Neuroscience of Dance


At La Europa Academy, one of the expressive therapies provided each week is dance movement.  Students involved in this type of expressive therapy, find that they are able to process feelings of depression, anxiety and trauma in a more effective manner as they are moving their bodies.  A recent article in Psychology Today demonstrates the effectiveness of the changes our brain goes through as we dance whether it be through a formal dance experience or through dance movement therapy.  The article shares:

The neuroscience of dance is a relatively new, but rapidly growing, field of research. In recent months, a variety of new studies and an article-based dissertation on the neuroscience of dance have been published. These findings help us better understand why we dance and how dancing engages and changes the human brain.

On May 11, Hanna Poikonen(link is external) of the Cognitive Brain Research Unit at the University of Helsinki is defending her doctoral dissertation, “Dance on Cortex – ERPs and Phase Synchrony in Dancers and Musicians during a Contemporary Dance Piece(link is external).” This paper adds fresh insights to the burgeoning “neuroscience of dance” field of study and presents potentially game-changing methods of research that may have clinical applications.

For her dissertation, Poikonen developed novel ways to study various brain functions outside of a laboratory. By using event-related potentials (ERPs) and EEG, she was able to monitor how professional dancers’ brains differ from both the average layperson and well-trained musicians.

One of the main takeaways from her research is that expert dancers display enhanced theta (4-8 Hz) synchronization when watching a dance piece. Previous research has found that theta brain waves are associated with syncing-up deeper brain areas (such as the hippocampus, basal ganglia, and cerebellum) with the cerebral cortex. “Studies of professional dancers and musicians have highlighted the importance of multimodal interaction and motor-related brain regions in cerebral processing of dance and music,” Poikonen said in a statement. “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.”

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.

In a 2017 article, “A Dancer’s Brain Develops in a Unique Way(link is external),“ Poikonen writes:

“In dance, the basic elements of humanity combine in a natural way. It combines creative act, fine-tuned movement and collaboration, much like playing music. The movement involves the whole body, like in sports. . . Studies on producing music and movement show how during cooperation, the brains of two people become attuned to the same frequency. This is apparent in how the low-frequency brain waves of the participants become synchronised.

Brain synchronization enables seamless cooperation, and is necessary for creating both harmonic music and movement. The ability to become attuned to another person’s brain frequency is essential for the function of any empathetic community.”

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At La Europa Academy, we can help your daughter cope with the effects of ADHD, depression, eating disorders, anxiety and other issues through fine arts-based residential treatment programs. La Europa Academy is a clinically sophisticated, 36-bed, a fine arts-based residential treatment center that specializes in using the arts to help girls ages 13-17 heal and work through the emotional pain. La Europa blends the best of traditional treatment (DBT, specialized groups, small caseloads, outstanding family systems work, etc.) with a focus on the arts including dance movement therapy that allows us to build on our girl’s strengths. Contact us today to speak with our admissions director.