This Is Your Brain on Dance

Tamara Rojo as Odile and Carlos Acosta as Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, by Johan Persson, courtesy of Royal Opera House

In this week's mind-blowing news, a study published in Cerebral Cortex shows it's more than snappy spotting that keeps dancers spinning like tops without getting dizzy. It's also science. Dancers' brains, it seems, actually function differently than nondancers', making it easier for ballerinas to whip through 32 fouettés at a time.


To test the theory, researchers at Imperial College London spun dancers and rowers around in chairs in a darkened room—no spotting help there. (Researchers chose rowers because they matched the dancers in athleticism but not in spinning tendencies. After all, those boats go straight pretty much non-negotiably.) After the chairs stopped, rowers felt like the room was spinning much faster than dancers did. Furthermore, MRIs revealed reduced activity in certain areas of dancers' brains, specifically where dizziness is perceived. “It's not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance," said Dr. Barry Seemungal, a neurologist in the Department of Medicine at Imperial College. “Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input."

So practice makes perfect in your brain structure as well as your body. This is clearly because dancers are morphing superhumans who can biologically redesign themselves for maximum performance capabilities. If that doesn't get more boys into ballet classes, I honestly don't know what will.

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