Why Dancing Makes you Smarter
Dancing improves brain function on a variety of levels. Two recent studies show how different types of practice allow dancers to achieve peak performance by blending cerebral and cognitive thought processes with muscle memory and ‘proprioception’ held in the cerebellum. Through regular aerobic training that incorporates some type of dance at least once a week, anyone can maximize his or her brain function.
Why don’t professional dancers get dizzy?
Do you feel dizzy sometimes when you stand up? Does a fear of falling prevent you from exploring the world more? If you are prone to dizziness, a study has found that dancing may help improve your balance and make you less dizzy. In September 2013, researchers from Imperial College London reported on specific differences in the brain structure of ballet dancers that may help them avoid feeling dizzy when they perform pirouettes. You don’t have to train to become a professional ballet dancer to benefit from some type of dancing.
The article is titled, “The Neuroanatomical Correlates of Training-Related Perceptuo-Reflex Uncoupling in Dancers.” The research suggests that years of training can enable dancers to suppress signals from the balance organs in the inner ear linked to the cerebellum.
The findings, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, could help to improve treatment for patients with chronic dizziness. Around one in four people experience this condition at some time in their lives.
Taking time throughout your life to improve the function of your cerebellum through aerobic activity and some type of dance is a fun and effective way to avoid the perils of dizziness.
Dr. Barry Seemungal, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial, said: “Dizziness, which is the feeling that we are moving when in fact we are still, is a common problem. I see a lot of patients who have suffered from dizziness for a long time. Ballet dancers seem to be able to train themselves not to get dizzy, so we wondered whether we could use the same principles to help our patients. It’s not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance. Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input. Consequently, the signal going to the brain areas responsible for perception of dizziness in the cerebral cortex is reduced, making dancers resistant to feeling dizzy. If we can target that same brain area or monitor it in patients with chronic dizziness, we can begin to understand how to treat them better.”
Visualizing Movements can Improve Muscle Memory
A July 2013 article titled, “The Cognitive Benefits of Movement Reduction: Evidence From Dance Marking” found that dancers can improve the ability to do complex moves by walking through them slowly and encoding the movement with a cue through ‘marking’. Researcher Edward Warburton, a former professional ballet dancer, and colleagues were interested in exploring the thinking behind the doing of dance.
The findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, suggest that marking may alleviate the conflict between the cognitive and physical aspects of dance practice — allowing dancers to memorize and repeat steps more fluidly. This creates what is called superfluidity, which is the highest tier of flow.
Expert ballet dancers seem to glide effortlessly across the stage, but learning the steps is both physically and mentally demanding. New research suggests that dance marking—loosely practicing a routine by going through the motions—may improve the quality of dance performance by reducing the mental strain needed to perfect the movements.
“It is widely assumed that the purpose of marking is to conserve energy,” explains Warburton, Professor of Dance at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “But elite-level dance is not only physically demanding, it’s cognitively demanding as well. Learning and rehearsing a dance piece requires concentration on many aspects of the desired performance. Marking essentially involves a run-through of the dance routine, but with a focus on the routine itself, rather than making the perfect movements.”
To investigate how marking influences performance, the researchers asked a group of talented dance students to learn two routines: they were asked to practice one routine at performance speed and to practice the other one by marking. Across many of the different techniques and steps, the dancers were scored more highly on the routine that they had practiced with marking—their movements on the marked routine appeared to be more seamless, their sequences more fluid.
Conclusion: Synchronizing the Cerebrum and Cerebellum Creates Superfluidity
The researchers conclude that practicing at performance speed didn’t allow the dancers to memorize and consolidate the steps as a sequence, thus encumbering their performance. This type of visualization and marking could be used to maximize performance across many fields and areas of life.
-From Psychology Today