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Dance Your Way to a Sharper Mind and Happier Mood: The Neurology of Ballet


In this article, I want to share some fascinating insights into how dance, particularly ballet, interacts with our brains. As adult dancers, you might find it interesting to learn how our beloved art form can benefit not just our bodies, but also our brains.

Holistic Ballet | Neurology of Ballet | image of the brain in side view by National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Brain side view" by National Institutes of Health (NIH) is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

 

The Brain-Dance Connection

You may know from experience that dancing, especially learning complex choreography, is like a workout for our brain. When we dance, multiple brain regions are engaged:


  • prefrontal cortex: logic, decision-making, focus, helps plan and execute complex sequences

 

  • cerebellum: posture and balance, helps coordinate our movements

 

  • motor cortex: controls our muscles, sends signals to your muscles, telling them when and how to move

 

  • basal ganglia: coordination, balance, and posture is involved in movement regulation 

 

  • vestibular system: helps maintain balance and orientation in space

 

  • cerebral cortex: control panel for many of your most important functions, making sense of what we hear and see


It is no wonder why coordinating ballet moves and learning choreography can be so mentally stimulating.


Turning: A Spin for Your Brain

Turning is one of the quintessential elements of ballet. Travelling turns or pirouettes aren’t just about trying not to get dizzy and looking graceful. They also offer significant benefits to your brain. When we practise turning, our brain has to quickly process sensory information and maintain balance, which improves our vestibular system. This system is crucial for balance and awareness of where we are in space. Training it through turning can enhance your overall coordination and stability. 


"The research suggests that years of training can enable dancers to suppress signals from the balance organs in the inner ear. ...the signal going to the brain areas responsible for perception of dizziness in the cerebral cortex is reduced, making dancers resistant to feeling dizzy." (medicalxpress.com/news/2013-09-ballet-dancers-brains.html


tour chaîné sequence | Holistic Ballet | Franziska Rosenzweig
tour chaîné sequence

Choreography: Memory and Movement

Learning choreography is another powerful brain booster. As you memorise sequences of steps, your brain forms new neural connections. This process enhances your cognitive functions, such as memory, attention, and problem-solving skills.


Think of it as a mental workout that complements the physical one. Plus, the satisfaction of (nearly) mastering tricky combinations is a fantastic confidence enhancer!


Neurology of Ballet: A Boost for Your Brain and Mood

Researchers at the Universities of York and Sheffield conducted a study where participants chose to either sit and listen to music, exercise on a stationary bike, or dance for five minutes. Afterwards, all participants performed cognitive tasks. Those who chose to dance displayed improved problem-solving skills and elevated mood levels.


Dr. Peter Lovatt (who I spotted at Danceworks and Pineapple) says, "This same study also found that the mood levels of the dancers went up. It shows that dancing along to music even for five minutes can boost happiness and improve creative-thinking patterns." (https://www.goodnet.org/articles/dance-like-nobodys-watching-science-says-its-good-for-you)


This highlights how dancing not only enhances our physical fitness but also positively impacts our mental well-being and cognitive abilities. Over time, this not only makes us better dancers but also sharpens our memory and enhances our ability to learn new skills in other areas of life.

Let me finish with this quote by Agnes de Mille (1905–1993), American dancer and choreographer:"To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful."


The Neurology of Ballet: End


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