The Powerful Psychological Benefits of Dance
Updated: May 21
Originally Researched and Written by Christopher Bergland of Psychology Today Summarized here by Richelle Stevenson, LAT
Research is steadily discovering dance can change the way people think and even the health of the brain! This comes right alongside the developing field of dance neuroscience. This author collected insight from several experts who are studying the role which in movement, particularly dance, plays within brain function. Dance Helps us Relate to Others Hanna Poikonen recently published a study investigating the effects of dance on the cortex. Her findings suggest dancer's have an increased ability to synchronize brain waves between different areas of the brain. She states,“The dancers’ brains reacted more quickly to changes in the music. The change was apparent in the brain as a reflex before the dancer is even aware of it at a conscious level. I also found that dancers displayed stronger synchronization at the low theta frequency. Theta synchronization is linked to emotion and memory processes which are central to all interpersonal interaction and self-understanding.” Another point to consider is the synchronization between partners. The author of this article (Berglund) references studies which show low-frequency brainwaves between two people can become attuned to the same frequency while collaborating on producing music and movement. On a broader scale, this suggests dance improves empathy among a community! He states, "Dance has been a universal aspect of the human experience for millennia and is part of our collective DNA. Our bodies and brains have evolved to dance in synchronized unison. And, dancing on a regular basis seems to change the way we think and interact with one another." Dance Activates the Brain One study observed a portion of the cerebellum supported the entrainment of movement to music, essentially tuning the brain wavelengths to the same radio station. Similarly, a study in 2015 analyzed how listening to music affected activity in the cerebellum (particularly the vermis). Surprisingly, it not only observed an increase in activity but also a significant difference in this increased activity by participants who loved to dance! The author goes on to list examples of improved brain activity through dance-based therapy, including treatment of cerebellar ataxia (degeneration). So why is this so significant? Poikonen sums it up well when she said, "Pain, stress and anxiety often go hand in hand with depression. Dance, music and related expressive forms of therapy could help lessen mental fluctuations even before the onset of full depression." Both mentally and physically, dance has the power to heal! Read the full article here!
Performance: Showing Up for the Big Moments AND the Everyday Moments
by Dr. Jason R. Emery
Performance. We often think of “performance” as the end game, the reason to train and rehab and train again. But when is the end? Might not a performance be the start of a new opportunity, an opening of another door unexpected, just one step in a longer process of our careers, transitions, interests, and growth? We can also think of “performance” as the big competition or an important evaluation. Might not a performance include all of the little moments, too? How we show up to work, to practice and hobbies, to our loved ones? If the world is our stage, then our performance depends on how we consistently take care of ourselves every day. “It is always the simple that produces the marvelous.” - Amelia Barr
The field of Sport & Performance Psychology offers an enormous amount of skills and strategies to strengthen and expand our mindsets to successfully accomplish the big and the small in our lives. Some of the core tools in the toolbox include:
Goal Setting: a robust process of setting our targets, our internal GPS, in order to accomplish our goals. Process, performance, and outcomes goals help guide us along the way.
Emotional Control/Regulation: being aware of our emotional landscape can help us take care of any blocks along the way. Creating a personal system of monitoring and adjusting our emotional experience can help us tap into the courage to tackle challenging things.
Positive Self-Talk: while complete control over our thoughts may be difficult to attain, building a set of positive alternative self-statements and affirmations to counter our negative “critic” can provide motivation and (often more accurate!) evaluation of our performance.
Imagery: a mutli-sensory approach, imagery gives us a powerful tool to learn and reinforce new skills, make corrections and adjustments to our routines, and create our desired outcomes in our minds for our bodies to follow.
Activation Management: understanding when and how our bodies respond to tension and stress can give us crucial information about how to get in our “optimal performance zone.” We can all create our own personal biofeedback machine!
Attentional Control & Focus: developing strategies to maximize our capacity to control our attention and move away from the distracting “mind chatter” can significantly boost our performance.
Relaxation: finding time to relax our bodies and minds during the course of our day can provide temporary relief and enjoyment. Consistently practicing skills such as diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can also increase our Relaxation Response that we can tap into during performances and other moments of stress and tension.