Quote Origin: Everything in the Universe Has a Rhythm. Everything Dances

Maya Angelou? Celia Caroline Cole? Friedrich Nietzsche? George Martin? Michael Frisby? Anonymous?

Quote Investigator®

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Painting titled “Three Dancers in an Exercise Hall” by Edgar Degas circa 1880.
Painting titled “Three Dancers in an Exercise Hall” by Edgar Degas circa 1880

Question for Quote Investigator: The Earth has natural rhythms such as the high and low tides of the ocean. The sky also has rhythms such as the oscillating electromagnetic radiation from a pulsar. Here is a saying on this theme:

Everything in the universe has a rhythm; everything dances.

These words have been attributed to the prominent U.S. writer Maya Angelou. I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help me?

Reply from Quote Investigator: The notion that everything in the universe is dancing has a long history. For example, Friedrich Nietzsche applied this metaphor in his opus “Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None” which was composed in the 1880s. Nietzsche’s character Zarathustra contemplated the universe in the following passage. Thomas Common performed the translation from German. Boldface added to excerpts by QI

That thou art to me a dancing-floor for divine chances, that thou art to me a table of the Gods, for divine dice and dice-players!

A strong match for the first statement of the inquiry occurred in 1922 in “The Delineator” journal of New York within an article by Celia Caroline Cole:²

Everything in the universe has rhythm: The rising and the setting of the sun, the ebb and flow of the sea, the coming of the stars, the seasons. They go out in order to come in — rhythmical, measured order.

Maya Angelou employed the phrase “everything in the universe has a rhythm” during an interview in 1973, and she stated that “everything dances” in 1974. Thus, Angelou used both statements, but QI has not yet found direct evidence that she employed them contiguously.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1973 “Intellectual Digest” published an interview with Maya Angelou. She stated that she began projects by writing down all her thoughts on a topic in longhand:³

Then I read it back through, for quite a few days, and find — given that subject — what its rhythm is. ’Cause everything in the universe has a rhythm. So if it’s free form, it still has a rhythm. And once I hear the rhythm of the piece, then I try to find out what are the salient points that I must make in the piece.

In 1974 “Playgirl” magazine printed an interview with Angelou. She spoke about her love of dancing:⁴

“Dance is different; it’s like a narcotic to me. Everything dances. I haven’t danced professionally in twelve years, yet when I look outside at the mountains and the trees, I think of choreography — how this would look on a stage, in dance.”

In 1978 a newspaper article from the Fairchild Syndicate included the following comments made by Angelou:⁵

“I never want to write a dust-catching masterpiece,” she says. “I want it READ, READ, USED — even misinterpreted, but read.

“When I first write a poem,” she says, “I put it all in prose, so I’ve written out all my thoughts on the subject. Then I look for the rhythm — because everything in the universe has a rhythm — and I hear that THING inside.”

In 1981 the “Statesman Journal” of Salem, Oregon printed the following remarks from Angelou:⁶

“My ears are very much a part of my work,” Angelou says of the strong rhythms of her writing. “For a long time black people, and I was one, thought that it was an insult when whites said that black people have rhythm. However, the statement is one of the most complimentary things that can be said of anyone. For everything in the universe has rhythm. What could be nicer than to say that contemporary black prose is poetic.”

Also, in 1981 the periodical “The Student” of Wake Forest University printed an interview in which Angelou spoke about her strategy for observation:⁷

I listen for rhythm; I don’t know why I do. But every situation has a rhythm or rhythms. Cocktail parties, for example. There are sultry flirtations in one corner which are legato, and intellectual arguments around a table which may be adagio.

In 2001 “The Guardian” newspaper of London printed an article about record producer George Martin who famously worked with “The Beatles”. Martin employed the first statement:⁸

But he also suggests the secret to his success in recording music: “Everything in the universe has a rhythm,” he says, “but we don’t have click track for our heart.” Click track refers to the modern practice in recording music where musicians play along to a strict electronic beat. “With click tracks, there is something sterile; the music doesn’t flow because it is so clinically accurate. In a beautiful piece the tempo is going to vary.”

