Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • April 2018
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The impact dancing has on your brain

We all know that dance can not only be fun, but it can be used in many different forms for fitness. There are aerobic dance formats galore like Zumba, ballet barre workouts, pole fitness which uses a metal vertical dance pole, aerial dance which uses any type of hanging apparatus like hammock, hoop or silks to create a dance off the ground. All of these types of dance include strength training, balance, agility and grace. Did you know that not only does dancing help athleticism but also affects the brain in outstanding ways?As a fitness and dance instructor, one of the hardest things to teach is body awareness, or how to increase the use of proprioception in the body. Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of one’s own parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. In other words, it is how the body knows what muscles are working at what length and tension, and how it knows its place in space relative to other objects.

Pretend that you have just been spinning around upside down in an aerial hoop, on a pole or even turning multiple times right side up in ballet. How does one know where they are in space or where to finish their movement? This skill is learned by the brain and integrates information from proprioception and from the vestibular system into its overall sense of body position, movement, and acceleration. This same part of the brain is tested by officers in field sobriety tests. So, by constantly challenging the body with different directional facings, balance points and muscle use, dancers are making themselves smarter!

Did you know that dancing is proven to be the most helpful activity benefiting the brain to protect against dementia? This is because of the increased connections and complexity of neural synapses that fire. When we lose memory and brain function it is due to the fact that there is only one neural pathway to fire. Dancing eliminates habitual patterns of thinking and living, and helps to create as many pathways as possible to create solutions to different problems. For instance, when a dancer is right side dominant in the body and has to figure out how to do something on the opposite side by themselves or with a partner. These puzzles are helping to keep those pathways firing, along with with our proprioception!

The other incredible way dancing helps the brain stay healthy is the release of endorphins like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. These chemicals are a part of the pleasure and reward centers in the brain and are released in conjunction with music, expression and succeeding at physical challenge. This is why physical fitness is so important to a healthy, well-functioning brain. Layering the puzzles of dancing on top of that is an extra benefit.

The physical benefits of dancing alone are such great motivation to get out there, and with the added benefit to the brain there is no reason not to! The next time you think that it is too difficult, or you are not “good” at it, remember that the brain is a muscle to be flexed and used just like the rest of your body. The more you do it, the more likely you are to increase the brain functions that make it easier and more fun.

So what are you waiting for? Start dancing!

Olivia Meese

Olivia Meese is an instructor at Aerial Dance Pole Exercise in Appleton. With a degree in dance, multiple fitness degrees and a passion for the art form, join her for an inspiring class by registering online at or call 920-750-1441.

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