The combination of physical movement, knowledge of routine, and listening to music that is necessary when dancing can have a positive effect on your brain power. Research shows that dancing regularly can make you think faster, remember more clearly and be more confident in yourself. Learning a dance and then performing it from memory activates different areas of the brain; routinely engaging these different areas strengthens them and therefore some evidence suggests that dancing improves your cognitive function overall.
Participating in dancing often causes an emotional reaction in people. This could be because of the combination of music activating the brain’s reward centres and physical movement activating the sensory circuits of the brain. Dancing allows a reconnection between mind and body that is not found in many other activities; the satisfaction that comes from this feeling could be one reason why people have such a positive emotional reaction to it. It is important that dancing triggers these enjoyable feelings as that’s what makes the beneficial practice so appealing and impactful.
Memory & Neuronal Connections
If you think about it, learning, memorising and then recalling a dance routine is a complex and impressive process for the brain to accomplish. Many studies have been conducted into whether regular dancing can help to improve memory and decrease the symptoms of dementia, specifically associated neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. The combination of social interaction, emotion, cognition and kinaesthetic learning involved in dancing works to strengthen certain parts of the brain. These areas deal with motor control, coordination and the ability to perform complex movements which in turn reinforce connections in the brain’s neural network.
Traditionally, activities that support cerebral functionality focus solely on using the brain without incorporating the body too. It’s true that taking part in a cards game like blackjack or other is a great way to exercise your brain and have fun at the same time. Reading a book, completing a crossword puzzle, learning a language and using yogic breathing exercises are all relatively stationary techniques that people use to improve their cognitive function. However, the unique appeal of dancing is that it incorporates the benefits of the practices above with physical movement of the body. This reinforces memory through the use of movement-based cues and a marriage between language and motion.
Mind & Body
It has been suggested that dancing could also help in situations of neurological disorder, such as with Parkinson’s Disease. The practice of dancing and moving to a rhythm seems to make it easier for people with impaired movement by improving their balance and coordination. Dancing necessitates use of the cerebellum, or ‘little brain’, which is responsible for movement, motor control, sensory perception and coordination in the human body. When we dance, we are made more aware of the space that our body moves in, the relative position of our bodies in that space and the effort being put into that movement. By regularly engaging in this activity, improvements can be seen in those suffering from movement impairment, whether it’s something relatively benign like the effects of dizziness or more debilitating conditions like vertigo or Parkinson’s. By stimulating the motor cortex, somatosensory cortex, basal ganglia and the cerebellum all together, dancing activates many of the body’s ‘movement’ areas at once and increases communication between them.
Confidence & Creativity
A psychological effect of dance is that it can increase a person’s confidence and happiness through creativity, social interaction, pursuit of joy and exercise-related endorphins. Attending a dance class necessitates close physical interaction with other people and involves trusting those relative strangers with your body. Receiving positive feedback from this experience can be beneficial for those who find it difficult to create meaningful connections with others and have low self-confidence.
Learning and performing a routine or set of moves is a tangible accomplishment and doing so within a group learning environment can help people to feel more confident elsewhere in life. Creativity is a powerful tool for developing brain power and dancing involves plenty of it. Whether creating new steps, combinations of movements or friendships with other dancers, this activation of the right hemisphere can have a significant positive impact on the brain.
So, as you can see, as well as providing a fantastically broad spectrum of activity for the body, dancing is also beneficial for the mind. By activating specific parts of the brain, you can teach yourself to retain more information for longer, assess problems quickly and build your confidence whilst you’re at it. There’s no doubt that dancing makes you happy, but it can be incredibly important for your long-term health too. The potential positive impact of dancing on cognitive function and neural connections is not to be ignored and could be the key to a longer, happier, healthier life.