AncestryDNA® Traits Learning Hub

AncestryDNA® Traits Learning Hub

AncestryDNA® Traits
Learning Hub


When you hear a song with a good beat, is it hard to resist getting up to dance? Or maybe you simply enjoy listening to music without feeling the urge to move. Some have a natural knack for rhythmic movement, while others shy away from activities that involve such flexibility and coordination. Ultimately, most people can dance—but not everyone can do so well, and not everyone enjoys it.

If you have a love for dancing, it may be more than just your personality—it could have to do with your “dance genes.” AncestryDNA® Traits can help provide some insight into your genetic link to dancing.

Are Some People Naturally Good at Dancing?

Some people seem like they're born to dance. In fact, studies show that babies are capable of understanding and predicting rhythmic cycles.

But while music has long been part of all human cultures, not everyone can easily integrate rhythm into their movements. As soon as the music starts, some are able to jump right into the beat and move along with it, while others choose to remain still. Part of this could be due to practice or learned behaviour, which could make someone more likely to get up and boogie. But genetic markers associated with the enjoyment of rhythmic movement may also play a role.

The physical act of dancing involves complex coordination of signals within the brain. But the art of dancing involves other aspects, like being able to connect emotionally to the music. In turn, that emotional connection can then be translated into creative, expressive movement.

Of course, you can still dance if you didn’t inherit “dance genes”—you may just be at a disadvantage compared to someone with the genetic predisposition toward enjoying it.

Genetics and Dancing

Scientists have closely studied the complex link between genetics and beat synchronization, i.e., the ability to move in time with a musical beat. A 2022 genome-wide association study (GWAS), which reviewed the DNA of 606,825 individuals, discovered over 60 different DNA markers associated with beat synchronization. The results showed that the ability to predict and move in time with a musical beat—which likely plays a significant role in the enjoyment of dance—was influenced by many different genes in combination.

In their own study, AncestryDNA® scientists identified more than 3,100 DNA markers across the human genome associated with people self-reporting whether they liked to dance. By analysing these DNA markers, AncestryDNA scientists determined that the heritability for whether you like to dance—how much variation in peoples’ affinity to dance is due to variation in their DNA—is at least 7%. That means up to 93% of the variation in peoples’ love of dancing is from environmental factors.

For example, someone exposed to musical rhythm and dancing at an early age may learn to enjoy dancing more than someone who never was. It's likely that many people who don't like to dance carry the same genetic traits that help professional dancers thrive—they simply never explored their potential talent for that activity. That means those who work to build dancing skills later may still learn to enjoy dance. That’s good news for those of you with two left feet on the dance floor.

What Else Does Science Say About People Who Dance?

Dancing is a fantastic way to get your body moving. And according to science, it comes with many benefits, whether you're good at it or not. In fact, dance can be so beneficial to the brain that it's now being used as a treatment method for those with dementia or Parkinson's disease.

Music itself can be very stimulating, so pairing it with the physical movements of dance can help activate multiple parts of the brain. While music is known to stimulate the brain's reward centres, dancing can further activate sensory and motor nerves.

With PET imaging, scientists identified that learning to dance involves several parts of the brain. Some of the major areas include:

  • The motor cortex, which is responsible for planning, controlling, and executing voluntary movements.
  • The somatosensory cortex, because it assists with motor control and hand-eye coordination.
  • Basal ganglia, structures that connect several brain regions in order to coordinate movements smoothly.
  • The cerebellum, which integrates input from the brain and spinal cord to help with fine and complex motor control.

Interesting Facts About Dancing Ability

Some animals appear to dance rhythmically for an extended time the way people do. However, humans are the only species known to perform intricate group or partner dances. This ability, called entrainment, comes naturally, starting at an early age. It’s also what allows for coordinated group and partner dances.

Other abilities, such as speaking and singing, also require entrainment. Scientists continue to explore whether the neural links that allow humans to speak or sing may also predispose people to the ability to dance.

While most humans are capable of following a beat, the inability to coordinate rhythmic movement with a beat is known as beat-deafness. However, there's a difference between dancing poorly and simply being unable to follow a beat at all. Those who have beat-deafness are simply unable to coordinate or adapt with expected or unexpected changes in musical patterns.

Does dancing come naturally to you? If you're curious about whether you have “dance genes,” an AncestryDNA + Traits kit can give you the answers. And if you already have your AncestryDNA results, then you can view your traits results with an Ancestry subscription.



Edwards, Scott. “Dancing and the Brain.” Harvard Medical School. Winter 2015.

Fessenden, Maris. “Can’t Clap to the Beat? You Might be Beat-Deaf.” Smithsonian Magazine. November 10, 2014.

Niarchou, Maria, Daniel E. Gustavson, et al. “Genome-wide association study of musical beat synchronization demonstrates high polygenicity.” Nature Human Behaviour. June 16, 2022.

Singer, Thea. “Does Dancing Just Feel Good, or Did It Help Early Humans Survive?” Scientific American. July 1, 2017.

Winkler, István, Gábor P. Háden, et al. Newborn infants detect the beat in music. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). February 17, 2009.

Zona, Christine. “What Attributes Do Some People Have That Make Them Naturally Great Dancers While Others Have to Work Very Hard to Make Minimal Improvements?” AccessDance Network. February 11, 2012.

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