of sixteen previous books, including the bestsellers Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. A frequent contributor to Harpers and The Nation, she has also been a columnist at The New York Times and Time Magazine.
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“The urge to transform one's appearance, to dance outdoors, to mock the powerful and embrace perfect strangers is not easy to suppress.” 10 likes
“In today's world, other people have become an obstacle to our individual pursuits.” 0 likes
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