Ballet. Tap. Jazz. Hip-hop. Ballroom. Contemporary. The list of dance styles goes on. The uniqueness of this art form unifies people across the world. The mere fact that I have traveled across the world and yet feel at home when I see the dancers perform speaks volumes to how unifying it is.
The fluid and intentional motions in contemporary paired with an intense emotional story characterizes the grace behind this style of dance. During the Fli dance spectacle in Paris, I was really reminded of how the style contemporary covers so many different aspects of dance. The combination of technique from ballet to the street steps of hip-hop in this performance really resonated with me. I remember when I would dance, contemporary was one of my favorites because of the style variation. This style pulls in aspects of almost all styles of dance to create an unique and open array of dance moves. One dance could incorporate numerous hip-hop moves and another could integrate jazz and ballet, but they are both constituted as contemporary. During this spectacle, all I could think about was how much I missed dancing up on a stage in front of numerous people.
A few days later we also saw a hip hop dance battle take place in the streets of Paris. I was ecstatic for this because hip-hop is my absolute favorite dance style! I think my favorite part aside from the dancing was that I was able to teach Dr. Frenzel a little about the different styles within hip-hop and how each dancer was incorporating different styles during their respective battle. We talked about how hip-hop has a rich history with high amounts of integrated technique from popping, break dancing, whacking, and more! As I was standing there watching these amazing dancers, I wanted to just scream out to cheer them on, and I would have loved to join them out on the floor, but the highly intoxicated man went ahead and did that for me. He was kind escorted away after his hilarious interruption.
The big take away from watching these dancers was their ability to move. I stood there and wondered, “How could I ever do that? Because I surely cannot even think about attempting some of these moves.” Since I have devoted my life to science since college has started, watching the dancers made me think of how their sensorimotor system works in producing dance moves. Their specificity and texture of movement holistically defines how dance is such an intricate art form. These artists really must have some enhanced connectivity that aide their precise, synchronized movement to the rhythm of the music.
One study in 2015 took the idea that musicians improved motor, perceptual, and sensorimotor skills compared to controls and applied it to dancers (Karpati et al., 2015). The dancers and musicians participated in different perceptual and sensorimotor tasks to determine who performed better in these tasks, ultimately measuring increased sensorimotor ability. The results showed that dancers showed better results in a dance imitating task while musicians performed better in a rhythm synchronization task, concluding that each artist has specialized sensorimotor skills (Karpati et al., 2015).
Building off of this study, another study conducted research to investigate if dancers with prolonged training have improved functional connectivity in the cortico-basal ganglia loops. (Li et al., 2015). Series of fMRI scans showed that long-term dancers (10 year or more) have increased functional connectivity densities (FCD) in the primary somatosensory and motor cortices which are involved in motor execution and learning. Additionally, increased FCD were found in the cortico-basal ganglia loops which indicate improved motor coordination and integration. There was also a significant increase of FCD in the putamen, which is implicated in the rhythm of dance involving controlled, metric movements (Li et al., 2015). This study further implicated that dancers do have enhanced function in brain regions that are involved with sensorimotor function.
Although there is not much extensive research in this field, especially pertaining to dance, I agree with the fact that dancers have enhanced connectivity in sensorimotor brain regions to facilitate the movement that is being learned and executed. Maybe next time I see street dancers I’ll join in! Or maybe I’ll just stick to going to the studio to dance!
Karpati, F. J., Giacosa, C., Foster, N. E. V., Penhune, V. B., & Hyde, K. L. (2016). Sensorimotor integration is enhanced in dancers and musicians. Experimental Brain Research, 234(3), 893–903. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-015-4524-1
Li, G., He, H., Huang, M., Zhang, X., Lu, J., Lai, Y., … Yao, D. (2015). Identifying enhanced cortico-basal ganglia loops associated with prolonged dance training. Scientific Reports, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep10271
All images were taken by me.