Dance on the Brain!

Dance can be defined as a unique set of movements that coincide with the rhythm of the music. Professional dancers train approximately six to seven hours a day for 6 days a week, and even more time is dedicated for rehearsals when there are upcoming performances. On performance days, after warming up, professional ballerinas will attend 3-4 hour rehearsals before the intense 3-hour performance. They will then go on to repeat this for days!As noted, being a professional ballerina, such as a prima ballerina, takes an extreme amount of dedication and hard work. Although this is a vigorous and tiring schedule, there’s a reason why dancers are so passionate and driven towards their art making all this training feel fulfilling – and worth it. 

Ballet started off as a hobby my mom signed me up for, similar to a lot of other kids whose mothers get them into ballet classes at a young age. However, as kids get older, many end up dropping out because they don’t like it, but I had a different story. From ages 3-13, ballet became my portal of expression, the way I could communicate emotions and feelings that I couldn’t verbalize or sometimes didn’t even know I had. I never viewed ballet solely as a form of exercise, nor did I think about the positive effects it was having on my brain – I viewed it as the hobby I fell in love with through movement, space, and performance. 

When I was 13, I had an ankle injury and was no longer able to dance, but dance will always hold a big place in my heart. For these reasons, I decided to research the impact that dance has on our brains and our mental healths’. I knew dance made me feel great when I did it, but I wanted to know why. 

To dive deeper into the neurological factors affected by dance, I found an interesting study that was conducted to determine whether engaging in dance promotes neuroplasticity by looking at randomized clinical trials. According to the research results shown on “Dance for Neuroplasticity”, dance indeed integrates areas of the brain to improve neuroplasticity! All studies demonstrated positive structural or functional changes to the brain when the individuals engaged in dance. The structural changes observed included increased hippocampal volume, gray matter volume in the left precentral and Para Hippocampal gyrus, and white matter integrity. The functional changes consisted of alterations in cognitive function such as significant improvement in memory, attention, body balance, psychosocial parameters and altered peripheral neurotrophic factors. 

Not only is dance positively influencing our neurological functioning, it can also play a significant role in improving mental health. According to “Benefits of Dance on Mental Health” by Genni, dancing works to improve mood, lower anxiety, and stress. This is due to the neurotransmitters released in the brain when people dance such as dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. These chemicals are good for the body and brain, making the dancer feel the effects of dance on their moods. This article states that science has found that the effects of happiness from dancing can last up to a week! Additionally, Psychologists prescribe dance as a way for individuals with social anxiety or fear of public speaking as they become less self-conscious! Another important influence of dance on mental health is that social bonding with fellow dancers leads to increased mood. 

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This is a photo of two dancers expressing positive feelings of warmth they felt while performing on the stage together that was included in this article. The most interesting factor that I learned about while researching the effects of dance on the brain was that dance indeed serves as a form of therapeutic expression. It serves as an outlet for expressing emotions through physical body movements, which is many times easier than speaking!

            This connection was helpful to me, as it proved what I felt while I was dancing. I feel as though there are no limits to expressing through dance compared to the way people face when talking. Any movement or emotion is free to be expressed, and these unique emotions tell stories that make for such a deep form of art. I found an account from a dancer, Sonya Dessureault, who feels similarly to the way I did when she dances. She spoke on the way she appreciated feeling her body in motion and space, and how she feels as though she is both entirely present and absent at the same time while dancing. Sonya’s description of feeling her body in space and feeling as though she has this unique talent can be described by proprioceptors that are active as she is dancing! Proprioceptors are found in muscles, tendons, and the skin. Proprioception refers to the awareness of the position and movement of the body, and this is very useful for dancers because the reflexes help prevent damage and injury!

            Exploring the effects of dance on the brain allowed for me through view my passion for dancing through another set of eyes. I always knew it had a positive effect on my body because of the way it made me feel, but I could’ve never imagined all the neurological and mental benefits I was receiving. With that being said, go out there and dance! 

Bibliography: 

Teixeira-Machado, L., Arida, R. M., & Mari, J. de J. (2018, December 10). Dance for neuroplasticity: A descriptive systematic review. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S014976341830664X

Abilock, Genni. “Benefits of Dance on Mental Health.” StarQuest, 7 Apr. 2020, www.starquestdance.com/benefits-of-dance-on-mental-health/.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Jai Arora says:

    This was so informative, and I can tell how passionate you are about dance through your writing!
    I love how you were curious to find out what exactly about dancing made you feel so great and researched it. It is awesome to see just how therapeutic dancing can really be. I also researched dance, but it’s cool to see how we took slightly different approaches to the topic because there is so much to learn and discover!

  2. Rahil Mahmood says:

    It’s quite fascinating to learn about the various positive effects that dance can have on the human brain. Your personal connection to this form of art, along with your passion for understanding the science behind it, makes this a really enjoyable read. I appreciate the way you have highlighted the fact that one can experience sheer joy and easily reach high levels of artistic excellence when they find and engage with their element!

  3. Jason Jin says:

    This was a super cool read! As a dancer myself, I never even knew that dance could have this sort of impact on the brain. It really opened up a new perspective for me the next time I practice and dance. I also loved your personal background with it, and how you related your experiences into dance. As I’m taking a dance class this semester and on a dance team here, I’m super excited to incorporate this into my own thinking and experiences!

  4. Andrea Mancia says:

    I loved reading this post because I am also a ballet dancer! It is so fascinating to see how dance impacts other people’s lives and how it compares to my own experiences with dance. I’ve always felt a sense of calmness and tranquility when doing ballet because it helped relieve the stress the from school and now I’ve learned that this is probably caused by the serotonin and dopamine released from the brain that helps calm the nerves. I love your passion and dedication to dance as well; it is very inspiring!

  5. Michelle Vadillo Cardenas says:

    This is so interesting! I am also a dancer and I love how i feel when i dance. there was something you mentioned that I never noticed about myself. I’ve never been comfortable at publicly speaking but dancing has always helped me trough that and i never made a connection between the two.

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