“The Dancing Brain”

Dancing is good for you.

Why? You, me, ‘we’ could list many, many reasons.

For me, dancing has always been my life. Like many girls, I started ballet at age 3. Maybe 2? I don’t think I said, “Hey Mom, get me in a dance class.” Yet, there I was. Learning first position, second position, and so on until I tour jete-d into a more elite studio with a frightening teacher. I quit, of course…being the shy little girl that I was. Strict, barking teachers made me cry. I didn’t like ballet anymore.

I still loved to dance and soon found creative movement and ballroom (after dabbling in other hobbies…6 weeks of piano, 2 years of horseback riding…). There was just something about dance…doing it or watching it that was a beautiful expression to me. I felt things without words. I watched, listened with my eyes, learned, studied and chose to accept the responsibility of choreographing and directing. This is how life makes sense to me. This is how my heart knew to speak.

I loved when I moved or witnessed movement that seemed to amplify in each of the senses; the movement expanded as the music crescendo-ed, the company or group dispersed as the music and lights faded, a lift rose at the crash of symbols, a dancer twisted with the riff of orchestra.

I believe a great dance will leave you as breathless as the bodies that just danced.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized the brain’s role in all of this beauty, perception, and movement. We would be nothing without our brains, right? Or our hearts? I’m no scientist but in the most simplistic view, I’d say that those are our most important parts of our bodies. The brain gets us to do stuff, to be, to process. The heart gives us the go ahead to follow through. Without either of these, we might cease to exist. We thrive and depend on these.

The heart’s role is pretty simple. Keep the blood circulating. Keep pumping. Keep moving. Keep going. Keep, keep, keep, keep to the steady rhythm.

The brain, you ask?……well, I don’t know. It sends messages, I guess? It does stuff. Important stuff. It’s busy up there.

Reader, lucky for you, I am passing on more information that I just encountered. I read a wonderful article that outlined the brain’s purpose, role, tasks, and amazing capabilities. “The Dancing Brain” by Ivar Hagendoorn.

(Read it here: http://www.ivarhagendoorn.com/files/articles/Hagendoorn-Cerebrum-03.pdf )

For a simple starting place: the concept to understand is that everything,  everything, we sense and experience is mediated by the brain. Sight, hearing, feeling, doing….the brain is like a dumping site for it all. It reminds me of a resourceful carpenter. Someone who has a pile of anything and everything and makes a model of something from it. “The brain acts as a simulator, creating mental models of the body and the world.”

So, ok, what does this master center mean for dance? Dance is all about moving right?

……Perhaps not. Studies have shown that by watching dance, motor areas are activated in our brains. Just like they are when we do dance. So then….does that mean….the brain dances? Even more, the brain dances when we are just talking about dancing!

“We engage in motor imagery whenever we prepare, intend, mentally rehearse, describe, or listen to a verbal description of a movement.”

I blogged about mirror neurons awhile ago and how they aid in communication. Mirror neurons are part of the reason why our brain dances when we see, or talk about, dancing. Could they provide a neural bridge between action and perception? Is what we see, what we get?

Can we get the same result from watching dance as we do from actually doing it? If we just imagine dancing, if we visualize it, does it give us the same life fulfillment? Does it help us express what needs expressing? Is it still therapeutic in some way? Does it heal?

The article posed this question and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. “Could mirror neurons somehow be associated with the evolution of language from gestural communication?” Wordless communication and mirror neurons….what is language like?

I leave you with my favorite part of the article, the one that I know and experience and strive to create:

“In dance, at any moment the potential is there for the movement to stop, expand, contract, or continue in any other direction…..choreography is not just about inventing movements, it is about evaluating the perceptual and emotional effects of a particular movement or spatial configuration.”

Happy dancing, happy nuerons to you all 🙂

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