What does your body relate to?

A fascinating bit of research is currently going around: How You Remember Dance Steps Depends on Culture: I Think Step to the Left, You Think Step to the East: ScienceDaily (Jan. 4, 2010) Here's the short version:

"Even the way people remember dance moves depends on the culture they come from, according to a report in the December 14th issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. Whereas a German or other Westerner might think in terms of "step to the right, step to the left," a nomadic hunter-gatherer from Namibia might think something more like "step to the east, step to the west."

Being immersed in a decontextualized,  Cartesian, habitat-free culture, we Westerners are free to simply follow the raw spatial directions that are served up to us: left-right, up down–completely independent of the "outside" world.

But primal peoples are somatically and spiritually connected to habitat. Compared to us, they have a heightened awareness of surrounding terrain and orient their mind-bodies to environmental cues. Their culture undoubtedly supports this orientation, encouraging the body-land linkage. In this kind of culture, every move you make has some kind of relationship to the land.

This finding tweaks our assumptions about "normal" physical experience and cognition. As the researchers put it: "It's becoming more and more clear that we cannot simply extrapolate from investigations within our own population to others," Haun said. "To understand the human mind, we need to widen our perspective and assume diversity rather than universality of cognition until proven otherwise."