Can I Have This Dance, Please?









Set against a thick blanket of snow and sparse trees, the choreography of the Japanese cranes’ (Grus japonensis) dance documented by Discovery channel is indeed a sight to behold. Every forceful flap is a majestic display of its black and white feathers. In return, another crane joins in and spins around with delicate steps. While the dance may be read as a simple display of courtship behavior, recent literature reveals that there is much more to that.

Video link:

Kevin J. McGowan and Nerissa Russell (2003) had clearly established that a crane’s dance can be broadly defined as a ‘social [behavior which] seems to diffuse tensions’. Their paper concluded that the innate act of dancing is most stimulated in a relaxed external environment, which forms the basis of interaction in a social group. Building on this, a more interesting publication by the International Journal of Avian Science (2013) worked around a framework of playtime characteristics and found out that the dance adheres to all five requirements of ‘play’. In other words, unlike courtship behavior which is aligned to a specific ritual and is a stage prior to mating, the dance through which play is observed is clearly not ‘fully functional in the form or context which it is expressed … and do not contribute to current survival’. Vladimir Dinets (2013) argues that apart from ‘pair forming’ dances, it is confirmed that ‘most crane dances are play’. Through play, cranes learn more about their external environment and gain the skills required to navigate in their habitat.

In this note, Burghart (2013) pointed out that most animals who engage in play are mostly mammals because they receive protection from their parents for an extended period of time. Therefore, they are able to do so without being overtly concerned about their survival. As a result, the fact that cranes play like mammals do come as a surprise to many.

In the world of the cranes, play is suitable for all and age is never a factor for consideration.


Dinets, V., 2013. Crane dances as play behaviour. The International Journal of Avian Science, 155(2): 424-425.

“Japanese Crane Courtship Dance” by Discovery. Discovery, 05 October 2012. URL: (accessed 06 April, 2013)

Russell, N. & McGowan, K.J. 2003. Dance of the cranes: Crane symbolism at Catalhoyuk and beyond. Antiquity, 77:445-455.

Untitled by Dan Hutcheson. Flickr, 03 February 2013. URL: (accessed 06 April, 2013)

Written by

Cheryl Low Xue Er | A0083303R | Group 22