I came across this article today, and I really quite enjoyed it for its scientific breakdown of the mechanics of the brain when it comes to movement and thought patterning. This is for all of those people that enjoy a good scientific measure to back up the artistic measure of things. The article is quite lengthy, and this is just an excerpt. If you would like to read the entire article, please click here.
(original article: Body and Brain Connections, by Veronica Hackethal)
This Is Your Brain on Dance:
Only recently has science tried to analyze how dance benefits the brain and brings such joy. One theory holds that, like most exercise, dance releases a cascade of feel-good chemicals in the brain. Dancing induces the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers that increase pain tolerance and boost mood. Endorphins are responsible for the euphoria experienced during a “runner’s high” and have a similar effect on the body during dancing.
Dancing increases the brain levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that smooth out negative emotions. Norepinephrine also helps increase attention and mental focus.Dancing also increases the brain levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that smooth out negative emotions. Norepinephrine also helps increase attention and mental focus. In addition, moving to music while we dance activates the brain’s pleasure circuits. Dancing can even induce the production of proteins that increase the growth of new neurons in the brain. Dancing also helps lay down new synapses, or connections, between neurons. Both processes can increase neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to change and adapt to new environments, behaviors, and even recover from injury.
Dancing activates both sides of the brain, a process that promotes brain integration and improves learning. Many regions of the brain are required to remember, plan, and produce the coordinated movements that enable us to dance to music and rhythm. The cerebral cortex, the largest area of the brain, makes us human: it enables us to experience emotions, plan our movements and behavior, and engage in complex thinking. A region of the cerebral cortex called the motor cortex plays a major role in planning, control, and execution of voluntary movement. The motor cortex has at least five areas that are important for dancers. The posterior parietal cortex interprets and helps plan movements in response to multiple sensory inputs, like vision and hearing. The premotor cortex integrates sensory and spatial input to plan and guide movement. The supplementary motor area plans complex movements, especially sequential movement and coordination of both sides of the body. The premotor and supplementary motor cortex communicate with the primary motor cortex, which in turn produces nerve signals that travel down the spinal cord and tell the muscles how to execute movement.
The basal ganglia are two areas that lie below the motor cortex in the brain and play important roles in regulation and relay of information necessary for voluntary movement. The basal ganglia also play a role in cognitive and emotional functions. Damage to the basal ganglia contributes to many of the symptoms of movement disorders, like Parkinson’s and Huntington disease. The basal ganglia are also part of the limbic system, which contains the brain’s pleasure center. An area of the basal ganglia called the thalamus is a somatosensory relay center that contains neurons directly connected to the hippocampus, which can turn on the brain’s pleasure center. The hippocampus also plays an important role in memory and spatial navigation. Two other areas of the basal ganglia called the caudate and putamen are important for learning, memory, and regulating movements.
Other brain areas also play important roles in dancing. The cerebellum is the bun-like area at the back of the brain and plays a role in fine-tuning movement, coordination, and balance. The primary somatosensory cortex receives and interprets sensory information from all over the body. This area is depictedby the cortical homunculus, which isbasically a drawing that shows which areas of the brain are dedicated to different body parts. In these types of drawings, depictions of body parts look cartoonish, and heavily used body parts are drawn much larger than infrequently used ones. When one body part is used a lot, such as the hand of a pianist, or the foot of a ballet dancer, new neural connections sprout. The area of the brain dedicated to the heavily used body part expands in proportion to the increased innervation. In the case of a dancer, the corresponding representation in the cortical homunculus would be a very large foot. In “The Neural Basis of Human Dance,” published in 2006 in the journal Cerebral Cortex, Brown and colleagues did PET scans of the brains of dancers while they executed tango steps on a footboard. Overall, the researchers found a great deal of coordination among different brain areas, and a trend for right-brain dominance. Though there is much overlap in function between the two sides of the brain, as well as variation between individuals, the general thinking goes that the left side handles analytical functions, while the right side handles artistic ability. The researchers were able to pinpoint different regions of the brain that were activated by different aspects of dance. Here’s the breakdown of what they found:
An area of the cerebellum called the anterior vermis was like the metronome of the brain. This region was involved in entrainment, which refers to movement to external timekeepers, like music. Spatial navigation of the leg was connected to activation of many brain regions: the primary motor cortex, somatosensory cortex, premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, and parts of the cerebellum. Movement to a regular rhythm, called meter, was associated with activation of parts of the basal ganglia, especially both sides of the putamen. Movement to the melody and harmony of the music was handled by the superior temporal gyrus and the superior temporal pole, parts of the brain dedicated to hearing. Visuo-spatial planning , which enables a dancer to plan and maneuver through space, was connected to the precuneus, which lies between the somatosensory cortex and the part of the brain that interprets visual stimuli. The precuneus may also be involved in memory and aspects of consciousness, such as self-reflection.
The take-home message is that dancing gives the brain a workout and boosts brain power. Studies of professional dancers have found that dance develops areas of the brain involved in motor control, spatial imagery processing, sensory integration, memory, mental focus, and cognition.The take-home message is that dancing gives the brain a workout and boosts brain power. Studies of professional dancers have found that dance develops areas of the brain involved in motor control, spatial imagery processing, sensory integration, memory, mental focus, and cognition. In 2004, the Dana Arts and Cognition Consortium convened cognitive neuroscientists from seven universities across North America to discuss the connections between arts training and improved cognitive performance. After three years of further research, the consortium’s culminating 2008 report “Learning, Arts, and the Brain,” reached the same conclusion as many dance teachers. “An interest in a performing art,” they wrote, “leads to a high state of motivation that produces the sustained attention necessary to improve performance, and the training of attention that leads to improvement in other domains of cognition.”
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