You may have read studies that say dancing is good for your brain. You may be someone who always loved dancing and were pleased to hear this. Another checkmark in the plus column.
Alternatively, maybe you began dancing because you heard that it was good for your brain. It became clear that the challenge of remembering a sequence of steps and styles was good brain work. It is the not knowing and figuring it out part that forces us to create new neural pathways. Dancing to music and keeping time adds another beneficial element.
When working on new choreography with my partner, I am often amazed at how slowly it all goes – at least the remembering part from day to day and week to week. But at the same time, I am equally amazed at a point when the choreography becomes etched in my brain; the neural pathways seamlessly knitted together with a flow that says “I’ve got this”. And, more importantly, “I’ve done this…….. instead of texting or watching cute animal videos on my newsfeed!”.
Here is how a 2008 article explains the brain benefits of dancing to music:
“Scientists gave little thought to the neurological effects of dance until relatively recently, when researchers began to investigate the complex mental coordination that dance requires. In a 2008 article in Scientific American magazine, a Columbia University neuroscientist posited that synchronizing music and movement—dance, essentially—constitutes a “pleasure double play.” Music stimulates the brain’s reward centers, while dance activates its sensory and motor circuits”.
I am proposing that there is the possibility of adding another dimension; directing your brain towards greater efficiency. It’s not what you do but how you do it.
Here’s a simple example: I’m having difficulty maintaining my ‘frame’ without tightening in my neck and shoulders. Creating and maintaining the shape of the frame is one goal, but I don’t want to do it by tightening or bracing AND I want to enjoy taking that first heel lead in waltz by releasing into the movement instead of contracting into it. If you have found yourself in this situation, what would happen if you are thinking the thing that your body truly needs to function well, instead of fighting with a habit that is not working for you?
We are continually sending motor signals from our brain to our muscles but much of it is old – and familiar – signals, i.e. HABITS. While we’re at it, why not send some new improved signals. When I think about the length of my spine and my head delicately balanced on top of it, movement is so much more joyful. Starting out moving with lightness helps when the need for quick changes of direction and fast footwork are called for.
Happy Dancing! If you know other dancers who may benefit from these tips, please forward. If you would like to receive my weekly blog in your Inbox and my “10 Steps to Competition Greatness”, click here.