In 2004 the “Calgary Herald” of Alberta, Canada published a piece about childbirth which included remarks from teacher and artist Michael Frisby:⁹

Everything in the universe has rhythm, Frisby says. There are rhythms in nature, in the seasons, and in the planets revolving around the sun and the moon around the Earth. Everything that human beings create has rhythm as well, even the workday. “Rhythm is our natural state,” Frisby says.

In 2006 “Yakima Herald-Republic” of Washington published an article which attributed the full saying to Angelou:¹⁰

I resolve to dance whenever I can, always keeping in mind what the poet Maya Angelou once wrote: “Everything in the universe has rhythm. Everything dances.”

In 2007 the following entry appeared in “Women Know Everything! 3,241 Quips, Quotes & Brilliant Remarks” compiled by Karen Weekes:¹¹

Everything in the universe has rhythm. Everything dances.
-MAYA ANGELOU (1928-)
AFRICAN-AMERICAN POET, MEMOIRIST, AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST

In conclusion, a thematic precursor to “everything dances” appeared in a book by Friedrich Nietzsche. There is also a long history to the notion that “everything in the universe has rhythm”. Celia Caroline Cole employed that exact phrase in 1922. Maya Angelou used a matching phrase in 1973, and she used the phrase “everything dances” in 1974. She received credit for combining the two statements in 2006.

Image Notes: Painting titled “Three Dancers in an Exercise Hall” by Edgar Degas circa 1880. Image has been cropped and resized.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Tom Callens whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.

[1] 1916, Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None, Friedrich Nietzsche, Translated by Thomas Common, Section: Before Sunrise, Quote Page 201, The Macmillan Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link

[2] 1922 April, The Delineator, Volume 100, Number 3, What’s All the Shootin’ For? by Celia Caroline Cole, Start Page 57, Quote Page 57, Column 2, Butterick Publishing Company, New York. (Verified with scans) link

[3] 1989 Copyright, Conversations with Maya Angelou, Edited by Jeffrey M. Elliot, Series: Literary Conversations, Interview title: Work in Progress: Maya Angelou, Interview conducted by Sheila Weller, Periodical: Intellectual Digest, Date: June 1973, Start Page 10, Quote Page 12, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Verified on paper)

[4] 1989 Copyright, Conversations with Maya Angelou, Edited by Jeffrey M. Elliot, Series: Literary Conversations, Interview conducted by Stephanie Caruana, Periodical: Playgirl magazine, Date: October 1974, Start Page 29, Quote Page 32, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Verified on paper)

[5] 1978 December 12, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Mute rises to poetic success by Francesca Stanfill (The Fairchild Syndicate), Quote Page 3C, Column 3, Fort Worth, Texas. (Newspapers_com)

[6] 1981 December 13, Statesman Journal, Section: Oregon Territory, Maya Angelou’s odyssey continues in ‘Heart of a Woman’’ by Diana Ketcham, Quote Page 3G, Column 3, Salem, Oregon. (Newspapers_com)

[7] 1989 Copyright, Conversations with Maya Angelou, Edited by Jeffrey M. Elliot, Series: Literary Conversations, Interview title: Maya Angelou: Resolving the Past, Embracing the Future, Interview conducted by Esther Hill, Periodical: The Student (The Student Literary Magazine, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina), Date: Spring 1981, Start Page 109, Quote Page 110, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Verified on paper)

[8] 2001 June 30, The Guardian, Section: Saturday Review, The Guardian profile George Martin: Sounds and vision by Mark Espiner, Start Page 6, Quote Page 7, Column 5, London, England. (Newspapers_com)

[9] 2004 February 12, Calgary Herald, Beating to life’s rhythms: Expectant mothers drum up ways to bond with baby by Jacqueline Louie, Quote Page N8, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (ProQuest)

[10] 2006 December 31, Yakima Herald-Republic, Resolutions won’t bring world peace, or will they? by Spencer Hatton, Quote Page B1, Yakima, Washington. (NewsBank Access World News)

[11] 2007 Copyright, Women Know Everything!: 3,241 Quips, Quotes & Brilliant Remarks, Compiled by Karen Weekes, Section: Dance, Quote Page 101, Quirk Books, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Verified with scans)

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Quote Investigator®

Garson O'Toole specializes in tracing quotations. He operates the QuoteInvestigator.com website which receives more than 4 million visitors per year