Health & Body

We're Born to Love Dance—Science Says So!

Quinn Wharton

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

Show Comments ()
PC Lydia Daniller, Courtesy Dorsey

I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?

The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.

Keep reading... Show less
News
via Facebook

The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Training
Gaga teacher Amy Morrow says investigative styles can help any dancer. PC Ascaf Avraham

In today's dance world, it seems to go without saying: The more varied the training, the better. But is that always the case? Rhonda Malkin, a New York City–based dance coach who performed with the Radio City Rockettes, thinks trendy contemporary techniques that emphasize improvisation and organic movement quality are detrimental to the precision and strength needed to be a Rockette, in a traditional Broadway show or on a professional dance team. Her view is controversial: "If you really want to work, making $40,000 in three months for the Rockettes or $25,000 in one day filming a commercial, you need ballet, Broadway jazz, tap, hip hop—not contemporary," she says.

On the flip side, techniques that allow dancers more freedom may help them connect more deeply with their body and artistry, while providing release for overused muscles. We broke down the argument for both sides:

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
How do you warmup? Photo by Jim Lafferty

For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.

Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.

According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking
Former NYCB ballet master in chief Peter Martins resigned in January in the midst of an investigation into allegations of harassment and abuse. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.

The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Lauren Lovette, photographed by Jayme Thornton

Not all ballet dancers cling to their youth. At 26, Lauren Lovette, the New York City Ballet principal, has surpassed the quarter-century mark. And she's relieved.

"I've never felt young," she says. "I can't wait until I'm 30. Every woman I've ever talked to says that at 30 you just don't care. You're free. Maybe I'll start early?"

Keep reading... Show less
News
Mark Morris Dance Group in Pepperland. Photo by Gareth Jones, Courtesy MMDG

When Beatlemania swept through the U.S. in the 1960s, Mark Morris was one of millions of young Americans who fell head over heels for the revolutionary group. "I was not immune," the choreographer says. "My sisters were mad about The Beatles and so was I. At age 12 I had a crush on Paul, of course."

Flash forward 50 years and he is still rocking to the British band, but this time with a new Beatles-inspired dance work his company is touring across North America, starting this month with scheduled stops in Seattle, Toronto, Portland, Oregon, and another 25 cities before the end of 2019.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance History
"Ceremony of Us: Recaptured," PC Ella Bromblin

One reason I love to teach is that sometimes students come up with great ideas.

Ceremony of Us The original Susan Landor photo of Ceremony of Us workshop from 1969

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M

You could call it island-hopping, but it's not exactly a vacation. After choreographing last season's Come From Away, and winning a Tony nomination, Kelly Devine zipped from frosty Newfoundland to the Caribbean beach resort that is the setting for Escape to Margaritaville.

In the fall, she was shuttling between them, before they start this month: flying to Toronto to prepare a new Canadian production of Come From Away, then jetting back to Chicago for the final stop of Margaritaville's four-city pre-Broadway tryout.

"These two shows could not be more different from each other," Devine says with a dash of understatement. Come From Away is about the small Newfoundland town where airliners grounded by the 9/11 attacks dumped thousands of unexpected visitors; Escape to Margaritaville, at the Marquis Theatre, is a comic island romance concocted from the beachcomber songbook of Jimmy Buffett.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Kurt Froman with Jennifer Lawrence, whom he coached for the upcoming film Red Sparrow

How does someone go from being a New York City Ballet corps member to training Hollywood A-listers like Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Lawrence? By getting injured, says Kurt Froman.

When an ankle sprain left him sidelined a few years back, Froman was "sitting at home, depressed" when he sent his friend Benjamin Millepied an email asking what he was up to. It turned out that Millepied had just been hired to choreograph some scenes for a movie, but had to be in Paris during pre-production. "He needed someone to teach two actors choreography and get them in shape," says Froman. With nothing else on his plate, he said yes, and started prepping Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis for Black Swan.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Viral Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Giveaways