Salsa Stress.

22 Mar

The following references are from:

by Robert M. Sapolsky ».

A memoir by a scientist who studies baboons in Africa. For some reason, I was hoping for a lot more baboon stories than there were, but I guess that’s what makes this a good baboon book. It leaves you wanting more baboon.

Part 1, The Adolescent Years: When I First Joined the Troop, Pages 14-15:
“… Sixty years ago, a scientist named Selye discovered that your emotional life can affect your health … Selye found that if you got rats upset in all sorts of purely psychological ways, they got sick. They got ulcers, their immune systems collapsed, their reproduction went to hell, they got high blood pressure … Selye showed that stress was what you were undergoing when emotional or physical disturbances threw your body’s balance out of whack. And if it went on for too long, you got sick …
… I wanted to study the optimistic side of it — how come some of us are more resistant to stress than others? Why are some bodies and some psyches better at coping? Does it have something to do with your rank in society? If you have lots of relatives, if you hang out with friends? If you play with kids? If you sulk when you’re upset about something or if you find someone else to take it out on? I decided to study this in wild baboons.
They were perfect for it. Baboons live in big, complex social groups, and the population I went to study lived like kings. Great ecosystem, the Serengeti. Grass and trees and animals forever, Marlin Perkins country. The baboons work maybe four hours a day to feed themselves; hardly anyone is likely to eat them. Basically, baboons have about a half dozen solid hours of sunlight a day to devote to being rotten to each other. Just like our society — few of us are getting hypertensive from physical stressors, none of us are worrying about famines or locust plagues or the ax fight we’re going to have with the boss out in the parking lot at five o’clock. We live well enough to have the luxury to get ourselves sick with purely social, psychological stress. Just like these baboons …”

Part 1, The Adolescent Years: When I First Joined the Troop, Pages 14-15

The longer I dance salsa, the more primitive I become. A woman in a swimsuit tried to strike-up a conversation with me the other day, and while I thought of a suitable social reply, I Blinked » to myself, “What’s the point? She doesn’t look like she dances salsa.” What’s worse is, even if I thought she did, I probably wouldn’t ask this nearly-nude woman to dance, at least not right away. While this may seem like baboon-like behaviour, in my defence, even male baboons sometimes say no when a female baboon is in estrus ».

Part 2, The Subadult Years, Page 95:
“You never want to be an ex-alpha male baboon in the troop where you were once alpha … When you look at the frequencies of dominance interactions, the typical pattern you see is that, for example, number 4 is having his most interactions with 3 and 5, losing to the former, defeating the latter. Number 17 mostly interacts with 16 and 18. But, as an exception to that nearest-neighbor pattern, you’ll suddenly note that ranks 1-5 are having an extraordinary number of interactions with the lowly number 11. Why are they so intent on rubbing Mister 11’s nose in it all the time? He, invariably, turns out to be the ex-number 1 who used to dominate 1-5. The tables are turned, and baboons are endowed with long, vengeful memories …”

Part 2, The Subadult Years, Page 95

A truism about salsa is that if a salsa gigolo sticks with it long enough, he will improve. And even if he is self-aware enough to realize that he isn’t the number 1 alpha male on the dancefloor, he may happily note that he is no longer number 17. If he sticks with it long enough, a salsa gigolo may also notice himself developing baboon-like behaviour, and possibly even seek to correct such behaviour before it gets the best of him.

Part 3, Tenuous Adulthood, Page 169:
“Male baboons are not renowned for their self-discipline. Or their capacity for gratification postponement, or their communal spirit. Or their trustworthiness, for that matter. The wonderfully cooperative junta … lasted all of a morning before it disintegrated into factionalism and both metaphorical and literal backbiting.” …

Part 3, Tenuous Adulthood, Page 169

I used to think that only salseras talk about a salsa gigolo behind his back, but the other day, I overheard two salsa gigolos deride the behaviour of a fellow salsa gigolo. It had something to do with what they thought this salsa gigolo must think his relative hierarchy was on the dancefloor. Number 1 alpha male, or something.

Salsa is supposed to be fun, but even in our fun, we manage to create salsa stress for ourselves, usually about one salsa attribution » or another. I sometimes stress about what I think a salsera thinks when I don’t ask her to dance. Then I stress about what I think a salsera thinks I think she thinks when I don’t ask her to dance. Now, I’ll have to stress about what I think fellow salsa gigolos think when I don’t ask a salsera to dance.

Part 4, Adulthood, Page 233:
“… And while rank was important to physiology, an even more significant factor seemed to be whether you had the means to cope when times were tough, whether you were socially affiliated. Thus, independent of rank, males who did the most social grooming and sat in contact with other animals most frequently had the lowest stress hormone levels … And, perhaps most importantly, personality was turning out to be crucial. For example, how type A were you? — if your worst rival in a troop showed up and took a nap fifty yards away, would you just keep on doing whatever you had been doing, or would you see it as a crazy-making, in-your-face provocation that would leave you in an agitated state? If you were the kind of baboon for whom a rival napping was a personal affront, you averaged twice the resting stress hormone levels of a male who took it all in stride, after controlling for rank …”

Part 4, Adulthood, Page 233

Salsa is both a dominance interaction », between a salsa gigolo and a salsera, and a dominance display », between dancers and audience. Sometimes when a salsa gigolo sets-up and dances with his partner in front of me, I think to myself that this must be some kind of dominance display. Then I think to myself, “Nah, couldn’t be.” Then I catch him looking at me with the very corner of his peripheral vision for 1/1000 of a second, and then I know … I’m a baboon.
Salsa Gigolometer 100


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