Have you ever felt like your relationship to dance is something of an addiction? Not to worry, that's completely normal—it's simply the way our brains are wired.

This week, The Washington Post published an intriguing feature that looks at the science of what actually goes on upstairs when we're watching a live performance. The insight comes from the emerging field of neuroaesthetics, which uses tools like brain imaging to study the relationship between art and the brain.

Here are some of the most fascinating takeaways:


Performances Are Bonding Time

Because we crave social connection, we love watching a performance in a crowd and picking up on other audience members' reactions and emotions. Experiencing a show together helps us bond.

David Ragusa, Unsplash

We're Suckers For a Good Story

Our brains love narratives. Since we're primed for empathy, watching the trials and tribulations of characters onstage is a safe way to learn through their experiences without having to suffer the consequences.

Sofiane Sylve in Prodigal Son. Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB.

We Can Literally Feel A Dancer's Movement

Since movement is essential for survival, our brains are highly stimulated by watching people dance—their motions, body language, facial expressions and gestures pull us in. And according to the mirror system theory, we can vicariously feel a dancer's movement in our own bodies. According to The Washington Post, "Many scientists believe we map other people's actions into our own somatosensory system, which conveys sensation through the brain and body and helps us feel the emotions we perceive in others as if they were our own."

Via giphy

Choreography Toys With Our Emotions

Different body shapes trigger different emotions. A team of neuroscientists in London found that watching a ballet dancer's soft, round shapes can generate positive feelings, while sharp, asymmetrical shapes can alarm us.

Isabella Boylston in Swan Lake. Photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy ABT.

Music + Movement = Magic

When the mood of the music matches the mood of the dance, they combine to create an even more powerfully emotional effect, taking the performance-watching experience into overdrive.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

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